BY BARNEY BREEN-PORTNOY
Left: The late actor Marlon Brando as a young man in the late 1940s. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
(Ed. Note: The veracity of this story may be debatable as the author himself states. However, it is worth noting that it was well-known that Brando and his best friend, one Frank Sinatra, donated significant sums of money to Israel. Sinatra with some fanfare, Brando, anonymously.)
As a young man, the renowned American actor Marlon Brando helped pack ships in New York City with guns destined for use by the pre-state Jewish militia that would later be transformed into the Israeli army, according to a story the late Brando told an author that was revealed in a Vanity Fair article published this week.
Brando — best known for his roles in “On the Waterfront” and “The Godfather” — would spark controversy later in life with public comments alleging Jewish control of the film industry in Hollywood.
According to Rich Cohen, the author of the Vanity Fair article, Brando, who passed away in 2004 at the age of 80, reached out by telephone late one night following the publication of Cohen’s book Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons and Gangster Dreams in 1998 and sought to set the record straight.
“Brando talked about my book,” Cohen wrote about the conversation. “He liked that I’d painted a picture of Jews completely different than the standard. In most mob stories, if you’ve got a Jew, that Jew tends to be the numbers guy, accountant to the mob. He still fits the classic Jewish stereotype: brainy and head-stuck, afraid to mix it up on the playground. But the guys I wrote about were torpedoes, street thugs, enforcers. Brando had been called an anti-Semite for something he’d said not too long before, and it stung him, and he was reaching out in a strange way. Maybe he was proving something to himself.”
Brando, Cohen said, then went on to talk about his “early involvement with Zionism, ‘before most of these guys knew Haifa from Tel Aviv.’”
Cohen noted, “One of his first Broadway plays was A Flag Is Born. Written by Ben Hecht with music by Kurt Weill, the play was directed by Luther Adler, Stella Adler’s brother. It featured Paul Muni and Ceila Adler, ‘first lady of the Yiddish Theatre,’ half sister to Stella and Luther. It was really agitprop, a bit of PR meant to build support for Jewish sovereignty in Palestine. Brando said the importance of a Jewish state had been explained to him by Stella Adler, his mentor at the New School.”
Brando then divulged, Cohen said, that “some nights, after curtain and applause, after drinks and cigarettes, and, at this point, Brando, who was around 22, was probably the coolest actor in New York, a whole group of them headed to the piers, where they loaded guns in ships bound for the Middle East, where they’d be smuggled to Jews serving in the Haganah, the underground army that would become the Israeli Defense Force.”
Cohen continued: “I don’t know how much of this is true. I have tried to track it down and report it, but without great determination. I’m happy to leave it as it is, a kind of fairy tale, shared, in the middle of the night, by a lonely person reaching out in kinship, looking for absolution; or maybe he was just bored.”