Friday, August 04, 2006

Brando and the Cardiff Shop Assistant

In 1957 tinsel town's hottest property, Marlon Brando, got hitched. His bride originated from India, the daughter of wealthy Calcutta parents. So exotic was his new wife she'd been trained in all the classical dances of Asia. Or at least that's the story she fed the Hollywood icon. In truth she was Joanna O'Callaghan, an ex-butcher's shop assistant from Cardiff. When Brando discovered the deception he was furious and the marriage became doomed. It would last less than a year.

The couple first met in 1955 after Kashfi moved to Hollywood. A desultory courtship began which might have remained little more than a passionate fling except that Kashfi became pregnant. In a bid to legitimise the birth, they married. Cynics have asserted that this was all part of her grand plan to ensnare the heart-throb. If true, then Kashfi goes down in history as the ultimate Cardiff girl on the make.

Their son Christian was born in May 1958; in September of that same year Brando and Kashfi separated. What followed was a bitter custody battle that would last years (see pic). During this epic struggle Kashfi would accuse Brando of being a wife-beater; in turn, he pointed out her over-fondness for drugs and booze. Neither of them were ideal parental role models.

The struggle took its bizarrest turn in 1972 when Kashfi effectively had her son kidnapped from school and taken to Mexico, for which she was later arrested. This episode prompted the courts to grant Brando sole custody of Christian.

No doubt the protracted custody battle had a profoundly negative effect on their unhappy son, who in 1991 was convicted of the manslaughter of his step-sister's boyfriend. Kashfi blamed Brando for the whole unsavoury tragedy. She was still blaming him even after his death in 2004.

Biographers have been unkind to Kashfi, portraying her as a manipulative gold digger and unfit parent. I'm not so sure myself. After their divorce she was awarded a then world record financial settlement - she now lives alone in a trailer park. Where did all the money go? On booze, drugs and a decadent lifestyle? No - on lawyers as she desperately tried to retain custody of her child.

Kashfi had the guts to take on Brando and his powerful PR machine. Unfortunately for her the sheer volume of mud they threw has stuck. It's about time her side of the story was told.