cover image The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando

The Contender: The Story of Marlon Brando

William J. Mann. Harper, $35 (736p) ISBN 978-0-06-242764-9

Biographer Mann (The Wars of the Roosevelts) presents an insightful and well-researched portrait of Marlon Brando. As Mann shows, Brando transformed acting with the “raw power” and vulnerability of his performances, yet he resented the fame he won and felt little passion for a skill that came naturally to him. Taking a cinematic approach, Mann swoops in on pivotal moments in Brando’s life. He explores in depth Brando’s traumatic childhood with two alcoholic parents, his 1943 arrival in New York City to study at the New School’s Dramatic Workshop, his formative work with drama teacher Stella Adler and director Elia Kazan, his late 1950s and ’60s period as a perceived Hollywood “sellout,” his 1972 comeback with The Godfather and Last Tango in Paris, the refuge he found on an atoll near Tahiti, his struggles with anger and depression, and his complicated family life. Deeply drawn to social advocacy, Brando campaigned for the civil rights movement and refused his Godfather Oscar to protest Hollywood’s depiction of Native Americans. Though sympathetic to Brando, Mann doesn’t shy away from his flaws, such as his often callous treatment of women. The result is a thoughtfully considered study of a supremely talented, observant, and imaginative man who became a reluctant cultural icon. Agent: Malaga Baldi, Malaga Baldi Literary. (Oct.)