Marlon Brando is a silver screen legend who devoted himself to the industry and his craft for over 50 years. He took audiences by storm in one of his first performances on screen in the film A Streetcar Named Desire. Later, he solidified his place in Hollywood stardom with his Oscar-winning performance in the cult classic, The Godfather.
The Early Years
Brando showed promise as an actor at a young age. He could seamlessly pick up and mimic the mannerisms of his childhood friends. He also showed an early interest in film, working at a local movie theater. Performing ran in the family – both his mother and later his sisters were actresses.
Although Brando struggled to stay on course with his academics, he excelled at theater. After dropping out of high school his senior year, he followed his sisters to New York City. Here, he studied at the Lee Strasberg’s Actors’ Studio. He began thriving as a student under the teachings of Stella Adler. She employed the “method approach”, which encourages the actor to explore deeper internal aspects, like the motivations of a character. This realism on film later became a signature of Brando’s performances.
His Career Takes Off
He began his career on Broadway and was quickly voted the “Most Promising Young Actor” by the New York Drama Critics. It took Brando six years of various roles in stage productions before he landed his first screen role. He played a bitter, paraplegic veteran in the 1950 film The Men. He quickly rose to fame with his Academy Award-nominated performance as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire just a year later. By 1954, Brando had won his first Oscar for his role as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront.
The Later Years
After five years at the top, Brando’s career began to decline in the 1960s. He became distracted from his craft by issues in his personal life. Between 1957 and 1972, Brando married and divorced three times. It was not until his second Oscar award-winning performance as Vito Corleone in The Godfather in 1972 that Brando resumed his place as one of the top actors in the world. Although he had passed the peak in his career, Brando continued to act up until his death in 2004.
A Rolex Man
Throughout his longstanding career, Brando was a lifetime Rolex man. He received his first model from his parents at age nineteen – a Rolex Oyster Royalite Observatory with the inscription “To Bud, from Mother and Dad. 1943.”
Brando’s next Rolex appears in the 1960 film The Fugitive Kid. In the movie, his character references the Rolex Moonphase 6062 on his wrist. This may very well be the first Rolex advertisement in film. No Rolex moonphase model existed when writers originally conceived the script in 1937. A decade later, Brando sported a yellow gold Rolex Datejust in the 1972 film Last Tango in Paris.
Lost and Found
Brando’s most famous watch is the GMT Master Reference 1675 he wore in the 1979 film Apocalypse Now. The watch features a tropic strap and is noticeably missing its bezel in the movie. This unique model was missing up until 2019. However, the watch was miraculously found in July of that year in a family dresser. In December, the iconic model will be auctioned by Philips in New York. A portion of the proceeds will go toward funding a new charitable foundation for children suffering from abuse, hardship, and neglect.
In addition to his impressive collection of Rolex watches, Brando was also gifted an 18-karat yellow-gold Vacheron Constantin timepiece from Zsa Zsa Gabor to celebrate the release of On the Waterfront. The caseback features the message, “To Marlon Love Zsa Zsa June 24, 1954.” The watch went up for auction in 2009. It was only expected to sell for several thousand dollars. However, it ultimately sold at nearly six times its estimated price to an anonymous bidder for a whopping $18,000.
Although Brando wasn’t a collector in the traditional sense, his impressive assortment of timepieces reflects different seasons of his life. From the first Rolex given to him by his parents to his iconic GMT Master from Apocalypse Now, his watches serve to commemorate some of the most meaningful moments in his life and career.
Image Credits: Header; Getty. 1; Mary Ellen Marks. 2; Antiquorum.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated in July 2019 to include more current information