Hollywood icon Marlon Brando, who died last week, redefined screen acting for a generation of stars, but despite his blazing start, he never achieved the potential of his enormous gift.
Brando, who died Thursday of lung failure at the age of 80, changed what it meant to be a leading man in Tinseltown by baring his tortured soul in a string of early movies that came to incarnate his artistic promise.
His brooding, lusty, savage and emotionally honest style inspired some of Hollywood's greatest names, including James Dean, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Paul Newman and, later, Sean Penn. He won seven Oscar nominations and two statuettes.
But while he is praised as one of the greatest actors of his time, only a handful of Brando's 40-odd movie roles will be remembered as great performances in meaningful pictures, leaving his fans disappointed but eternally wanting more of his screen magic.
"I could've been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, Charley, let's face it," Brando's angry but wounded boxer character, Terry Malloy, said in On The Waterfront.
The sentiment could also have summed up Brando's career, during which he but never assumed his promise.
"One of the great tragedies is that Brando never developed his tremendous potential," said actor Robert Duvall, who starred with Brando in The Chase, The Godfather and Apocalypse Now.
"He didn't think acting was a great way to make a living. Maybe he had so much adulation so young that he just got bored with it all."
Brando's Stanley Kowalski in 1951's A Streetcar Named Desire, his performance as a Mexican bandit in Viva Zapata! in 1952, his renegade biker in The Wild One (1954) and his defining portrayal of Malloy in 1954, for which he won the best actor Oscar, stand out as his finest roles.
Later in his career, he won his second best actor Academy Award for his role as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972) and gave a moving performance in 1995's Don Juan DeMarco, co-starring Johnny Depp.
But following his explosive start in film acting, beginning with his movie debut in 1950's The Men, Brando became intimidated and increasingly horrified by Hollywood and even the profession of that he came to symbolize.
As he withdrew from the glare of publicity and fame which he believed would devour his artistic spontaneity, he became intensely reclusive and publicly disdainful of Hollywood's shallow glitz and the acting profession.
"The principal benefit acting has afforded me is the money to pay for my psychoanalysis," he once said. On another occasion he said the job of acting was "just like slicing baloney."
"An actor's a guy who, if you ain't talking about him, ain't listening," said the actor, who lived in seclusion in his hilltop mansion, far from the Hollywood parties taking place just a few miles away.
"The only reason I'm in Hollywood is that I don't have the moral courage to refuse the money."
Through his career, Brando made far more dubious movie choices than he did good ones, allowing the pay cheque to motivate him, rather than the roles or films.
He became a bloated parody of himself, taking cameo roles in films such as 1978's Superman, after running off a string of forgettable films, including 1963's The Ugly American, 1966's The Chase and Charlie Chaplin's 1967's A Countess From Hong Kong.
By the time he made 1996's lacklustre The Island of Dr. Moreau, Brando had given up trying to memorise his lines and had them read to him via a radio earpiece.
But Brando mocked those who said he had wasted a "great" talent, saying that such adjectives should be reserved for history's great masters of painting and music, not for actors, who he said were paid to do what most people do all day long.
Far from basking in the glory of his worldwide acclaim, Brando retreated behind high walls in Los Angeles and in the 1960s, he left the US altogether to live on his private atoll in Tahiti.
But the money dangled in front of him by Hollywood was too tempting, particularly when he fell on hard times, as millions of dollars in legal bills mounted as he paid to defend his son Christian when he was accused of the 1990 killing of his daughter Cheyenne's lover.
In his 1994 autobiography Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me, Brando said he "could draw no conclusions about my life because it is a continuously evolving and unfolding process. ... I haven't found answers. It's been a painful odyssey dappled with moments of joy and laughter."
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