When he stepped onto the stage in that now immortal white undershirt in 1947, Brando revolutionized American acting. "He burst onto our consciousness wearing a torn T-shirt, mumbling, growling, scowling, screaming for 'Stel-la!' as Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams' 'A Streetcar Named Desire,' first on Broadway, then on film," wrote Lawrence Grobel in his book "Conversations with Brando." "From the beginning, Brando unleashed a raw power that had never been seen before on the screen." In the role of Stanley Kowalski, Brando, says Andy Seiler of USA Today, "made theatrical history with his brutish yet complex performance."
It was no accident that Brando would commandeer the Kowalski role, eventually becoming synonymous with the character. He drove all the way to Provincetown to personally audition for Williams who, it's said, knew instantly that he had his lead. Brando would be the actor to lure audiences into empathizing with Stanley, making the character's actions later in the play that much more profound. Thus was the power of "The Method," the style of acting Brando came to represent...for better or for worse. "He didn't invent 'method acting' (Stanislavsky did), but he made the term familiar around the world, revolutionizing the actor's art with his natural, tortured and spontaneous early performances," Seiler says.
As Jack Nicholson once said of Brando's trailblazing labors: "He gave us our freedom."
"In the aftermath of the slaying of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. one of the most total commitments made to Dr. King's work by anyone came from Academy Award winning actor Marlon Brando," wrote Louie Robinson in the May 1968 issue of Jet magazine.
"If the vacuum formed by Dr. King's death isn't filled with concern and understanding and a measure of love," Brando declared on national television, "then I think we all are really going to be lost here in this country."
Can Clooney step up in the style of Brando? Judge for yourself from his own words: "In 2003 I was saying, where are the ties [between Iraq] and al-Qaida? Where are the ties to 9/11? I knew it; where the f*ck were these Democrats who said, 'We were misled'? That's the kind of thing that drives me crazy: 'We were misled.' f*ck you, you weren't misled. You were afraid of being called unpatriotic."
Mickey Z. is the author of several books, most recently 50 American Revolutions You're Not Supposed to Know (Disinformation Books). He can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.