Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the movie urban legends featured so far.
MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Marlon Brando made a “miraculous recovery” while preparing for his first motion picture role.
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? But IS it?
Right off the bat, the story is strange enough that 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
Darwin Porter, in his great Brando biography, Brando Unzipped: A Revisionist and Very Private Look at America’s Greatest Actor
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.
The legend is…
STATUS: I’m Going With True
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!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.