'Greatest actor of his generation,' Brando dies at 80
Oscar winner starred in 'On the Waterfront,' 'Streetcar,' 'Godfather'
Brando played Johnny, the leader of a motorcycle gang that ran roughshod over the residents of a small town. Brando's role as the swaggering, leather-clad biker solidified his place as the prototypical rebel. In response to the line, "Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?" Brando's retort, "Waddya got?" was seen as an alarming sign of the times. The film was banned in Britain for fear it would incite riots.
From the beginning of his career, Brando became the mouthpiece for some of the most famous lines ever spoken in films, many of which are still part of the American lexicon.
"Streetcar" introduced the animal cry "Stell-ah!" to audiences, which Brando bellowed from the stage floor up a winding staircase to Hunter. "The Godfather's" Don Corleone issued the cold threat: "Make him an offer he can't refuse."
In 1954's "On the Waterfront," Brando, who was cast as an ex-boxer-turned-mob-errand-boy, uttered perhaps the most repeated line of any American movie: "I coulda been a contender."
Brando took much of the credit for the movie's most memorable scene, in the back of a taxi in which that line was spoken. He had initially argued with director Kazan over the scene, saying it did not seem true to the relationships between the characters.
"As it was written, you had this guy pulling a gun on his brother," Brando told interviewer Lawrence Grobel. "I said, that's not believable. I don't believe one brother is going to shoot the other."
He said he persuaded Kazan to allow him and Rod Steiger, who played his brother, to improvise much of the scene. It began with Brando's character waving away his brother's threat in disbelief.
This dialogue made it into the final cut:
"Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, 'Kid, this ain't your night. We're going for the price on Wilson.' You remember that? 'This ain't your night!' My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville!
"You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn't have to take them dives for the short-end money
"I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it."
Kael once described Brando's acting in "Waterfront" as "the willingness to go emotionally naked and the control to do it in character. (And, along with that, the understanding of desolation.)"
Brando believed that the scene resonated through the years with people because "everybody believes he could have been somebody if he'd been dealt different cards by fate."
"On the Waterfront" was a highlight of postwar cinema and, by many accounts, Brando's best work.
In 1955, Brando starred as Sky Masterson in "Guys and Dolls," where the pre-Brando and post-Brando worlds of acting collided.
In one famous incident, Frank Sinatra -- already jealous of Brando for getting the lead in "On the Waterfront" and not that happy about Brando's romantic lead in "Guys and Dolls" -- got disgusted with Brando's acting style.
To accommodate Brando's obsession to get a scene perfect, the famously one-take Sinatra, who played Nathan Detroit, was forced to eat cheesecake in take after take. Finally, Sinatra exploded. "These New York actors!" he said. "How much cake do you think I can eat?" Sinatra started calling Brando "Mumbles" and said he was "the most overrated actor in the world."
During the 1950s and '60s, Brando also made "Sayonara," "The Young Lions" and "Mutiny on the Bounty," but he also had a string of more forgettable films, including "Morituri," "The Chase," "The Appaloosa" and "The Countess from Hong Kong." His one effort at directing -- "One-Eyed Jacks" (1961) -- was considered a disaster by critics.