In the 1970s, when he wasn’t alarming the world with his size, salary demands and crazy acting styles, Marlon Brando was relaxing in private as a ham radio operator, known as Martin Brandeaux, with licenses KE6PZH and FO5GJ.
On amateur radio then Marlon Brando chatted with other hams, altering his voice and escaping that identity that gave him so much money, and so much trouble. This is also the era however, when he went ‘alien’ and played Jor-El in Superman — and in doing so he gave birth to some of the best Hollywood anecdotes of all time.
It was in spring 1975 when Marlon Brando signed up to appear as Jor-El in Superman, and for this he was to receive $3 million. This money, and the $5 million for Apocalypse Now were required to keep his Tahitian island of Tetiaroa pristine, and to keep his ecological dreams alive, as he had a plan to turn the place into some kind of commercial Eden, with 21 thatched roof huts, with three bars, a dining room and a staff of forty.
Working in the hotel business didn’t work out the way it should have however, and important life lessons were learned. If you ever arrive at the top of your profession, you may be well advised to stay there. Instead the greatest actor in the world opted to become the greatest hotelier — and failed.
Brando was very funny about the clientele that his ecological holiday paradise attracted: ‘Middle-aged ladies of Peoria telling me, Mr Brando, we loved you as Napoleon — Napoleon for Christ’s sake— and asking me for autographs while their husbands shoved me against the wall to pose with the little lady.’ It's clear that he really wanted to make a go of this, but the cost for Hollywood was pretty severe, as it and its fans missed out on a whole lot of acting that might have otherwise occurred.
The bind with the island was that with no energy-consuming amenities, Tetiaroa was not attractive to visitors. However, with such things as flush toilets, sports facilities and all sorts, Tetiaroa was going to become little more than a Polynesian Las Vegas.
In Superman, Marlon Brando as Jor-El checked in at 300 pounds, wore a shiny green tent and white wig, and really did seem like an alien deity, and despite all the chaos that has been spouted about his role over the years, it is the second star performance in a film that has many.
Superman was of course intended as a special effects feature, but comes with universally strong performances with 10 out of 10 going to not just Christopher Reeve, the most perfect Superman ever, but to gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Maria Schell, Terrence Stamp and Glenn Ford, all of whom bring so much more to the parts than are in the rather quotidian script.
None of this even brings into account the music, which is by John Williams and is legendary. With his percentage of this success, Marlon Brando said that he made $14 million dollars for less than three week’s work, but even despite this he didn’t feel generous enough to allow footage of himself to be used in Superman II. He asked for his percentage of that also, and when they refused, so did he.