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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