In the final scenes of "The Godfather, Part II," the Corleone family sits around the dinner table, waiting for Vito Corleone. Everyone is there: Sonny, Fredo, Michael, Connie, Tom Hagen, even Carlo, who we already know will become Connie's two-faced husband.
The only person missing is Don Corleone. And today we are missing him.
Marlon Brando, the actor who portrayed Don Corleone, died Thursday at the age of 80. He was a passionate actor who furthered our familiarity with the Actor's Studio and method acting. As I heard him so aptly described on NPR this morning, he was the voice for characters who didn't have a voice.
"On the Waterfront," "A Streetcar Named Desire," and of course, "The Godfather," were a passionate beginning to the love affair moviegoers have with Brando. There can be any number of debates on what happened to his career (and our affection for him) in recent years, but those performances will continue to resonate for us stronger than any mention of "The Island of Dr. Moreau."
I find myself saddened today because of this loss. Maybe it's because it is the continuation of a list of losses we've felt in addition to President Reagan and Ray Charles. But I also feel the loss of a generation. Reagan, Charles and Brando are icons belonging to my mother's generation, not mine, and yet their passing affects me. An era is fading and I can't help but look longingly behind, hoping for today's icons to fill me with equal interest and passion.
The era of macho men with no excuses who called women "doll" and "dame" and got away with it is long gone. Brando came from the stock of actors where women wanted them and men truly wanted to be them. He was the original version of what we describe today as "hot." He actually had the wardrobe mistress on the Broadway run of "Streetcar" cut out his pants pockets so he could fondle himself on stage. With all the gusto of Terry Malloy and the charisma of Skye Masterson, Brando brought us to him.
In "Brando: The Biography" by Peter Manso, he talks about that final scene in "The Godfather, Part II." Don Vito Corleone never shows up in that film footage because Brando refused to be in it. Francis Ford Coppola shot around it by having the family members run outside the frame to greet him. Brando's presence was so strong onscreen that he didn't even have to be there for us to feel him.
I hope that we'll be feeling his presence for much longer still.
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