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Often imitated, seldom equaled, local fans say.

Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

George Slaughter was slowly raking the back of his hand over his throat. And he was wheezing.

Or mumbling. Or both.

No need to worry about Slaughter, the manager at the Suncoast Motion Picture Company store at Valley River Center, which sells DVDs and videos. He was just imitating Brando on Friday afternoon.

Slaughter admits that he's not a huge Marlon Brando fan. But that's the thing about Brando - he's universal. And we use the present tense, even though the legendary actor is gone now, because he'll always be Brando. And who wouldn't recognize an imitation of Brando's portrayal of "The Godfather," Don Vito Corleone?

If you think there's a more imitated actor in the history of film, bring it on. Because that's a claim we're pretty certain you can't back up. Sure, there was Bogart - "Here's lookin' at you, kid" - and Cagney - "You dirty rat!" And there's De Niro - "You talkin' to me?"

But there's never been an actor like Brando, and likely never will be.

"I'm a fan of the classic actors," said Tammy Deppert, manager at Flicks & Pics on Friendly Street in south Eugene, which carries a large collection of classic film rentals. "They're just the great actors. And I don't think there's going to be anybody to take their place."

She's right. Most of Hollywood's "big-name" actors today - the Brad Pitts, Tom Cruises and Ben Afflecks - didn't get their start on the stages of New York like Brando and James Dean, or even De Niro and Al Pacino. They went straight into film.

And it would be difficult to say the younger generation could match acting chops with Brando, Deppert said.

As soon as she heard the news Friday morning about his death Thursday in Los Angeles at age 80, Deppert quickly arranged a special section of 23 Brando films by the front door at Flicks & Pics. Above the display, she put her favorite Brando quote from 1972's "The Godfather," in which Brando won the second of his two Academy Awards.

"Someday, and that day may never come, I'll call on you to do a service for me," the quote read. You can almost see the hand raking over the throat, almost hear that distinct, raspy voice.

Dave Mendonca, owner of Flicks & Pics, said it's sad that Brando became such a caricature of himself in his later years after doing such outstanding work on films like "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "On the Waterfront" early in his career.

Asked to do a Brando imitation, Mendonca smiled and said, "I can't."

But then Deppert broke into Brando's most famous line from 1951's "Streetcar," in which he played the animalistic and inwardly tortured Stanley Kowalski.

"Stel-la!!!!!" Deppert hollered, as she pumped her fists, and made other employees behind the counter jump.

It's one of the most famous scenes in film history, a 23-year-old Brando, back in the day when his dark, handsome looks were perhaps unequaled in Hollywood, or anywhere, screaming out his wife's name below their French Quarter flat in New Orleans.

Jesse D. Lally, an actor and director at Eugene's Actors Caberet, will never forget going to see his first viewing of "On the Waterfront," the 1954 film that Brando won his first Oscar for his portrayal of boxer Terry Malloy, at a movie house in New York City about 15 years ago.

"He had a lot of power in his abilities," said Lally, 26. "And I had no idea you could have that kind of power (as an actor). It was amazing to me."

Brando immediately became a "contenda" with Lally, who credits that moment, when he was just 11 or 12 years old, with his decision to pursue acting and directing.

"It's terrible," Lally said of Brando's death. "It's a sad day."
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Title Annotation:Entertainment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 3, 2004
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