Groping Marlon Brando’s Face: A Long-Overdue Confession

I can't recall exactly what triggered the incident, but it started like
this: I was sitting on a sofa in a dimly lit room...gazing down at the
face of a sleeping Marlon Brando...unable to resist the urge to do the
unthinkable.

Now, let me make one thing perfectly clear—none of what happened that
night was my fault. I attribute my actions, the temporary insanity, and
the fuzzy memory to all those years of exposure to high altitudes. If
I had been dragged into court on assault charges, the judge would have
simply brushed it off with, "What else can you expect when a small-town,starry-eyed
Midwestern girl has to work all those long stretches between L.A. and
New York at 35,000 feet and then finds herself facing a situation like
this? Case dismissed!"

Innocence notwithstanding, perhaps I should explain how I ended up on
Marlon Brando's sofa.

As a naïve, fledgling drama queen working cross-country flights,
I would occasionally create a blip on some high-flying showbiz exec's
radar screen. I had no silly illusions about making it big in "the
business," but what adventurous twenty-something thrill-seeker could
resist an opportunity to join an acting workshop at a major motion picture
studio when it was offered to her?

One such offer, back in 1962, got me past the gatekeeper at Paramount
Studios. A couple dozen people were signed up for the workshop—a mix
of small time actors, budding actors, wannabes, never gonnabes, and me.
Joan, our acting coach had played a bit part as a gypsy in Brando's film,
One-Eyed Jacks. Since Brando was filming Mutiny on the Bounty
on a nearby sound stage, Joan promised to arrange a drop-in coaching session
with the big man himself.

I dismissed the Brando drop-in thing as hype, a teaser to keep us coming
back. I for one was hoping it was hype. I mean, what if Marlon Brando
were to actually show up? Would I be expected to do something with him...like
maybe speak in complete sentences? No, that would never happen. But to
my shock, he did show up, twice—once with dripping wet hair fresh from
his role at sea as Fletcher Christian.

A few of the eager and more experienced classmates jumped at the opportunity
to do little impromptu sketches while Brando directed. It was fascinating
to watch, but I stayed safely out of sight in the back row where I could
keep a low-profile and avoid making eye contact. There was a limit to
the amount of personal drama I could digest.

After our second and last session with Marlon, he unexpectedly invited
the whole class up to his home atop Mulholland Drive. I immediately searched
for the nearest emergency exit but before I could escape, I got swept
along in a dumbfounded daze—out to the studio parking lot and bundled
into somebody's car. A minute later our small caravan was racing up the
winding road.

Not much was registering in my brain. The crowded car, everyone talking
at once, the head rush, my heart pounding,—everything was overlapping
in and out of focus. Was I going to Marlon Brando's house? Me? No way.
Wait, yes! We reached the crest of the hill before I had even begun to
process it all.

Brando was waiting to greet us near the end of the driveway. My reaction
upon leaving the safety of the car must have been due to an inability
to connect with reality, or maybe something was preventing me from bolting,
or it could have been an attempt to make sure my feet were actually making
contact with the ground, whatever the reason, I started walking bow-legged
in huge deliberate steps like a determined swaggering cowboy with some
big score to settle. What was I thinking?

If it was just an insane unconscious attempt to get Brando's attention,
it worked. He looked at me quizzically and asked, "Where are you
from?" My mind kicked into autopilot and began scanning early childhood
archives until it located the instructions for coordinating brain and
mouth functions and I heard myself answer, "Illinois." He said,
"Oh, yeah? I'm from the Midwest, too. Nebraska. I've just never seen
anybody from the Midwest walk quite like...that."

Oh, sweet Jesus, help me quick!

We were ushered barefooted into a palatial Asian-style Hollywood showplace
with highly buffed dark teak floors, plush Oriental carpets and furnishings,
and spectacular views.

Everyone congregated in the kitchen. Brando kept appearing, disappearing,
reappearing. At one point, he perched himself on a tiled counter-top opposite
me munching chocolate chip cookies from a bag, washing them down with
diet strawberry soda. He said he was trying to watch his weight, but he
looked fine to me in his T-shirt and jeans.

I was wearing a Bobby Brooks plaid wool skirt and matching vest left
over from my home town back-to-school fall wardrobe sale—surely drab
and conservative enough to set me apart even without the swagger.

Brando glanced over and said, "What are you doing here? You don't
look very acty." As if the mere fact that he was speaking directly
to me was not mortifying enough, had I also just been dealt a death blow
to boot? He continued, "Every actor I know is in this business to
try and compensate for something they think they don't have. You don't
look like you are lacking anything."

Now, a normal woman with half a shred of brain would have recognized
this as a compliment you can sink your claws into and run with. It was
an invitation to engage in a meaningful dialog with one of the most enigmatic
and famous screen icons on the planet. But alas, Marlon, for all his acting
acumen, was sadly lacking with regards to the subject of lack—else he'd
have known that at that moment I was experiencing an over-abundance of
the stuff. For instance, that big gaping hole in the Presence of Mind
Department which deprived me of anything even remotely resembling verbal
communication skills. The most I could manage to squeak out was a dismal,
semi-audible, "Oh,.....really?"

Had I actually just heard myself say, "Oh,.....really?" Apparently
so, because there was an abrupt scene shift and Brando disappeared again.
Everyone else was still chatting in the kitchen when I quickly excused
myself to seek refuge in the nearest powder room where I could lock the
door and hide until it was time to leave. But as I passed through the
dimly lit living room, I noticed him lying there, Marlon, stretched out
on his sofa with eyes closed.

(Right about here is where my "behavior due to high altitude exposure"
excuse comes into play.)

I tip-toed over and sat on the arm of the sofa. I stared at him, stunned
by the chilling realization that I was about to reach down with my finger
and poke his face—just a quick light poke so as not to wake him. My hand
barely brushed his temple, his forehead and down one cheek. I swear, that's
all I meant to do. And then, "Wow, I am touching Marlon Brando's
face!"

But was I? Really? Something about it didn't feel quite tangible enough
for me. I wanted the full-blown experience of being there, to know I was
actually feeling up this famous face. I must have been too conditioned
by the 15-feet-wide version all lit up on a big screen, because here in
the dark, lying on the sofa, it looked so...well, so small, almost insignificant.
I just wasn't getting the satisfaction I was craving, so I cranked things
up with more of a "Get Marlon Brando's Face!" attitude. Like
a blind man trying to describe an elephant, I began groping his face for
something I could mentally hang on to and take away. Ah, yes, there...now
I was starting to get it—and feeling dizzy with power.

He didn't move a muscle, not the slightest flicker of an eyelash. Just
for the record, I've known men who can fall asleep waiting for their own
other shoe to drop—men who could sleep through an invasion of armor-clad
Vikings clashing their way to victory at the foot of the bed. But there
was no way this particular man could have slept through my groping, my
probing, my frenzied exploration of each and every feature of his face.
No matter how tired he may have been from a day of prop sea-water drenching
on the Bounty set, this inscrutable actor had to have been on full alert—wide
awake behind those closed eye-lids, taking it all in, wondering silently,
"What the hell is this bow-legged woman from the Midwest trying to
do?"

As the shock of that realization hit me, a strange hush settled over
the kitchen. I looked up to see everyone huddled in the doorway watching
me with expressions of amusement and disbelief.

This could have gone on record as my most humiliating and darkest hour
had it not turned out to be an opportunity for my finest performance—my
chance to prove I could be as "acty" as the best of them. I
stood up, regained my composure and with an air of utter confidence, I
breezed past them with a sweet and compassionate smile and whispered,
"It's OK, he's sleeping now." Ha! Now who was left dumbfounded?

We all departed a few minutes later leaving our host still stretched
out on the sofa. Not a word of the face orgy was mentioned on the trip
back down the hill. Fortunately, the workshop was over for the season
and I would never have to see any of these witnesses to my madness again.

I never saw Marlon again either, but Marlon, if you're reading this, thanks
for the bizarre and twisted memory, thanks for the compliment, and thanks
for...well...I guess the rest goes without saying.

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