Brando on Kim Hunter: Sweet Sister

Marlon Brando was insatiably curious about everything, but he particularly wanted to know to whom I had spoken, how they had looked, where they had lived, and what they had to say. "But not about me," he interjected. "I want to know their view on everything but me."

The one exception to this requirement was Kim Hunter, with whom Brando had starred in A Streetcar Named Desire, both on the stage and in the 1951 film.

"I wonder how Kim feels about me," he asked.

Kim Hunter adored Marlon Brando. In a warm, funny apartment on Commerce Street, Hunter and her husband Robert Emmett would feed me meals from Paul Bocuse cookbooks (or Kim's own, entitled Loose in the Kitchen), and talk late into the night.

"Between Marlon Brando and Elia Kazan," Hunter told me, "I became an actress. My performance in Streetcar, incidentally, was my audition for the Actors Studio, which I'm happy to say I passed, but for all the value of what I learned--and discarded--at the Studio, I learned more during those years of playing Stella, of being in a room, metaphorically, with Marlon and Gadge. And Marlon was terrifically sweet and supportive to me--and my family--when things were not so good, by which, of course, I mean the blacklist. Marlon was very present for me, a very present help."

Here is Brando on Kim Hunter:

I felt that she was such a kid, a loving little sister, a lot like the women in my family: smart, funny, sexy, honest, down-to-earth. There is no pretension in Kim.  Kim really understood the undercarriage of Stella--the need to be real, when for so long pretension had rendered her--and her family--detached from the world, from the carnal world. Kim knew how to convey the power of carnal submission, and you really felt it on the stage. We had a remarkable chemistry.

I loved her. We grew up together in those parts.

Kazan was very tough on Kim--he forced her to grow up as both a woman and an actress. Kim had had very little stage experience: she was one of [David O.] Selznick's young actresses, and she had been good, but she wanted--very badly--to be a good stage actress. She worked so hard and so well, and, like Jessica [Tandy], you could see her move toward perfection in the part.

We helped each other a great deal: A lot of the humor of Stanley came from recommendations from Kim--the scattering of the dishes in the birthday scene; the loud cat's meow. She defended both Stanley, her husband, and me, her partner who was playing her husband. She craved balance in the play and in the parts, so that people would see the merits in the stories and the actions of all the characters. Kim had a keen eye on the whole picture, the whole play.

Kim was phenomenally kind to Vivien [Leigh] during shooting of the film. Vivien felt very much alone, being the only person who hadn't been with us in New York, from the beginning. Karl [Malden] is one of the kindest men on the plant, and he was courtly and kind to Vivien. I did what I could, but there was always a distance--a respectful distance--between Vivien and me, both as Stanley and as Marlon.

She needed the sweet sister that Kim was and could be, and Kim rose to the occasion, looking after Vivien, being a buddy, watching out for her. Kim worked very hard to create a realistic relationship that we could believe existed between two sisters, and it was of great comfort to Vivien. It meant a great deal to the film.

I haven't seen a lot of Kim, but when we do see each other, there is no time, no space between us. There she is again, just the same, my sweet sister, my buddy, my Stella.


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