A rare candid of Marlon Brando with friends c. 1970’s.
(Reiko, Marlon Brando, Jill Banner -weonna- and Phillip Rhodes.)
Excerpts from “Songs My Mother Taught Me”:
She made me laugh harder than any woman I’ve ever known. She was quick to understand and laughed at me a lot, too. Like my mother and grandmother, she had a sense of the absurd, thought the outrageous and imposed no limits on her imagination. She was amusing, witty, intelligent, eccentric. But she was also troubled. She distrusted people, drank too much and occasionally used drugs—not hard drugs, but pills. It was spasmodic; she would use them awhile, then swear off them, be clean for a while, then start again, and I’d have to take her to a hospital because it was the only place where she could stop. Still, we had a lot of fun together, and even now I often laugh at what we laughed at then.
One night I took Weonna on a mission to steal a stack of pipe, and before the night was over, she nearly had a heart attack. Not far from where I lived in California, a large parcel of land owned by the Teamsters’ Union had remained undeveloped for years while contractors erected houses all around it; and if I didn’t feel like going to sleep yet, sometimes I’d drive overthere in my Jeep and cruise around the property with my lights out for the fun of it. One day construction crews arrived, set up equipment on the property and started work on what looked like a big development. But after a while, everything stopped abruptly and the workers left, leaving behind stacks of building materials, including a pile of three-inch irrigation pipe. I was doing some work on my house and needed some pipe, so I took Weonna to the site at about two A.M ., hooked up my Jeep’s winch to several pieces of pipe and began reeling it in. Within a few minutes, a helicopter was overhead sweeping a bright spotlight back and forth across the construction site. I dropped my pipe wrench, and when the wavering cone of light settled onthe Jeep, I waved frantically to it, as if to say, “Please come down here, I need help.”
I had no idea what I was going to say to the cops, but it was the first thing I could think of.
Then an amplified voice boomed out of the sky: “Stay where you are. Do not move. You are under police surveillance.”
I kept waving and smiling like a stranded sailor who has been spotted by a passing ship after spending half his life on a desert island. A minute or two later, a police car with flashing lights skidded to a stop about fifty feet from us.
Among the problems I had to deal with was the fact that the cable from the winch on my Jeep was still attached to the stack of pipe. I whispered to Weonna, “Whatever I say, agree with me. Agree with me when I tell them what happened. We’re going to have to tell a few lies.”
“I’m not lying,” she said. “You’re the one who got us into this, and I’m not going to be part of it.”
I thought her disloyalty unbecoming, but I didn’t get a chance to argue with her, for just as I was about to say something, the police car hit us with a spotlight and neither of us could see anything. I tried to put a look of happy relief on my face and hollered, “Thank God you found us! I thought we’d be here all night.”
When they saw that a woman was with me it apparently eased the cops’ sense of alarm, and one of them approached the Jeep. I thanked him profusely and said, “I took a wrong turn on Mulholland and ended up out here in the boondocks and got stuck in the sand. I tried to use the winch by tying up to that stack of pipe to see if I could bootstrap myself out, but the wheels kept spinning. Would you call a tow truck to get us out of here? I’d be very grateful.”
All the while, I was hoping he wouldn’t look at the ground, because if had he would have realized that no one could get stuck in a quarter inch of sand. He started walking back to the police car to call a tow truck, but before he’d taken four steps, I said, “Wait a minute, Officer.
Before you call, maybe I should try it one more time.”I started the Jeep, pressed the throttle all the way to the floor until the engine roared like a threshing machine at harvest time, then put it in gear and let out the clutch very slowly with one foot still firmly on the brake. The Jeep shook, shuddered, rocked and slowly started to move as I let out the clutch. After I’d driven a few feet, I got outand told the officer, “I think I made it. Boy, that was lucky. Thanks a lot, I really appreciate your help. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t come.” He accepted my thanks and drove away. I followed him back to the road and we went in opposite directions on Mulholland Drive while Weonna’s cold silence let me know what she thought of me. I was feeling really pleased with myself until in my mirror I saw the police car do a U-turn and start coming after us. Oh, shit, I thought, he’s figured it out. The car raced up behind us with its flashing lights and I stopped. By now Weonna was bugeyed, almost shaking. One of the policemen came over to my window with a flashlight and said, “You know, Mr. Brando, my wife would never forgive me for not getting your autograph.” “Why, sure, Officer,” I said, wanting to kiss him, “do you have a pen and a piece of paper?”
“There have been several important influences on my life. Philosophically I’ve felt closest to the American Indians; I sympathize with them, admire their culture, and have learned a great deal from them. Jews opened my mind and taught me to value knowledge and learning, and blacks also taught me a lot. But I think Polynesians have had the greatest influence because of how they live.
In Tahiti I learned how to live, though I discovered I could never be a Tahitian. When I first went there, I had illusions of becoming Polynesian. I wanted to fuse myself into the culture. However, eventually I realized that not only were my genes different, but the emotional algebra of my life was unsuited to becoming anything but who I am, so I gave up trying and instead simply learned to appreciate what they have. I suppose I was learning the same lessons that I did from Jews, blacks and American Indians:you can admire and love a culture, you can even attach yourself to the edges of it, but you can’t ever become part of it. You have to be who you are.”