Brando's Biography (Part 2: Early Life)

Early life
Brando was born in Omaha, Nebraska on April 3, 1924 , the son of Dorothy Julia Pennebaker Brando (1897–1954), an actress, and Marlon Brando, Sr. (1895–1965), a pesticide and chemical feed manufacturer. The family moved to Evanston, Illinois and in 1935, when he was eleven years old, his parents separated. His mother briefly took her three children Marlon, Jocelyn (1919–2005) and Frances Brando (1922–1994) to live with her mother in Santa Ana, California until 1937, when the parents reconciled and moved to Libertyville, Illinois, a village north of Chicago. The family was of mixed Dutch, Irish, German, Huguenot, and English descent. Contrary to what is stated in some biographies, Brando's grandfather Eugene E. Brando was not French but was born in New York state. Brando's grandmother Marie Holloway abandoned Eugene and their son Marlon Brando Sr. when he was five years old and used the money to suport her gambling and constant boozing.

Brando's mother, Dodie, was an unconventional but intelligent and talented woman. She smoked, wore trousers and drove automobiles at a time when it was unusual for women to do so. However, she suffered from alcoholism and often had to be retrieved from Chicago bars by Brando's father. She later became a leader of Alcoholics Anonymous. Dodie was an actress and administrator in local theater and was written about for her theatrical work by the Omaha newspapers. She helped a young Henry Fonda to begin his own acting career, and fueled Brando's interest in stage acting. His father, Marlon Sr., was a gifted amateur photographer. Brando's maternal grandmother, Bessie Gahan Pennebaker Meyers, to whom Brando was perhaps closer than his own mother, was also unconventional. Widowed at a young age, she worked to support herself as a secretary and later as a Christian Science healer, and was well known in Omaha. Her father, Myles Gahan, was a doctor from Ireland and her mother, Julia Watts, was from England. Brando was a gifted mimic from early childhood and developed a rare ability to absorb the tics and mannerisms of people he played and to display those traits dramatically while staying in character. His sister, Jocelyn Brando, however, was the first to pursue a career in acting, going to New York to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Art. She later appeared on Broadway, in movies and on television. Next, Marlon's sister Frannie left college in California to study art in New York. Marlon followed.

Brando had a tumultuous youth. He was held back a year in school and was later expelled from Libertyville High School for riding his motorcycle through the school. At the age of sixteen years, he was sent to Shattuck Military Academy in Faribault, Minnesota, where his father had gone before him. At Shattuck, he excelled at theatre and got along well within the structure of the school. In his final year (1943), he was put on probation for talking back to an officer during maneuvers. A part of his probation was that he be confined to the school campus, but he eventually tried sneaking off campus into town and was caught. The faculty voted to expel him. He received support from his fellow students who thought the punishment too harsh. He was later invited back for the next year, but decided not to finish school.

He worked as a ditch-digger in his hometown as a summer job arranged by his father, but had decided to follow his sisters to New York. One sister was trying to be a painter and the other had already appeared on Broadway. He visited his sister Frances in New York at Christmas 1942 and liked the experience. Brando was given six months of support from his father, after which his father offered to help him get a job as a salesman. Brando left Illinois for New York City, where he studied at the American Theatre Wing Professional School, New School Dramatic Workshop, and the Actors' Studio. It was at the New School's Dramatic Workshop that he studied with Stella Adler and learned the techniques of the Stanislavski System. There is a possibly apocryphal story in which Adler spoke about teaching Brando, saying that she had instructed the class to act like chickens, then adding that a bomb was about to fall on them. Most of the class clucked and ran around wildly, but Brando sat calmly and pretended to lay an egg. When Adler asked Brando to explain his action, he replied, "I'm a chicken - What do I know from a bomb?"

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