Miller Time
Marlon Brando: Ice-Cream Junkie
By Grady Miller
Apr 10, 2014 - 12:57:58 PM

UNITED STATES—There’s something about ice-cream. When you get people who have divorced milk get to talking about milk, they decry its heaviness, proclaim their lactose intolerance. But a great number of these people get a misty gleam in their eye and will confess, “I still like ice cream.”


Marlon Brando knew there was something about ice-cream. Ice-cream was to blame for him splitting 52 pairs of tight-fitting breeches during the filming of “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1962). In the middle of breakfast or lunch or, even when they were filming, Brando would go out to the reef alone in a canoe, sometimes with a tub of ice-cream, and talk to the birds. (Well, it’s a good thing the movie was shot in Ultra Panavision 70 widescreen.)

Before the rocky road caught up. . .


By then the roots of Brando’s strange eating habits and binges were long established. While just a teen at a Minnesota Military Academy “he had already developed strange eating habits,” writes biographer Peter Manso, “going on binges, slathering slices of bread with peanut butter, gulping down a quart of milk.” Nevertheless he was “converting the fat to muscle with strenuous exercise,” climbing up ropes without using his feet and competing on the swim team.


By the time of his first film in 1950, “The Men,” Marlon’s diet consisted mainly of “junk food, take out, and peanut butter,” which he consumed by the jarful. By the mid-fifties and "On the Waterfront" and "Guys and Dolls," Marlon had become renowned for eating boxes of Mallomars and cinnamon buns, and washing his sweet treats down with a quart of milk.  


Marlon went on a crash diets in the 1950s and 60s, but then he would gorge. For “Sayonara” (1957) he was living on raw vegetables and jogging along Waikiki Beach, only to be caught one morning “devouring a breakfast of corn flakes with bananas and cream, scrambled eggs, sausages and bacon, and a huge stack of pancakes slathered with butter and maple syrup.” (Manso)


While shooting “One-Eyed Jacks,” Brando would eat “two steaks, potatoes, two apple pies a la mode, and a quart of milk” for dinner, according co-star Karl Malden. This diet necessitated the constant altering of his costumes. At his birthday party that year, the crew gave Marlon a cowboy belt as his present with the card, “Hope it fits.” 


Brando’s second wife, Movita, actually put a lock on the house refrigerator. When she awoke one morning, the lock was broken and teeth marks were found on a round of Brie cheese. Marlon's teeth marks. The maid told Mrs. Brando that Marlon made nighttime raids on the icebox. Like Orson Welles, another Midwesterner of gargantuan appetite, Brando also loved to frequent hot dog stands late at night, particularly Pink’s at 3 and 4 a.m., where he’d wolf down as many as six dogs at a time.  


On the set of “The Apaloosa” (1966) Marlon’s double once had to be used in long shots simply because Marlon had eaten one of his gorge-fest lunches. Marlon would eat “two chickens at a sitting and bags of Pepperidge Farm cookies—while at the same time joking about the extra poundage,” said his brother-in-law.


Before filming “Apocalypse Now” (1979), Marlon had vowed to lose weight, but just couldn’t do it. So, Colonel Kurtz is shown in shadow to hide his belly. By the 1980s, tabloids reported that Brando’s girlfriend left him because he broke his promise to lose weight. He was dieting zealously, but the pounds just weren’t coming off. Unknown to her, he had some of his buddies throw bags of Burger King Whoppers over the gates of his Mulholland Drive estate.


Later in the 80s, Marlon was routinely spotted at a Beverly Hills ice cream parlor buying five gallon containers of ice cream—which he would eat all himself. This is an uncorroborated item from IMDB, but I can vouch during this time there was this old school ice-cream parlor on Hollywood Boulevard, C.C. Brown’s, just down the street from Grauman’s Chinese Theater. And it was rumored that Brando came here every Tuesday night to eat ice-cream. I can’t say he ever did, but the food dossier on this acting titan would tend to corroborate the veracity of this bit of magic celebrity dust sprinkled around the pink leather seats and dark brown wood booths.


Towards the end of his life, when he was obviously in danger from his over-eating, Marlon did make a last-ditch attempt to drop some excess weight by going on a bland diet. At one point he did drop 70 pounds. But his heart, his liver, and his body in general were already severely damaged by his over-eating habits and frequent crash diets.


“And right up to the end,” observes my confrère Eddie Deezen, “Marlon never lost his great love of food, especially his beloved ice cream.” Humorist Grady Miller is the author of "Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet," now available on Kindle.

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