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‘I cannot remember when an East Indian actress has been signed in Hollywood. But Anna Kashi, after an impressive colour test, was nabbed by MGM. … She has been called “the Grace Kelly of India” because of her beauty and charm.’”   – Louella O. Parsons

 

Marlon Brando is one of those figures who exists in pretty much everyone’s cultural landscape. The characters he’s played have influenced the way people dress, speak, behave, whether it be Johnny Strabler in The Wild One or Don Corleone in The Godfather franchise. Much has been written about him: he’s Hollywood royalty, a man who dated some of the most beautiful women in the world – and married them. Sarah Broughton’s fascinating Brando’s Bride shines a spotlight on a little-known area of the actor’s life: his scandalous first marriage to Anna Kashfi, a very charismatic young actress reported to be of East Indian extraction. Or was she?

Twenty-three-year-old Kashfi had already finished filming her role as a mute Hindu in the Spencer Tracy vehicle The Mountain, when she met Brando, ten years her senior, and arguably at the height of his career. They began an affair, which may or may not initially have been consensual on her part, before subsequently marrying in 1955. Kashfi was reportedly pregnant. She was also reportedly an Indian princess, which William O’Callaghan took pains to deny publicly shortly after the wedding, claiming instead that she was his daughter, Joan, and that far from being ‘Injun’, she was Welsh. Brando was said to be furious.

What follows is an intricate and multi-layered story, Broughton bringing to life issues of love, deceit, racism, exploitation, abuse and so much more, set against the ‘glamour’ of big studio-run Hollywood and the madness of sixties and seventies’ America, and beyond. Brando is an interesting, narcissistic figure, but it’s the tantalising and troubled Anna Kashfi who quite rightly takes centre-stage.

Broughton sets up America and Britain in the postwar era, when the Empire was waning and race and gender were sensitive issues. She portrays a Hollywood, in which the exploitation of young starlets, in particular, was rife. She also shows why the O’Callaghans would have done anything possible to deny that they had foreign blood in them, at a time when prejudice and racial discrimination were prevalent and interracial marriage frowned upon. In fact, Kashfi was born in Calcutta and ‘undoubtedly’ both her parents had Indian ancestry. As Kashfi herself told Broughton, ‘I guess you would call me Anglo-Indian because I have a lot of Indian blood in me … way, way back.’

Kashfi’s marriage to Brando was short-lived, but the aftermath was toxic, taking its toll not just on Kashfi but on Christian, their son. Both Kashfi and Christian were damaged by their dealings with Brando.

Brando’s Bride is fascinating, there’s no other word for it, Broughton telling this sometimes seemingly unbelievable tale with authority, vivacity and enough salacious material to keep our attention. The most interesting parts for me were the hinterland, the social and cultural history of the time, and the examination of the Hollywood system, in arguably what was its Golden Age.

A terrific read.

Brando’s Bride | Sarah Broughton | Parthian | £10 | paperback w/flaps

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Acknowledgements: Huge apologies for posting this review late due to illness.

Text quotes: Louella O. Parsons, ‘Hollywood Scene’, The Stars and Stripes, 24 December 1955, cited in Brando’s Bride, p. 103, and Sarah Broughton, unpublished recorded interviews with Anna Kashfi, April 2009. Cover of Jours de France, January 1956, used for publicity purposes only. This review is published as part of the virtual book tour. Many thanks to lovely Anne Cater and to the publisher for supplying a review copy and jacket image. All thoughts and opinions are our own.

 

See also: ‘What’s in a hill? Tom Cox’;  ‘My Judy Garland life’;By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept’; ‘Yvonne Battle-Fenton’s Rememembered‘; ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised‘; ‘We should all be feminists‘; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’;Permission by Saskia Vogel‘; ‘Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, Dialogue’s brilliant debut; ‘RW Kwon’s The Incendiaries’; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir‘; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”‘; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).

Select Q&As/interviews: Amanda Saint‘;‘Ausma Zehanat Khan’; Mary Balogh‘; ‘Louise Voss’; ‘Lilja Sigurðardóttir’; ’Tom Cox’; ‘Vanda Symon; ‘Gunnar Staalesen’; Some like it hot – the joy of Carole Mortimer, award-winning novelist

 

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