You can’t exactly buy a Tahitian Island if you aren’t Tahitian, but in Marlon Brando’s case, he was able to lease one for 99 years. Tetiaroa Atoll is about 30 miles from Tahiti and was long considered a crown jewel in Polynesia.
This was where Tahitian royalty went for R and R from their tough duties of sitting around giving orders. The primary activities of the royals when visiting Tetiaroa were keeping out of the sun to stay as pale as possible (which was considered a signifier of the elite) and eating as much as they could—because being hugely fat was considered cool. Brando would eventually fit snugly into this routine.
In 1961, at the height of his fame, Marlon went to Tahiti to film Mutiny on the Bounty. At the same time, David Lean offered him the lead in Lawrence of Arabia, but Brando said he much preferred to be on beach sand frolicking with island maidens vs. desert sand frolicking with camels; so Lean tapped the unknown Peter O’Toole for the role.
By the way, in Ireland, Peter’s doubly-redundant name is slang for the male member. This is considered ha-larious by pub patrons after a pint or six. Peter’s middle name is even more of the same. I’m possibly bringing this whole article down if I mention that his middle name is Seamus, which sounds vaguely dirty…or is it just me? O’Toole and Brando were never in a film together, though they came close when they were both offered The Odd Couple—which went to Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau.
By all accounts, Brando refused to take direction and improvised much of his dialogue. The film was a critical and financial disaster on such a colossal scale that some said it was the end for Brando. But his career hit new heights 10 years later with The Godfather. Now firmly in the driver’s seat, he could do whatever he wanted—like getting paid $12 million for 20 minutes (13 days work) of screen time in Superman. This is still an all-time record. And remember, this is the same Marlon Brando who sent an Apache actress named Sacheen Littlefeather to turn down his best actor Oscar in 1973 because he felt that Indians were inappropriately portrayed in films. He was way ahead of his time on this score.
The leading lady in Mutiny on the Bounty was the French/Tahitian actress Tarita Teri’ipaia—who he ended up marrying and raising a family with on Tetiaroa. Brando was gone a lot though, and the marriage unraveled by 1972. His family continued to live on the island which, by any measure, is the true picture of paradise.
Accommodations there were simple—laidback island-style—until 2014 when a swank resort company opened The Brando. It looks pretty lush, but I had trouble unraveling the rates which swing from about $3,000 a day for a single bedroom in low season to well over 20K in ‘festive season’ (plus a dizzying array of taxes which add another 30%). This is all well and good, but the fine print also indicated that if I want ‘premium food’ it’ll cost even more—so I guess it’s gonna be Spam on white toast for me.
I can’t give you the list of folks who have stayed there (as they tell me it’s a secret), except for Pippa Middleton’s honeymoon, the Obamas and, well, much of Hollywood royalty. But one thing is for sure—this is probably not an island I will be traveling to, unless I sell one of these tired old kidneys of mine.