Cecil Beaton on… Marlon Brando

By Sotheby's
Cecil Beaton was one of the most celebrated photographers of the 20th century and his iconic images captured everyone from Hollywood greats such as Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly to art world legends including Picasso and Francis Bacon. In a new series adapted from Hugo Vickers’ book Cecil Beaton Portraits & Profiles, we take a look at images from the Cecil Beaton Studio Archive, which is located at Sotheby’s in London, and uncover what he really thought about his famous subjects.

Beaton encountered Marlon Brando in 1957 at Tokyo Airport, where he had travelled with Truman Capote who was to interview the star. Brando was starring in Sayonara at the time although he is best known for starring in A Streetcar Named Desire on both stage and screen, On The Waterfront, Apocalypse Now and The Godfather.

One of the most iconic film stars of all time, Beaton found Brando to be an enigma, writing in his diary after the meeting: “Is he pretending to be tougher than he is? Does he try to hide an intelligent, sensitive core, or is he a charlatan pretending to be an intellectual? Whatever he may be, his anarchic muggings and behaviour are always intensely interesting to watch on the screen.”

He also found Brando’s appearance to be somewhat irregular: “Pallid as a mushroom, smooth-skinned and scarred, with curved feminine lips and silky hair often falling in picturesque disarray, he seems as unhealthy as a lame duck. Yet his ram-like profile has the harsh strength of the gutter.”

Brando’s reputation for being difficult to work with did not escape Beaton, but he saw this as evidence of Hollywood’s changes: “Dimly, we sense that the expression of Marlon Brando’s personality is somewhat right for the historical moment. Twenty years ago he would have been considered a freak. Managers might have accepted his refusal to continue working under their contracts, but today he reflects our theatrical needs.”

And although Brando was only 33 for their meeting, Beaton described him as “middle-aged”, suggesting he had “become less of an iconoclast and innovator of late”. Despite this, Brando would go on to make films for a more than forty more years, almost right up until his death, aged 80, in 2004.

The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive, consisting of over 100,000 negatives and 9,000 vintage prints, is located at Sotheby’s in London and managed by Art Agency Partners. Click here for more information on licensing images and buying prints.

Discover more about the world of Cecil Beaton.

All quotes © The Literary Executors of the late Sir Cecil Beaton

Cecil Beaton Portraits & Profiles is published by Frances Lincoln Limited and available to buy now.

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