This is the seventeenth in a series of examinations of legends from movies and the people who make them and whether they are true or false.
Click here to view an archive of the previous movie urban legends.
MOVIE LEGEND: Marlon Brando made a “miraculous recovery” while preparing for his first motion picture role.
STATUS: I’m Going With True
Marlon Brando was already a noted theater actor when, in 1949, he was picked to star in Fred Zinneman’s The Men, Brando’s motion picture debut.
In the film, Brando plays a soldier who is paralyzed after being shot during World War II.
Well, to prepare for the role, Brando asked to be admitted as a patient at the Birmingham Veterans Hospital in Van Nuys as a paraplegic. Since Brando was not famous at this point, he was able to blend in pretty well. Eventually, he let his fellow “patients” know that he was a movie actor there researching a role, but still, the vast majority of the other patients there did not know that Brando was not actually a paraplegic.
As the popular story goes, Brando in a bar with some friends from the hospital when a Salvation Army lady comes in collecting waste paper. She is shocked at the sight of all these paralyzed veterans, and cries out, “Oh Lord, grant that these men may be able to walk again!”
At which point, Brando gets up from his wheelchair, shocking the woman and delighting his friends.
That’s a pretty shocking story if true, right?
So I’m automatically doubtful, but you know what, after reading a bunch of Brando biographies by a lot of different writers, while they all differ on specific details of the tale, they all seem to agree with the gist of the story – some woman makes a comment about “let these people walk” and Brando gets up from his wheelchair, shocking her.
Brando, in his autobiography, Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me, places the story as taking place at an Italian restaurant, and the woman in question just a normal (if annoying) woman who came over pouring pity at the men (which Brando noted is what they hated the most). So Brando replied that he wanted to believe in God, and she says that he should, and he says that he feels God coming into him now, at which point he gets up and does a little tap dance performance, shocking the woman and delighting his friends.
Darwin Porter, in his great Brando biography, Brando Unzipped: A Revisionist and Very Private Look at America’s Greatest Actor, tells a more realistic version of the story, which involves two Christian Scientists who came to the hospital to drop off magazines, but ended up prostelatyzing a bit to the patients – you know, typical Christian Scientist beliefs like “If you believe in God enough, you can be healed” – and it was to THIS that Brando stood up, as he was getting near the end of his stay anyways, and was planning on telling all the patients soon already, so took that moment to both tell all his friends AND zing some ladies he found annoying. According to Porter, Brando DID do a tap dance performance, too. Porter even names the two Christian Scientist women, Ethel Derriman and Rebecca Hoover.
So do I think that some version of the story did happen? Yeah, I think so – enough different people have cited it (and it’s not like the room was not filled with people, giving writers ample possible sources) that I think that some version of the story happened. I lean towards Porter’s version, but Brando’s could be true, as well.
Thanks to Dr. Macro’s movie scan site for The Men stills. And thanks to Darwin Porter and Marlon Brando for their takes on the story!
MOVIE LEGEND: Shirley Williams almost got the lead in National Velvet!
Shirley Williams is The Baroness Williams of Crosby, PC, a title bestowed upon her for her long life of political service.
She is most known for her split from the Labour Party in the early 1980s to form the Social Democratic Party, along with Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Bill Rodgers.
For years, though, a story has made the rounds that Williams’ long, storied career in politics might have been de-railed at a young age had she gotten a movie role that she was up for – the lead role in National Velvet!
National Velvet was a very popular novel by Enid Bagnold that came out in 1935.
The book is about a young girl who wins the Grand National steeplechase with her beloved horse.
The novel was adapted into a film in 1944, and 1943 was spent on a nation-wide talent search for the young girl who would play the lead. The search had to be reserved to American girls, because of a British law not allowing women under the age of 18 to travel abroad to work for profit without a special license. And only girls 14 and older could obtain said license. So for this film, where the lead was an 11-year-old girl, it would not work.
However, Shirley Williams (then Shirley Catlin), the 13-year-old daughter of noted author Vera Brittain, had been evacuated to the United States in 1940 because of World War II. So she would be eligible (as she was already over here). And for years, as noted above, the story has gone that Shirley barely lost out to the ultimate lead of the picture, 11-year-old Elizabeth Taylor.
People love “What If..?” stories, and few have more potency as this one, as not only would Williams’ political career likely have been de-railed, but so, too, would Taylor’s film career!
As it were, though, Shirley was never really in the running for the role. It is true that film critics of each area of the country were asked to suggest a little girl from their area. And Catlin, living in Minnesota, WAS the suggestion of her area. However, she never got past the initial interview stage and was not brought to the United States.
When no one could be found from the search, young Elizabeth Taylor was suggested, and she was the ultimate pick – beginning her star-studded career as a lead in films.
Thanks to Alexander Walker’s Elizabeth: The Life of Elizabeth Taylor, for the information (which he got from Williams herself).
MOVIE LEGEND: A fictional character was nominated for a Best Screenplay Academy Award.
Adaptation is an engaging film about the struggles that screenwriter Charlie Kaufman had with adapting Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief into a movie.
In the film, which was directed by Spike Jonze (who had directed Kaufman’s screenplay, Being John Malkovich, to great acclaim), Charlie is aided by his twin brother, Donald Kaufman. Both characters are played by Nicolas Cage (with the aid of “movie magic”).
As you can see from the film poster above, the film is credited as being written by Charlie and Donald Kaufman.
The brothers were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Fair enough, right?
Except there IS no Donald Kaufman. Donald was a fictional character created for the film.
He therefore became the first fictional person (not counting pseudonyms) to be nominated for an Academy Award!
Pretty funny, huh?
Okay, that’s it for this week!
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