Los Angeles, CA

How Marlon Brando Failed His Troubled Son

Ryan Fan

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=03wUur_0XjHOCKq00

From the Los Angeles Police — Public Domain

“I think that perhaps I failed as a father,” Marlon Brando said of his son, Christan Brando.

In the 1950s, one of the most famous and greatest actors in history, Marlon Brando, had an affair with Anna Kashfi, a British Indian actress. They met in 1955, and Kashfi got pregnant with Brando’s baby in 1957. The two of them married in 1958 and then divorced the next year.

On May 11, 1958, Christian Devi Brando was born. He was named after Marlon Brando’s friend, film director Christian Marquand.

Christian Brando would live a very tumultuous childhood — according to Jon Thurber in the LA Times, Brando would be the subject of a very bitter custody battle between Kashfi and Marlon Brando while he was a toddler. Kashfi was first awarded custody of her son, but a judge removed the order five years later due to her “reliance on drugs and alcohol.”

Custody then went to Marlon Brando’s older sister when Christian was 6. When Christian was 13, Marlon Brando got custody of his son, who sent him to be boarding school in Ojai, California. There, he was raised by nannies. As a busy actor, Marlon Brando spent very little time with his son. And Christian Brando was the oldest son of the family, playing a large father figure role as time wore on to his younger siblings who didn’t see their father much. Christian described being witness to his father’s womanizing ways and unstable authority figures in his life:

“The family kept changing shape,” Christian said. “I’d sit down at the breakfast table and say, ‘Who are you?’”

The kidnapping

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=3AZCpi_0XjHOCKq00Marlon Brando after “The Godfather” — From Sipuede7 on Wikipedia Commons

According to Nick Dawson in Focus Features, Marlon Brando just starred in The Godfather and was preparing to see the grand premiere of the movie on March 15. However, he was in France, filming The Tango in Paris, where he then would be subject to much real-life drama.

The drama was that Kashfi had kidnaped Christian. When the paparazzi confronted Brando with stories of the kidnapping, he denied it, saying Christian had gone on a fishing and scuba diving trip with his friends in Mexico. Behind the scenes, however, Marlon Brando hired private investigators, who found Christian in Mexico. One investigator found him in a cave near San Felipe with six men and two women.

All eight people denied kidnapping Christian and said Kashfi would pay them $10,000 to hide Christian Brando. Around the time, Kashfi was found arrested near the Mexican border for drunk driving and disorderly behavior. Christian Brando was found with bronchial pneumonia in the cave, and then returned to Marlon Brando, who gained custody of his son.

Later, when Christian was in 11th grade, he started using LSD and drinking, and later dropped out of high school. He would work many jobs, including an attempted career at acting, but avoided the spotlight, much unlike his father. At the time, he lived with his father in Hollywood Hills.

Manslaughter

According to James Kunen, Robin Micheli, Dan Knapp, and Logan Bentley in People Magazine, Marlon Brando once called 911 to tell an operator that someone in his house had been shot. The person shot was Dag Drollet, the boyfriend of Brando’s daughter, Cheyenne Brando. The person who shot Drollet was Christian Brando, who killed Drollet accidentally after Cheyenne, his pregnant ex-sister, complained to him that Drollet was mistreating her and slapping her.

At trial, Christian’s attorneys would say that Christian Brando confronted Drollet with a handgun, which Drollet later tried to take away from Brando. No witnesses saw the accident — Marlon Brando, his wife, and Cheyenne were all in different parts of the house. Marlon Brando would attempt CPR to resuscitate Drollet, but the bullet had gone through Drollet’s neck.

When the police came to the crime scene, they confiscated a rifle, shotgun, pistol, assault rifle, and silencer from Christian. They also said Cheyenne Brando showed no sign of injury and arrested Christian on a first-degree murder charge. Christian would later phone a friend from the Santa Monica jail:

“I didn’t want to shoot him. If I was going to kill that guy, I would have taken him to Franklin Canyon and hit him in the head with a baseball bat and pulverized the guy.”

As to whether Drollet abused Cheyenne, People Magazine reports that Marlon Brando said he didn’t believe Drollet abused Cheyenne, instead citing his daughter's history of “psychological problems’ and making false allegations against family members. Christian Brando would also discredit Cheyenne’s allegations against Drollet because of her psychological struggles, saying:

“I feel like a complete chump for believing her.”

Testifying in court for a reduced sentence for his son, Marlon Brando said that “I think that perhaps I failed as a father” and teared up when he confessed all the ways he could have been a better father to Christian.

According to Robert Jablon at the Associated Press, one of Christian Brando’s lawyers was the famous Robert Shapiro, who was also part of the “Dream Team” that represented O.J. Simpson. Christian would have his murder charge dropped due to Cheyenne, a key witness, not testifying — at the time, Marlon Brando had her admitted to a psychiatric hospital, and the prosecution couldn’t get her back to California. Christian then received a plea deal, where he plead guilty to manslaughter and five years in prison.

Later, Cheyenne Brando gave birth to a son. In 1995, at 25, she died by suicide in Tahiti after losing custody of her son, Tuki, who became raised by Drollet’s parents.

The murder of Bonnie Lee Bakley

According to the BBC, another TV star, Robert Blake, claimed that Christian Brando was involved in the killing of Blake’s wife, Bonny Lee Bakley. Blake’s lawyers claimed, according to the Associated Press, that Brando and his associates murdered Blake’s wife because she taunted Brando with a picture of a baby she claimed to be his. After all, the daughter was named Christian Shannon Brando, after Christian Brando.

M. Gerald Schwartzbach, the attorney for Blake, called for the testimony of a man named Duffy Hambleton, one of the prosecution’s two central witnesses, who contradicted Blake’s claims and said Blake solicited him to kill Bakley. Another stuntman corroborated Hambleton’s account.

One potential witness, Dianne Mattson, claimed she overheard a conversation between Brando and Duffy where Brando said he wanted to put a bullet through Bakley’s head. However, Judge Darlene Schempp refused Mattson’s testimony because she had “credibility issues.” Prosecutors interviewed Brando and said he had no involvement in the murder.

Blake would be acquitted in the criminal trial for murder but would be convicted in the civil trial. In the civil trial, Brando invoked his Fifth Amendment right to protect himself from possible incrimination. During the trial, Christian Brando mouthed words and made gestures to the jury, according to the judge, he was found in contempt of court and fined $1,000

Troubled marriage and death

According to the BBC, Christian Brando, in 2004, married a woman named Deborah Presley, a woman who claimed to be the daughter of Elvis Presley. In 2005, the next year, Brando annulled their marriage, and Presley alleged that Brand beat her and threatened to kill her — charges Brando pled no contest to. A judge gave Brando three years of probation to undergo drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

On January 26, 2008, Christian Brando died of pneumonia after 15 days in the hospital. He was buried at the Kalama Cemetary, and there, his mother, Anna Kashfi, attended the funeral to bury him. She chose Kalama as the place to bury him because it was, according to The Daily News, “one of the few places he felt accepted and appreciated.”

Takeaways

At Christian Brando’s funeral, many friends, including Chaplain Timothy Berg, grieved his death. At Kamala, Berg said that Brando really just wanted to live a simple life and overcome the challenges of his celebrity.

“[Brando] wanted his privacy and we gave it to him. … He loved it here and liked the people here. He’d walk down the street and no one would bother him. He had friends, and everyone called him by his first name. He was just a regular guy.”

Brando loved to weld, loved nature, and he loved to fish. But he had a hard life that was hard to overcome:

“I guess as a society, we’ve made it really hard for people who are famous…God, he had a hard life, he really did, and I guess that’s really true of a lot of people who are born into fame,” Berg said.

The perils of being the child of a celebrity, particularly a celebrity like Marlon Brando, is difficult. We normally don’t feel bad or empathetic for the children of celebrities because we stereotype them as having grown up with an infinite amount of money and connections.

But in the case of Christian Brando, a kid born into a chaotic home environment and a difficult custody situation, the story of Christian Brando is relatable to so many children who grow up in broken homes. Only Christian Brando’s home had the constant spotlight of the whole world, something no child deals well with.

Christian Brando was human, like any of us. And it’s hard to fault him for having an absentee father and mother who struggled with addiction.

Originally published on CrimeBeat on Medium on October 1st, 2020.

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