As an avid movie goer since I was a little boy in the 1930s, I have seen the best, the mediocre and the worst of many of the old time movie stars. For the most part, I assumed the good actors were great in their roles but that such roles did not necessarily reflect their real persona.
One of my favorite big time stars was the late Marlon Brando, who played tough, crude and mean characters such as in, “ On the waterfront, “ (the rough and tough longshoremen) “ The Wild One,“ (mean leader of a motorcycle gang) “A Streetcar Named Desire,” etc. Believing he was a genuine thespian, I admired his ability to act out the tough guy roles but assumed it was all in the performance, the acting.
I was somewhat taken aback on February 5, 1965, when, as a young lawyer new in my practice , I took Brando’s deposition in a personal injury lawsuit I filed against him on behalf of one of my clients (DeJohn v. Brando)
Prior to deposing him, I started to informally explain what we were doing but before I could say too much off the record, Brando started making threatening faces and gestures at me. After making brusque and discourteous remarks to me, I slammed my pen and pad on the desk and said, “Mr. Brando, you have caused injury to my client and by law, I have the right to question you about the circumstances of the accident. Now, you could cooperate by politely and accurately answering my questions before our certified court stenographer, or we could end this right now and I’ll go to court tomorrow to file a “motion to compel” and seek sanctions against you. What will it be?”
With some elbowing from his defense attorney sitting next to him, indicating he should cooperate, Brando quickly straightened up from a slouched position, sat upright, straightened his tie and gently said, “ I am sorry Mr. Manibog, please ask your questions and I will fully cooperate.” This wild lion turned gentle lamb took me by surprise.
The deposition thereafter proceeded smoothly and, eventually, we settled the case for a goodly sum. It was obvious Mr. Brando did not want to go through a high profile trial that he could not win based on the liability factor.
However, my childhood notions of actors skillfully playing different roles were somewhat shattered when Brando acted and gestured in a manner reflecting many of his tough guy movie roles. Brando, indeed, was a rough, intimidating and menacing person on and off the screen. Upon conclusion of the deposition, Mr. Brando turned on his charms, flirted with my court stenographer and asked for her phone number.
(Editor’s note: Former Monterey Park Mayor, Monty Manibog is a regular columnist offering legal tips and perspectives on high profile legal cases and events.)