At a time when male stars were expected to be twinkling and gallant, a sneering Brando dared to show man as beast. His finest performances–in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), On the Waterfront (1954), The Wild One (1954) and even Guys and Dolls (1955)–were masterworks of sulking machismo.
At his peak, Brando was the most imitated actor on the planet–and the stuff of dreams. Brando and Eva Marie Saint sliding down the wall in On the Waterfront is one of the greatest “Later…” moments in movies. Whether sweating in his undershirt in Streetcar or playing oh-so-teasingly with his pinkie ring in The Godfather, Brando exuded a seething mix of sadness, cunning and power that was all male, all the time.
Postscript: Brando scorned both Hollywood and his own beauty, becoming a sanctimonious gasbag who left a trail of bitter wives and destroyed children in his egomaniacal wake. Ultimately, his lasting legacy may be Don Corleone in The Godfather (1972). His final great role, it singlehandedly created an American icon.
In His Own Words: “With women, I’ve got a long bamboo pole with a leather loop on the end of it. I slip the loop around their necks so they can’t get away or come too close. Like catching snakes.”