There have been many biographies of Marlon Brando, but Patricia Bosworth's succinct portrait, a worthy addition to the always cogent Penguin Lives series, will appeal to those more interested in the legendary performances that revolutionized American acting than in his offscreen shenanigans. A longtime member of the Actors Studio, Bosworth is especially well equipped to elucidate the introspective, emotionally charged acting style that electrified Broadway audiences in A Streetcar Named Desire, which opened in 1947 when Brando was only 23. Much of the material is familiar, but Bosworth often offers intriguing sidelights, such as the speculation that he modeled aspects of Stanley Kowalski on the play's driven, womanizing director, Elia Kazan. It's also interesting to learn that the actor he most admires is Paul Muni, who vanished into each characterization and had no "image" to plague him as Brando did after his star-making turns in The Wild One and On the Waterfront made him the quintessential 1950s rebel. (Bosworth suggests that The Godfather appealed to Brando because in the part of Don Corleone he could "hide completely" as Muni had done.) As in her biographies of Montgomery Clift and Diane Arbus, Bosworth examines with sympathy her subject's psychological difficulties, particularly his relationships with his alcoholic mother and brutal father; she skates lightly over later troubles like the murder trial of son Christian and suicide of daughter Cheyenne. The book essentially closes with Brando's early-'70s triumphs in The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris; the author frankly admits she's "still trying to figure out why this singular artist lost his way after [those] two great performances." Bosworth's appreciative account renews our dismay that this brilliant actor who so despises his profession couldn't be bothered to give more such performances. --Wendy Smith
From Publishers Weekly
Ever wonder how much of Brando was in Stanley Kowalski? When Brando's alcoholic mother followed him to New York, he would come over and urinate in her kitchen sink to annoy her, as she would complain to anyone who would listen, "why doesn't he stop this shit?" Acclaimed as a great, even magnificent actor after his Broadway debut in Streetcar Named Desire, only to ride a roller-coaster of artistic highs and lows since, Brando embodies all of the glories and contradictions of the American star/artist. Bosworth, author of acclaimed biographies of Diane Arbus and Montgomery Clift, has written an informative biography of Brando that, because of the limited format of the Penguin Lives series, hints at but cannot do justice to the great unruliness of Brando's career and life. She provides a fine, detailed sketch of his New York days when he took acting classes with "Harry Belafonte, Elaine Stritch, Gene Saks, Shelley Winters, Rod Steiger and Kim Stanley," and presents a great portrait of the craziness on the set of Last Tango in Paris (co-star Maria Schneider announced that they got along "because we're both bisexual"). But in only 228 pages, she can't approach the complexity of her earlier work. Yet even with these limitations, the book offers a vivid reminder of the personal and professional highlights of Brando's life, including his disastrous marriage to Anna Kashfi and its effect on his son, and how he resurrected his career (which had barely survived 10 flops) with Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. (Sept.)Forecast: Given Bosworth's prominence and past critical acclaim and the intrinsic interest of her subject this book is unlikely to be ignored.
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