“Brando in Faribo” would be a clever, cinematic title for a documentary about the actor Marlon Brando as a schoolboy in southern Minnesota.
Keep in mind, though, that Brando was anything but a conquering hero in the early 1940s when he was a student at what was then Shattuck Military Academy in Faribault. In fact, Shattuck conquered Brando, ultimately expelling him after two tumultuous years during which "the wild one" excelled primarily at pranks and violations of school regulations.
“I have wonderful, warm memories of breaking the rules,” Brando wrote of Shattuck in his autobiography.
Breaking the rules was something Brando did most of his life -- in school, in roles on Broadway, through Hollywood stardom and in troubled personal relationships.
It could be argued, though, that he perfected the art at Shattuck.
Brando ended up at Shattuck after transferring from school to school during his boyhood. He was born in 1924 in Omaha, where his father, Marlon Brando Sr., was a pesticide manufacturer. In 1930, a job transfer took the family to suburban Chicago. Brando’s parents split up a few years later, and his mother, Dodie, took Brando and his two sisters to live in Santa Ana, Calif. When young Marlon’s parents reconciled in 1937, the family moved to Libertyville, Ill.
After Brando, known as “Bud” as a boy, struggled at the local high school, his father, a Shattuck alum, sent him to Faribault. The idea, said biographer William J. Mann, “was to straighten him out.”
It didn’t work -- at least not in the way Marlon Sr. intended.
The military regimentation “was nauseating,” Brando later said. “Many people enjoy it, but I hated it.”
He was unable to conform, didn’t care for sports, and struggled to measure up to his father’s expectations. Brando was 16 when he arrived at Shattuck, and was placed in the 10th-grade class, despite having been in 11th grade in Illinois.
He was lonely, claiming his parents rarely visited or wrote to him. He lashed out in anger. “I did my best to tear the school apart, and not get caught,” he said. “I wanted to destroy the place.”
Stories abound of Brando’s attempts to at least bring the military precision of Shattuck to an occasional halt. He learned to shove paper clips into door locks so that teachers could not enter classrooms. There are several versions of the time he scaled the school bell tower to disable the bells that, by tradition, rang every quarter-hour around the clock.
In one important way, though, Brando did find himself at Shattuck. Under the guidance of a sympathetic English teacher and drama coach, he discovered a talent for acting. His first role was in the school play “Message from Khufu.”
Finally, in the spring of 1943, Shattuck officials had had enough of Brando’s antics. When he was observed off campus without a pass, he was expelled. Brando’s fellow students protested, saying the punishment was too severe for a minor offense. Eventually, the school relented and invited Brando back.
By then, though, he had seen his future, and it wasn’t in Faribault. It was in New York, where just a year later, Brando made his Broadway debut in “I Remember Mama.” Movie stardom and two Academy Awards were to follow.
Thomas Weber is a former Post Bulletin reporter who enjoys writing about local history.