Marlon Brando on the set of The Men (1950, dir. Fred Zinnemann) (photo by Edward Clark for LIFE)
“Few members of the staff or patients knew who Brando was, so for a while he was able to blend in with the amputees, a cross section of America: blue-collar workers, farmers, enlisted men.
By the end of the third week in the hospital, Brando had been completely accepted by the vets, some of whom played roles in The Men. He told them why he was there: He was going to act in a movie about them, & he just wanted to do it right. The vets began confiding in Brando. They told him that they were disappointments to their wives because they would never be able to make love again. Brando became especially close to one vet who had struggled for a year to learn how to light a cigarette, since he no longer had the use of his arms. Later this man committed suicide.
At night Brando accompanied the vets to the Pump Room, a popular bar in the San Fernando Valley where they all went to drink. Drink was their only solace. Like the vets, Brando was in a wheelchair, lined up with the others, ordering beer & talking and joking. Once a little old lady, slightly tipsy, staggered over to them and began ranting about the healing powers of Jesus & how if they kept on believing, they might really walk again.
Brando studied her for a long time, and then with a gigantic effort, he hoisted himself up. A few people gasped, and the room fell silent as he took a few halting steps unaided. Everyone else lounging at the bar assumed he was a paraplegic, and waiters stood by to catch him if he fell. The woman stared at him bug-eyed when he burst out laughing and began to perform a softshoe dance up and down the length of the barroom floor before crying out, ‘I can walk! I can walk!’ to the wild applause of the vets as he disappeared into the night.”
-excerpted from Patricia Bosworth’s Marlon Brando