Friday, July 02, 2004

Truth and the Press or "How To Make a Dead Man Feel Worse"

Marlon Brando died today. I found out at lunch. The first movie I ever saw him in was Last Tango in Paris. That was back when I was trying to be artsy, around 1991 or 1992, the college time frame. Saw him again in the Godfather and the movie with Robert DeNiro and Edward Norton, the Heist.

From the story done by the AP I understand he was the grandfather of method acting and spawned a whole generation to include Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino and DeNiro. Another blow to the WWII generation who's living memories are fading into the Hollywood sunset.

The AP article begins thusly:

LOS ANGELES - Actor Marlon Brando (news) has died at age 80. The death occurred at an undisclosed Los Angeles hospital Thursday, attorney David J. Seeley said Friday. The cause of death was being withheld, Seeley said, noting the actor "was a very private man."

Brando revolutionized American acting with his Method performances in "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "On the Waterfront" and went on to create the iconic character of Don Vito Corleone in "The Godfather."

Brando, whose unpredictable behavior made him equally fascinating off the screen, was acclaimed the greatest actor of his generation, a two-time winner of the Academy Award who influenced some of the best actors of the generation that followed, among them Al Pacino, Robert De Niro (news) and Jack Nicholson.

Sounds nice. Credit given where credit is due. Remember the man for his gifts to people everywhere and celebrate him for his talents.

Why then, would AP end the article like this:

In 1960 he married a Mexican actress, Movita, who had appeared in the first "Mutiny on the Bounty." They were divorced after he met Tarita. All three wives were pregnant when he married them. He had nine children.

In May 1990, Brando's first son, Christian, shot and killed Dag Drollet, 26, the Tahitian lover of Christian's half sister Cheyenne, at the family's hilltop home above Beverly Hills. Christian, 31, claimed the shooting was accidental.

After a heavily publicized trial, Christian was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and use of a gun. He was sentenced to 10 years.

Before the sentencing, Marlon Brando delivered an hour of rambling testimony in which he said he and his ex-wife had failed Christian. He commented softly to members of the Drollet family: "I'm sorry. ... If I could trade places with Dag, I would. I'm prepared for the consequences."

Afterward, Drollet's father said he thought Marlon Brando was acting and his son was "getting away with murder."

The tragedy was compounded in 1995, when Cheyenne, said to still be depressed over Drollet's death, committed suicide. She was 25.

Keep in mind that I wrote for two separate newspapers for a total of about four years, not long, but enough to know better.

Too many in the press these days seem willing to cloak their muckraking in a veil of truth-seeking. Yes, people likely would want to know things like this about the great Marlon Brando. It lowers him to their level and shows them that he was an imperfect being just like them.

That's the way humans do it, right? Judging people makes us feel better. Lowering them elevates us.

Most of the people wanting to read the seedy details in a great man's life would likely try and sue were their privacy invaded and exposed for the world to see.

Look in the obituary pages for non-famous people. You see the contributions and sacrifices made over a lifetime printed so the family can value their fallen kinsman and heal through fond memories. Why should the Brandos deserve any less?

A private man with private demons like anyone else has given us great gifts to better the art of film. The press repays him by running his family through the gutter.

The last words of an article on a great man will be the ones that resonate the longest in the mind. The press knows this. The press is shameful. I wonder if the AP writer's personal sins will be published upon his death.

Note: In fairness to the press as a whole, the Reuters version of the story condensed the Brando tragedies into a single paragraph placed in the middle of the story. Bravo to Reuters for putting out the facts and not letting them overshadow the loss and memory.

And James Joyner's take on it...


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