Jewish World Review July 6, 2004 / 17 Sivan, 5764

Russell Friedman

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Marlon Brando — larger than life in more ways than one | Marlon Brando died, but his legend lives on. In addition to the show business stories you will hear and see as the media remembers the icon called Marlon Brando, here's a first person account that gives another picture of the "man."

The phrase, "larger than life," is often used to describe famous people. Marlon fit that bill in more ways than one. I first met him in the mid-1980's. I owned a restaurant called The Budapest Hungarian, on Fairfax in Los Angeles. It was a Friday night and the restaurant was jammed. The front door opened and in walked a man and woman. The woman was Polynesian and gorgeous, a striking beauty. But her beauty was almost overshadowed by the girth of her companion.

The man wore the largest and possibly most expensive Cashmere overcoat ever made. My first impression was, "This is the best -dressed condo I've ever seen." But it was not a piece of real estate, it was Marlon Brando. THE Marlon Brando was standing in the foyer of MY restaurant, asking me if I might possibly have a table for two for dinner.

As I said, the place was jammed and there were several large parties waiting to be seated. But I had one open table tucked around the corner behind the cash register. So I said, "I just happen to have one empty table, and it's out of the way, so you can have some privacy." As I walked them to the table, I could feel 100 sets of eyes on Marlon and the woman. I could also feel my heart trying to jump out of my chest. I tried to act and move as if this were a very normal occurrence, nothing special. You see one icon, you've seen them all. Hah!

I seated them, gave them menus, and then stationed myself just out of their direct vision. From there, I could run interference against the throngs of customers who would desperately need to tell Mr. Brando just how long they'd adored him and that one little autographed napkin — for their daughter of course — would be so perfect.

The "Budapest" was a Jewish style Hungarian restaurant. It was not kosher, but featured many of the traditional Jewish foods like matzoth ball soup, chopped liver, stuffed chicken, and strudel. The meals were seven courses, and ranged in price from $7.95 to $13.95. Yes, those days are long gone.

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If you ever wondered how Marlon morphed from the Greek God looks of Stanley in Streetcar to the man who would be a condo, wonder no more. I will tell you. I mentioned that the Budapest featured seven course meals. Each time Marlon came to dinner he ate two. No, not two of the seven courses, but two entire seven course meals. Marlon got huge the old fashioned way, he ate his way there. His favorite dinner was the Roast Goose with all the trimmings, and then again.

So I stood aside and guarded while Marlon gorged. I will give him this — he loved to eat. He enjoyed every bit of the food and appeared to enjoy every moment that he was eating it. It was like the eating scene from the film, Tom Jones, but without the sexual overtones.

The evening wore on. No one got past me to bother Marlon Eventually the restaurant cleared out.. I felt safe enough to leave my post. I went to my office in the back to do some paperwork. A few minutes later, the intercom beeped. It was the hostess telling me that Mr. Brando wanted to see me. I said I'd be right out.

Before I got to his table, the hostess showed me the credit card receipt that Mr. Brando had signed. The bill for the three meals they'd eaten was $39.95, including sales tax — as I said, those days are very long gone. Mr. Brando had added a $50 tip to that bill. That's not a typo, that's a fifty dollar tip.

I went to his table. As I arrived, Mr. Brando stood up. He had a very unhappy look on his face. He said, "Mr. Friedman — you make a very big mistake here." My heart sank. I'm sure my face fell too. I sensed that he was looking at me, but I couldn't really see. I was in a panic. Although it was Marlon Brando who was famous for muttering, it was now my turn. I muttered something like, "What's wrong, Mr. Brando?" His face stayed stern, and he said, "You don't charge enough for your food." There was a huge pause as I realized what he'd said and that I'd been had. As I got the joke, and looked up sheepishly, he began laughing. I guess everybody knows, Marlon Brando didn't do much of anything in moderation, and there was none in his laugh. If anyone could do a belly laugh, he could — he had more than enough equipment. I had no choice but to laugh along with him.

As our laughter subsided, he reached out as if to shake my hand. I took his hand and realized that he had slipped something into the palm of my hand. I put the object into my pocket, wished Marlon and the beautiful woman a pleasant good night, and headed back to my office. As soon as I was out of his sight, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the little folded up paper. It was a $100 bill. People don't ordinarily tip the owner of restaurants. But Marlon Brando was no ordinary person.

The next day, I photocopied the credit card receipt. This was back in the day when there were actual credit card slips, not those odd little pieces of paper they use today. So the receipt had Mr. Brando's full name along with the amount of the purchase and the tip. I cut the credit card numbers off the copy and gave it to the waitress for her memory box.

Marlon Brando became a regular customer and, if not a friend, at least a delightful acquaintance. Each time he came to dinner, I had a different one of our waitresses take care of him. He always gave them a $50 tip, and I always copied the credit card so my gals would have something special to remember.

Today, I just want to say, "Thank you and goodbye Marlon. Thanks for bringing something special to my life and to the people who worked with me. You were a great tipper, and you weren't a half -bad actor either."

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Russell Friedman is a founder of The Grief Recovery Institute in Sherman Oaks, CA [ ], and co-author of "The Grief Recovery Handbook & "When Children Grieve. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2003, Russell P. Friedman