Marlon Brando Opens Up to Tennessee Williams

I had no idea that Marlon Brando was much of a writer, but this 1955 letter to Tennessee Williams is superb. Perhaps I just can’t help identifying him with Stanley Kowalski of the “Napoleonic code,” Stella!” and “Hoity-toity, describin’ me like a ape.” Especially interesting is his attitude towards success. (Note some of the language is a little strong/racy):

I have been afraid for you sometimes, because success sings a deadly lullaby to most people. Success is a real and subtle whore, who would like nothing better than to catch you sleeping and bite your cock off. You have been as brave as anybody I’ve known, and it is comforting to think about it. You probably don’t think of yourself as brave because nobody who really has courage does, but I know you are and I get food from that.

This passage echoes Williams’ own views on success, especially his beautiful (and ironically inspiring) essay On a Streetcar Named Success, written eight years earlier:

It is never altogether too late, unless you embrace the Bitch Goddess, as William James called her, with both arms and find in her smothering caresses exactly what the homesick little boy in you always wanted, absolute protection and utter effortlessness. Security is a kind of death, I think, and it can come to you in a storm of royalty checks beside a kidney-shaped pool in Beverly Hills or anywhere at all that is removed from the conditions that made you an artist, if that’s what you are or were intended to be. Ask anyone who has experienced the kind of success I am talking about–What good is it? Perhaps to get an honest answer you will have to give him a shot of truth-serum but the word he will finally groan is unprintable in genteel publications.

You’ll find the rest of Brando’s letter (including an image of the original) — which includes reflections on actors Anna Magnani and Burt Lancaster — here.

Wes Alwan lives in Boston, Massachusetts, where he works as a writer and researcher and attends the Institute for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Culture. He also participates in The Partially Examined Life, a podcast consisting of informal discussions about philosophical texts by three philosophy graduate school dropouts.

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  • David says:

    Beautifully and hilariously written, both passages. Thanks!

    Regarding the content itself, I don’t know if I agree. I guess it depends for whom you’re working. For example, I feel a responsibility to pay for education for my future children. My parents paid for mine, so it’s sort of a loan passed down through time.

    What this means is that I’m not taking the chances I might otherwise have taken. Or that I might take in the future… It feels like I need to make money and, THEN, I can start actually living.


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