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The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando

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Entertainment Weekly's BIG FALL BOOKS PREVIEW Selection Best Book of 2019 -- Publisher's Weekly Based on new and revelatory material from Brando’sown private archives, an award-winning film biographer presents a deeply-textured, ambitious, and definitive portrait of the greatest movie actor of the twentieth century, the elusive Marlon Brando, bringing his extraordinarily Entertainment Weekly's BIG FALL BOOKS PREVIEW Selection Best Book of 2019 -- Publisher's Weekly Based on new and revelatory material from Brando’s own private archives, an award-winning film biographer presents a deeply-textured, ambitious, and definitive portrait of the greatest movie actor of the twentieth century, the elusive Marlon Brando, bringing his extraordinarily complex life into view as never before. The most influential movie actor of his era, Marlon Brando changed the way other actors perceived their craft. His approach was natural, honest, and deeply personal, resulting in performances—most notably in A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront—that are without parallel. Brando was heralded as the American Hamlet—the Yank who surpassed British stage royalty Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, and Ralph Richardson as the standard of greatness in the mid-twentieth century. Brando’s impact on American culture matches his professional significance; he both challenged and codified our ideas of masculinity and sexuality. Brando was also one of the first stars to use his fame as a platform to address social, political, and moral issues, courageously calling out America’s deeply rooted racism. William Mann’s brilliant biography of the Hollywood legend illuminates this culture icon for a new age. Mann astutely argues that Brando was not only a great actor but also a cultural soothsayer, a Cassandra warning us about the challenges to come. Brando’s admonitions against the monetization of nearly every aspect of the culture were prescient. His public protests against racial segregation and discrimination at the height of the Civil Rights movement—getting himself arrested at least once—were criticized as being needlessly provocative. Yet those actions of fifty years ago have become a model many actors follow today. Psychologically astute and masterfully researched, based on new and revelatory material, The Contender explores the star and the man in full, including the childhood traumas that reverberated through his professional and personal life. It is a dazzling biography of our nation’s greatest actor that is sure to become an instant classic. The Contender includes sixteen pages of photographs.


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Entertainment Weekly's BIG FALL BOOKS PREVIEW Selection Best Book of 2019 -- Publisher's Weekly Based on new and revelatory material from Brando’sown private archives, an award-winning film biographer presents a deeply-textured, ambitious, and definitive portrait of the greatest movie actor of the twentieth century, the elusive Marlon Brando, bringing his extraordinarily Entertainment Weekly's BIG FALL BOOKS PREVIEW Selection Best Book of 2019 -- Publisher's Weekly Based on new and revelatory material from Brando’s own private archives, an award-winning film biographer presents a deeply-textured, ambitious, and definitive portrait of the greatest movie actor of the twentieth century, the elusive Marlon Brando, bringing his extraordinarily complex life into view as never before. The most influential movie actor of his era, Marlon Brando changed the way other actors perceived their craft. His approach was natural, honest, and deeply personal, resulting in performances—most notably in A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront—that are without parallel. Brando was heralded as the American Hamlet—the Yank who surpassed British stage royalty Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, and Ralph Richardson as the standard of greatness in the mid-twentieth century. Brando’s impact on American culture matches his professional significance; he both challenged and codified our ideas of masculinity and sexuality. Brando was also one of the first stars to use his fame as a platform to address social, political, and moral issues, courageously calling out America’s deeply rooted racism. William Mann’s brilliant biography of the Hollywood legend illuminates this culture icon for a new age. Mann astutely argues that Brando was not only a great actor but also a cultural soothsayer, a Cassandra warning us about the challenges to come. Brando’s admonitions against the monetization of nearly every aspect of the culture were prescient. His public protests against racial segregation and discrimination at the height of the Civil Rights movement—getting himself arrested at least once—were criticized as being needlessly provocative. Yet those actions of fifty years ago have become a model many actors follow today. Psychologically astute and masterfully researched, based on new and revelatory material, The Contender explores the star and the man in full, including the childhood traumas that reverberated through his professional and personal life. It is a dazzling biography of our nation’s greatest actor that is sure to become an instant classic. The Contender includes sixteen pages of photographs.

30 review for The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando

  1. 5 out of 5

    David J

    Review to come.

  2. 4 out of 5

    William Dury

    My dad took me to see “Mutiny on the Bounty” when it opened in 1962. Brando made no particular impression on me. When I saw “One Eyed Jacks” on TV when I was 15 or 16 I was much taken with his truculent, smoldering persona. I liked “The Godfather” as much as anyone else, but “Waterfront” was the killer. My goodness. Anyway, that’s where his reputation really rests, “Godfather” and “Waterfront,” and why not, those are two of the best movies ever made. Don’t miss “Julius Caesar,” though. He’s My dad took me to see “Mutiny on the Bounty” when it opened in 1962. Brando made no particular impression on me. When I saw “One Eyed Jacks” on TV when I was 15 or 16 I was much taken with his truculent, smoldering persona. I liked “The Godfather” as much as anyone else, but “Waterfront” was the killer. My goodness. Anyway, that’s where his reputation really rests, “Godfather” and “Waterfront,” and why not, those are two of the best movies ever made. Don’t miss “Julius Caesar,” though. He’s really, seriously good. Now the bad news. Marlon was a rotten person. Okay, okay, dysfunctional maybe. Both parents alcoholic, father physically and emotionally abusive. (To Marlon but not his two older sisters. Hmmm.). Marlon did terrible things to people, but, in Mann’s telling, comes across as a child who doesn’t understand the consequences of his actions. Luckily, I’m one of those odd people that can, within reason, separate the artist from their work. Mr. Mann tells us that Brando was contemptuous of the acting profession, which certainly makes sense if he had low self esteem. Though it came easily to him, he was not an immediate success on the New York stage. That’s a tough go, even for someone as profoundly gifted as he. His technique was unconventional, which may explain why it took a little time for him to break through. He seems to have always been the best student in his classes. When he started “Streetcar” simultaneously Tennessee Williams began to rewrite it to feature his character and Jessica Tandy wrote him a letter complaining how he was messing up and giving him performance tips. Mann never explains why Brando did “Waterfront.” He was angry with Kazan for testifying before the HUA. He clearly understood Kazan saw the film as justifying his testimony. Perhaps, like us, he saw the film as palatable because the justification angle is not convincing - as Mann points out, equating the film gangsters with communists just doesn’t work. The whole episode is a little strange. “Waterfront” was a surprise hit-did audiences in 1954 buy Kazan’s argument? Did they feel it gave THEM absolution? My favorite story is how, old and retired, Brando would call his friends on the phone and recite Shakespeare to them. “Hey, Ross, check this out-‘Is this a dagger I see before mine eyes...’”. Mann muses on a fat old Marlon doing “King Lear.” Wow. That sounds just about perfect.

  3. 5 out of 5

    James

    A very different type of bio that reads like a novel. It covers mostly 3 decades of Brando's life and career 50s, 60s, and 70s and time trips between personal and work moments that interweave and mirror what is happening in both departments of his life. You learn a lot, at least, I did about this truly puzzling frustrating and odd man. It made me want to rewatch or seek out some of his films that I had never seen. A lengthy book, but it flows beautifully.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    Although both critics and other actors generally acknowledged Marlon Brando as one of the world's finest actors, he consistently downplayed his talent and the acting profession. For decades, the media lamented that he found no fulfillment in acting. But in this outstanding, intelligent and insightful biography, THE CONTENDER, William J. Mann (Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn) examines Brando's life and passions from a different angle. He posits that Brando found true satisfaction in his fight for Although both critics and other actors generally acknowledged Marlon Brando as one of the world's finest actors, he consistently downplayed his talent and the acting profession. For decades, the media lamented that he found no fulfillment in acting. But in this outstanding, intelligent and insightful biography, THE CONTENDER, William J. Mann (Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn) examines Brando's life and passions from a different angle. He posits that Brando found true satisfaction in his fight for civil rights and his relentless commitment to social justice. Brando (1924-2004) was a complex and sometimes difficult man, but Mann's expert research finds the reasons behind his actions. Brando was a bookworm and "a thinker, an observer, an examiner of himself and the world with the goal of figuring out both," writes Mann. But he was also a sexual adventurer with both men and women. Playing Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire (on Broadway and in the 1951 film) catapulted Brando's career, yet by the 1960s, few film projects earned his full attention. His 1961 directorial debut, One-Eyed Jacks, was recut by the studio, leaving him depressed and disillusioned. At this point, his political activism began to take center stage. With few exceptions (The Godfather; Last Tango in Paris), his post-1970 films served only to finance his activism, alimony and lifestyle. Mann calls the last 30 years of Brando's life "a catalog of tragedies that approach the Shakespearean." At more than 700 pages, THE CONTENDER is a brisk and adroit read that is perceptive, thoughtful and gives fans a new view of their idol. William J. Mann's outstanding and superbly researched biography, THE CONTENDER, reveals Marlon Brando's real passion was for social justice.

  5. 5 out of 5

    False

    I really pushed to get through this as quickly as possible. I've been reading oversized books way too much lately. In The Contender, veteran Hollywood biographer William J. Man has written the definitive (so far) biography of Marlon Brando. With over 600 pages of text supplemented by copious annotation, this is an exhaustive, sometimes exhausting study that is both a recounting of the available information about Brando’s life and career and an analysis of Brando the artist. Mann structures his I really pushed to get through this as quickly as possible. I've been reading oversized books way too much lately. In The Contender, veteran Hollywood biographer William J. Man has written the definitive (so far) biography of Marlon Brando. With over 600 pages of text supplemented by copious annotation, this is an exhaustive, sometimes exhausting study that is both a recounting of the available information about Brando’s life and career and an analysis of Brando the artist. Mann structures his book to reinforce his theses about Brando. First, that Marlon was psychically damaged as a result of his upbringing by an emotionally distant father and an alcoholic mother. He spent much of his life trying to establish some sort of relationship with his father, even allowing the man to run (badly) businesses Brando owned. Brando would often try to make career choices that would please his mother who loved basking in his reflected glory. Mann opines that Brando’s traumatic upbringing, which also led to periods of depression and moments of uncontrollable rage, was one of the reasons that the actor was what we would now call a sex addict, unable to sustain a relationship. Brando claimed that marriage was a bourgeois institution, but his sexual activity was more compulsion than policy. Mann catalogues many of the women who were more than one-night stands. He also hints that there were male lovers, but is less forthright with specific information, which is surprising given that Mann has been a chronicler of gay Hollywood. He also argues that Brando willingly fathered so many children as it was his desire to do so, not accidents of passion. Finally, Mann repeatedly posits that Brando never liked acting, never took his craft seriously, perhaps because it came so easily to him. Acting was something he did for money but seldom enjoyed. He was much more passionate about the political causes he espoused. He made fun of actors who talked about their “art.” Quoting his mentor, Stella Adler, he would say that everyone acted all the time. Brando hated the life of a stage actor in a long-running play even when it was Tennessee Williams’ classic, A Streetcar Named Desire. Being in a hit play was deadening routine, and he hated routine. Acting in films was less onerous although he had little respect for most of the directors he worked with. He loved working with Elia Kazan until they had a falling out and loved working with Francis Ford Coppola on The Godfather, the film that salvaged Brando’s waning career. Brando had a mercuric personality. He was never happier than when he was cutting up with fellow actors, performing childish practical jokes, and making fun of pretension. He could also fall prey to dark periods of depression and had problems with substance abuse. His rages and his unreliability gained him the reputation of being difficult. He was passionate about his political causes, particularly racial issues. He supported the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and eventually the Black Panthers and cared deeply about the terrible treatment of Native Americans, which lead to his infuriating the Hollywood establishment by sending Sasheen Littlefeather to accept his Academy Award for The Godfather and read Brando’s attack on Hollywood’s treatment of Native Americans. In middle age, Brando began to take his role as father seriously. His older children lived tragic lives. Despite Brando’s efforts, son Christian was sent to jail for killing a man who had been abusive toward his sister, Cheyenne. She later committed suicide. Brando was left with his younger family in Tahiti. Sadly, Brando moved from being a beautiful young man, one of America’s sexiest performers, to a bloated, overweight elderly man. Lovers of film will always cherish Brando’s brilliant performances in A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, and The Godfather. To some extent, his memory is tarnished by the poor films he made for the money (over $3 million for a cameo in Superman). However, even in mediocre films, critics found touches of brilliance in Brando’s performances. One may quibble with Mann’s frequent repetition of his theories about what made Brando tick as a man and an artist. Nonetheless, The Contender is an impressive book, a must for fans of Brando and of film acting. The book offers detailed descriptions of the making of Brando’s major films as well as a rich sense of the inner and outer life of this complex, often troubled man. Mann shows that Brando was always himself, a complex man who found living a challenge, acting a trial, and who hated his celebrity, yet enjoyed the monetary benefits of it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lily

    So many times I thought that I would put the book down, but I wanted to keep reading to see if some of the rumors I have heard over the years about Marlon Brando are factual. Of course, even that presumption of mine was probably wrong--in this book, Mr. Mann asserts that some of the biographies, articles, and stories about Brando were false or tainted. At 621 page plus addendums, it was a long read. The overall assumption in the book is that Brando did not feel that acting was his calling, he So many times I thought that I would put the book down, but I wanted to keep reading to see if some of the rumors I have heard over the years about Marlon Brando are factual. Of course, even that presumption of mine was probably wrong--in this book, Mr. Mann asserts that some of the biographies, articles, and stories about Brando were false or tainted. At 621 page plus addendums, it was a long read. The overall assumption in the book is that Brando did not feel that acting was his calling, he felt like it was selling out, he didn't do publicity often (and, if he did, he directed it his way), he wanted to make a cultural and environmental difference to society, he wanted to be left alone, and he wanted to carouse. I usually don't like reading about "celebrities", because it is disillusioning and a lot of the times shows uncouth lifestyles of the people. This book was no exception. I don't know if Brando felt he lived a fulfilling life, but this book doesn't make it appear that he did. He seemed to blame his problems on his parents. He was in therapy for most of his life. He had many wives, lovers, and children--several of those ended up badly. His films do endure: some I have watched, some I will not watch. If he changed the face of acting as mentioned, I don't know. He was involved in civil rights, and Indian rights, and environmental causes; I do applaud him for that.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mervyn S Whyte

    That I rattled through it so quickly suggests it's a good read. And it is. Especially the first couple of (mammoth) chapters. The problem is the story stops in 1973. What about the other 30 years? I guess Mann hit his word count halfway through and had to wrap up the 1973-2004 years in a 20-page epilogue. I've lost count of the number of biographies I've read recently where this happens. And it's a real shame. Especially when the subject-matter is as enthralling and entertaining and complex and That I rattled through it so quickly suggests it's a good read. And it is. Especially the first couple of (mammoth) chapters. The problem is the story stops in 1973. What about the other 30 years? I guess Mann hit his word count halfway through and had to wrap up the 1973-2004 years in a 20-page epilogue. I've lost count of the number of biographies I've read recently where this happens. And it's a real shame. Especially when the subject-matter is as enthralling and entertaining and complex and multi-dimensional as Marlon Brando. What was needed was something like Simon Callow's multi-volume life of Orson Welles. The other problem with Mann's book is that he sometimes appears to over-embellish and over-dramatise the narrative. Some of the details he includes he can't possibly know. Can he? (Maybe he does, given the access he's been given to Brando's estate.) And the quotes from 'friends' and other anonymous sources are not explained in the footnotes. Brilliant for most of the first half of the book, then tails off a bit.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Marion Tilley

    If you are a film and/or theater buff, "The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando," might be especially interesting. With heavy emphasis on Brando's experiences growing up in the Midwest as well as many pages devoted to his years studying acting in NYC, this biography depicts a troubled boy who grew into a troubled man. During Brando's life, he was known to be a rebellious, profane, cranky, and a radically political man. Never a Hollywood darling, Brando fought to live life on his own terms. If you are a film and/or theater buff, "The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando," might be especially interesting. With heavy emphasis on Brando's experiences growing up in the Midwest as well as many pages devoted to his years studying acting in NYC, this biography depicts a troubled boy who grew into a troubled man. During Brando's life, he was known to be a rebellious, profane, cranky, and a radically political man. Never a Hollywood darling, Brando fought to live life on his own terms. However,this biography by William J. Mann, goes a long way in making Marlon Brando a sympathetic subject. Brando attempted to be a better father to his many children than his own father had been to him. Brando was a life-long learner, someone who enjoyed debating philosophy and politics with his friends. Although he was a misogynist and had frequent sexual affairs with both men and women, he stood up for many poor and oppressed groups by giving of his time and money to these groups.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mauberley

    A thoughtful attempt to make sense of a man whom I have no trouble describing as America’s greatest film actor. If Waterfront or Streetcar leave you unmoved, please stop reading now. Mann ranges to and fro through his subject’s life and details acreete rather than tumble out in a more straightforward narrative. Too often swinish toward the women in his life and largely unequipped by his unhappy upbringing to be much of a father, Brando really did want to become a ‘good man’ as his devotion to A thoughtful attempt to make sense of a man whom I have no trouble describing as America’s greatest film actor. If Waterfront or Streetcar leave you unmoved, please stop reading now. Mann ranges to and fro through his subject’s life and details acreete rather than tumble out in a more straightforward narrative. Too often swinish toward the women in his life and largely unequipped by his unhappy upbringing to be much of a father, Brando really did want to become a ‘good man’ as his devotion to the postwar Zionist cause as well as the American civil rights movement show. He was NOT a ‘Method’ actor But a student of Stella Adler whose technique emphasized fresh and often improvised responses. Elia Kazan, his greatest director, described him as a ‘hoodlum aristocrat’, a beautiful phrase that, upon reflection, seems applicable to many great male American artists of the last half of the twentieth century,including, Bob Dylan, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock...

  10. 4 out of 5

    Patty

    There was a lot of information about Marlon Brando’s personal life, civil rights efforts and career in this book. I learned a great deal about this actor, the social climate at different points in his life, in the U.S. and other parts of the world, and learned a little bit about other actors as well. The way the book was written however, was irritating to me. The author kept going back in time to some previous movies, to the point of feeling extremely repetitious. I’d be reading along about an There was a lot of information about Marlon Brando’s personal life, civil rights efforts and career in this book. I learned a great deal about this actor, the social climate at different points in his life, in the U.S. and other parts of the world, and learned a little bit about other actors as well. The way the book was written however, was irritating to me. The author kept going back in time to some previous movies, to the point of feeling extremely repetitious. I’d be reading along about an interesting topic then all of a sudden I was reading about Waterfront - AGAIN!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Byron

    Riveting, informative read from start to finish. Mann does a great job connecting Brando's past to each stage of his personal as well as professional life. He delivers an intimate, balanced portrait of an anything but simple or straightforward man and leaves readers with an appreciation not just for Brando's talents but also his humanity.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    “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. You don’t understand. 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. It was you, Charley.”

  13. 4 out of 5

    Larry Sampson

    Like every book I have read by William J. Mann this was excellent. His books are always well researched and well written. I have read all of the biographies he has written and he just keeps getting better.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jason Dikes

    Certainly better than Brando's autobiography. Author does a good job placing Brando in his time and explains how he viewed his own talents.

  15. 5 out of 5

    PWRL

    A

  16. 5 out of 5

    Marie

    Just when you think there's nothing that we don't know about Bud, this book comes along and probes his psyche in new ways. Not necessarily chronological, Brando's life is loosely portrayed by recurring themes. It made this enigmatic, brilliant man more accessible, but no less intriguing. And it got me started on a Brando film festival to re-watch his movies with an eye towards some of the backstory revealed in this book. A satisfying biography.

  17. 4 out of 5

    False

  18. 5 out of 5

    Clark Church

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ed Ternan

  20. 4 out of 5

    Louann

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

  22. 4 out of 5

    Delaney

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kristen Long

  24. 5 out of 5

    Cathy

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rosalyn

  26. 4 out of 5

    Eric Matthews

  27. 4 out of 5

    Henry Barcohana

  28. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Yates

  29. 5 out of 5

    Michael

  30. 4 out of 5

    Roland Drake

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