Sex, vodka and a gold watch – when Marlon Brando met Zsa Zsa GarborLuke Benedictus
It was Socrates who suggested that “the male libido is like being chained to a madman”. In Marlon Brando’s case, he was shackled to a veritable asylum. Married three times with two long-term partners, cosy domesticity wasn’t really his “thing”. This, after all was a guy who met his penultimate long-term girlfriend during a threesome and whose long-term secretary recalls seeing another woman in his bed on the morning he was getting married to his first wife.
As you can therefore imagine, Brando’s list of sexual escapades was hardly conservative. Bedpost notches reportedly included Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Grace Kelly, Jackie Kennedy, Shelley Winters, Rita Moreno, Jackie Collins and Heidi Fleiss among others. In addition, Brando was open about his sexual fluidity with his male lovers allegedly numbering Richard Pryor, James Dean and Cary Grant. As the actor happily admitted in Gary Carey biography’s Marlon Brando, the Only Contender,: “Like a large number of men, I too have had homosexual experiences and am not ashamed.”
Amid this cavalcade of lovers, Brando met the stunning Hungarian starlet Zsa Zsa Garbor. Now here was a woman whose romantic entanglements were almost as complex as Brando’s. She famously shrugged off her succession of nine husbands explaining, “I don’t believe in living in sin, so I always got married”.
These marriages include the hotel mogul Conrad Hilton, the actor George Sanders, the inventor of the Barbie doll, plus the lawyer who facilitated her divorce from the inventor of the Barbie doll. In those rare moments when she wasn’t walking down the aisle, Gabor cheerfully admits to being propositioned by George Bernard Shaw, Greta Garbo, Warren Beatty, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Henry Kissinger and Elvis Presley.
Somehow Gabor still found time to develop an intimate friendship with Brando. When he won an Oscar for On the Waterfront, Gabor sent him a yellow gold Vacheron Constantin, a slimline dress watch with an undulating textured dial. On the caseback she engraved a message: “To Marlon love Zsa Zsa June 24th 1954”.
In 2009, the timepiece sold at The Important Collectors’ Wristwatches, Pocket Watches & Clocks auction held by Antiquorum in New York for six times its estimated value for a price of $18,000 USD.
Sadly, Brando didn’t repay this kind gift in a very gentlemanly fashion. Nine years later, the pair appeared together on the Tonight show. Ahead of this appearance on live TV, Brando necked a vast quantity of neat vodka. As Garbor explains in her autobiography:
I appeared on the [Tonight] show with Marlon Brando. The show was still live in those days. I wore a low-cut pink Oscar de la Renta evening gown rather like a powder puff, and, of course, my diamond earrings and diamond necklace. We started bantering about this and that. Then Marlon leaned forward and leered, ‘I don’t know why Zsa Zsa has to talk so much. With those boobs she really doesn’t have to say anything.’
Marlon’s first comment was fairly acceptable to the American TV audience. His next comment, though, definitely was not … Marlon announced, ‘Do you know what I want to do with that girl, Johnny [Carson]? I want to f*ck her.’ Then, turning his attention to me, Brando went on, ‘Zsa Zsa, a man can only do one thing with you: throw you down and f*ck you!’
OK, I’m sorry. The original idea here was to write a romantic story to warm you up for Valentine’s Day. But it’s instead turned into a rather tawdry tale about two of Hollywood’s most energetically dysfunctional love lives. In retrospect, that was probably to be expected, too. When Gabor was asked on another chatshow how to prevent men from straying, her blunt answer was: “Shoot them in the legs.”
But there’s a serious side to all this. Because I am now genuinely concerned about the fate of that yellow-gold Vacheron. Just think about it for a minute. If sexual energy is in any way transferable then that watch is the carnal equivalent of a nuclear bomb. Given the main players in its past life, this watch must now be super-charged with a level of sexual magnetism that is frankly off the charts. Considering this dangerous potential, one must worry about the fate of the unknown buyer who snapped up this watch. Armed with this powerful sex totem, one hopes they take the necessary precautions.