By Eve Berliner
By Eve Berliner
Ermi with her dusky smoky patina and her breasts, hiding out in some instinctual corner of his mind, Marlon three or four years of age when she came to live with the Brando family in Omaha, Nebraska, as his 18-year-old governess, a hot-house blending of Danish Indonesian that surreptitiously stirred the little boy.
"Her laugh I will always remember. When she entered a room, I knew it without seeing or hearing her because she had a fragrant breath that was extraordinary ... sweet, like crushed and slightly fermented fruit. During the day we played constantly. At night, we slept together. She was nude, and so was I, and it was a lovely experience. She was a deep sleeper, and I can visualize her now lying in our bed while the moonlight burst through my window and illuminated her skin with a soft-magical amber glow. I sat there looking at her body and fondling her breasts, and arranged myself on her and crawled over her. She was all mine; she belonged to me and to me alone."
His world of fantasy and innocence and aroma and moonlight all suffused into one with Ermi. He loved her so, little Bud, a certain sweetness, a beauty to the child, but something wounded in the eyes, something tender in the core.
The free-spirited and unabashed Ermi had a boyfriend named Wally and one day when seven year old Bud was happily playing in a stream, he witnessed Ermi kissing Wally in a car.
He suffered over it. He could not understand it.
Then the bombshell detonated -- Ermi quite suddenly left him to get married -- not to Wally -- but to a young man named Eric. She did not inform the little boy of her impending marriage nor could she bear to tell him the heartbreaking news of her departure. She simply told him that she was off on a brief trip and would return soon.
"The night I realized Ermi was gone forever...I felt my dreams die. It had been weeks since she had gone. I'd waited and waited for her. But I finally knew that she wasn't coming back. I felt abandoned. My mother had long ago deserted me for her bottle; now Ermi was gone too...From that day forward I became estranged from this world."
* * *
It was to be his father who would fuel the inner rage, the dagger thrusts of his father, Marlon Brando, Sr., a travelling salesman who spent most of his time on the road.
It was a relationship of walls and angers and internal violence. The father would never acknowledge the son - not in a lifetime. He never gave him a hug. Never. He was never tender with the kid. Never shared with him, father to son. He simply lashed out and shot him down.
"I was his namesake, but nothing I did ever pleased or even interested him," Marlon would write in his moving, soul-searching memoir, "Songs My Mother Taught Me." " He enjoyed telling me I couldn't do anything right. He had a habit of telling me I would never amount to anything."
The words inflicted their desired pain.
"He was a card-carrying prick whose mother deserted him when he was four years old - just disappeared, ran off someplace - and he was shunted from one spinster aunt to another...I loved him and hated him at the same time. He was a frightening, silent, brooding, angry, hard-drinking man, a bully who loved to give orders and issue ultimatums - and he was just as tough as he talked. Perhaps that's why I've had lifelong aversion to authority."
* * *
The scene came out of the deepest darkest recesses of his being, the bottled up explosion of "Last Tango in Paris," 1972, Brando, a volcanic erotic beast, the film a sensation.
Under the unorthodox direction of Bernardo Bertolucci, the film was performed entirely by improvisation. There was no written script; the character portrayed by Brando brutal, a man who enjoyed acts of degradation, taunting, instilling fear, a man very much like his own father.
At a key moment, he speaks with a raw sensuality and a wounded animal's cry:
"My father was a drunk, tough, whore-fucker, bar-fighter supermasculine and he was tough. My mother was very, very poetic, and also a drunk. All my memories of when I was a kid was of her being arrested, nude. We lived in this small town, a farming community. I'd come home after school. She'd be gone, in jail or something, and then I used to have to milk a cow every morning and every night, and I liked that. But I remember one time I was all dressed up to go out to take this girl to a basketball game and my father said, 'You have to milk the cow.' I asked him 'Would you please milk it for me?' And he said, 'No. Get your ass out there.' I was in a hurry, didn't have time to change my shoes, and I had cow shit all over my shoes and on the way to the basketball game it smelled in the car." He grew quiet with the hurt. "I can't remember very many good things."
Brando emerged from the film feeling exposed and he was livid. He told Bertolucci that he would never again make such a film and that he had felt violated every moment, every day.
* * *
It was to be the great Stella Adler, Brando's long-time drama teacher and mentor, who would sum up Dodie Brando, Marlon's mother, in this fashion: "A very beautiful, a heavenly, lost, girlish creature."
Dodie had her dreams. Petite and fragile, she was a creative spirit, a Bohemian at heart who loved music and books and laughter and imagination. With her high cheekbones and delicate sculpted face, deep-set blue eyes and blond hair, she exhibited a rare and sensitive beauty in her performances at the Omaha Community Playhouse where she threw herself into the world of the theatre. Otto Kahn, a visiting patron and president of the New York Metropolitan Opera, urged her to depart Omaha for Broadway.
Her husband was not interested in her pursuits.
Marlon Sr., taciturn and forbidding, a man who dispensed discipline at home and consorted with prostitutes and liquor on the road and in the dark corners of the small town of Omaha, Nebraska where he slept around in the early to mid 1920's.
The rumors and innuendos of his affairs and drunken spectacles reached Dodie. She took refuge in the bottle.
In the end, she gave up her dreams and he crushed her.
Her descent into alcoholism was steep and merciless and her life hit the pits and disintegrated into drunken promiscuity, fragility and darkness.
* * *
Buried memories that would haunt him, searching for his mother near the stables of Libertyville, tortured nights that she never came home, searching the saloons, the streets, the hotels, prowling after her, hunting her down outside the city limits on the west side of town where she would hide out and drink herself into a stupor.
Dodie, she broke his heart.
* * *
"My mother. She broke apart like a piece of porcelain," Brando would confide to writer Truman Capote, in his gripping 1957 New Yorker portrait entitled, "The Duke in His Domain."
"...My mother was everything to me. A whole world. I tried so hard, I used to come home from school. There wouldn't be anybody home. Nothing in the ice box. Then the telephone would ring. Somebody calling from some bar. And they'd say, 'We've got a lady down here. You better come get her.'"
"I thought if she loved me enough, trusted me enough, I thought then we can be together in New York; we'll be together and I'll take care of her. Once, later on, that really happened. In New York, when I was in a play. I tried so hard. But my love wasn't enough. She went back.
"And one day I didn't care anymore. She was there. In a room. Holding on to me. And I let her fall. Because I couldn't take it anymore, watch her breaking apart, in front of me, like a piece of porcelain. I stepped right over her. I walked right out."
* * *
His mother, his tragic heroine, sacrificed on the altar of brutality.
His father, a brute, an ape.
His mother, a porcelain doll.
His father, Stanley Kowalski.
His mother, Blanche DuBois.