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 Texas : Features : Humor : Column - "A Balloon In Cactus"

Brando

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
"Quit following me around. It's getting embarrassing," I said to Marlon Brando, tilting my nose into the air.

Even after all these years, I can still hear the surprised delight in his laughter.

I spoke those bizarre words to him, I don't know why, while pushing my grocery cart past his parked SUV in Ralph's Market parking lot. He was sitting in the driver's seat, window down. I took out a compact while pushing my cart in the opposite direction where my car was, and saw that fabulous face grinning ear to ear. I'd gotten a rise out of him, however figurative.

Maintaining total composure as I unloaded groceries into the trunk of my car, I didn't lose my mind until the moment I got home and long-distanced JoAnne.

"It was him! It was him!" I shrieked into the phone to my college friend, back in New York.

"Who?" she asked, already excited at the prospect of which movie star had been spotted that day.

"Brando!! Brando!!" I screamed.

"OMiGod," she replied, "You finally got him!"

She was referring to my first week in Los Angeles when I was very young and could get a location on any movie star, just like today's teenagers can find out at which hotel their rapper idols are staying long before even their managers know. It's a kid thing.

I met somebody who knew somebody who had Brando's phone number. Was it legit? That remained to be heard.

I phoned the number I'd been given and, when a man answered, I said "Bud?" using Brando's nickname. How cool, how suave. I remained poised until the voice, which was his, mumbled, "Who wants him?" Struck dumb with awe, suddenly weak in the knees, and faint in the head, I immediately hung up. Not so cool now, and not so suave.

Even before that, as a student back in New York, I had not only seen him on Broadway, but once spied him lurking around the subway exit, watching people come home from work. I later learned he observed strangers' reactions, and used them in his method acting.

He was a major star, easily recognizable, except people doubted it could really be him. After all, what would Marlon Brando be doing at the top of the subway stairs? After seeing the reactions, Brando grinned that incredible grin, dispelling any doubts about his identity. By the time people recovered, he'd vanished into the crowd.

Prone to exaggerate, by the time JoAnne and I were through recounting the incident to our friends, we had become extras in his film.

Brando was Elvis and the Beatles combined. Whether he played a shirt-tearing Adonis or a weight-bearing godfather, he marked the coming of age of a generation. He was so manly, he sweated diesel fuel.

So what if he roomed with Wally Cox in real life? Who cared?

It's a tribute to maturity that, by the second sighting, I could at least speak, however odd the statement.

People told of glimpses of Brando over the years, but I didn't see him again until two years ago. I was driving along Mulholland past the road to his house, the same one that also goes to Jack Nicholson's, when a silver Mercedes pulled out, bearing a large shadow in the back seat. Was it Brando? Suddenly, he leaned forward, face to the window. He grinned right at me. The weight disappeared. He was beautiful again. And I was young again.

So what if "Big Bug Man" was his final movie and he played an old woman named Mrs. Sour?

I got to see him when he was Stanley Kowalski and talk to him when he was Terry Malloy.

Bogart and Bergman will always have Paris, and Brando and I? We'll always have Ralph's.


Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
July 19, 2004 Column

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