Founded in 1858, Shattuck Military Academy in Faribault was one of the oldest and most respected college preparatory boarding schools in the Midwest. Shattuck was known for its rigid military discipline, strong academics, and was used to dealing with students who had been expelled from other schools. Enter Marlon Brando. After being expelled from his local high school for reportedly riding a motorcycle through the halls, Marlon Brando was sent to Shattuck Military Academy in 1941. Brando’s father, Marlon Brando Sr. attended Shattuck in the early 1910s and hoped the rigid program would sort his son out.
By all accounts, Brando was a popular but roguish cadet. Teachers at Shattuck have said that Brando was not disrespectful, but a prankster and a “character.” In his autobiography “Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me,” he recalled the bell that rang every fifteen minutes to remind students to attend drills, meals, classes, and other duties. One night, Brando recalled that he climbed the bell tower, removed the 150-pound clapper and carried it about 200 yards away and buried it. When school authorities found it missing the next morning, Brando organized a student committee to find out who committed the crime to divert suspicion from himself. The ploy worked, and Brando said that he would take the burial place with him to his grave.
English teacher and drama coach Earle “Duke” Wagner saw potential in Brando and encouraged him to try out for the school’s Dramatic Association. He worked hard under Wagner’s guidance and won the lead role in the school’s commencement play in 1943. In May of that year, just two weeks before the play, Brando was found to have left the school grounds to walk into town which resulted in an unauthorized absence demerit. (Brando has also claimed that he was in Duke Wagner’s rooms studying lines instead of in class, which resulted in his unauthorized absence from school. In another source, he claims that he had been caught smoking while already on probation, which led to his dismissal). He had racked up so many small demerits that the administration had placed Brando on probation, and this last offense finally broke the camel’s back. He was asked to leave the school. Students signed a petition asking for Brando’s immediate readmission and Duke Wagner threatened to resign, but the administration only bent far enough to allow Brando back to act his part in the commencement play. Brando declined. After going room-to-room to say goodbye to his friends, Brando left Shattuck and headed to acting school New York City. Exit Marlon Brando.
Here is my favorite story from his autobiography about his time at Shattuck. While out on maneuvers one day, Brando was placed in charge of a team of other cadets. In the middle of the exercise, the colonel came up to Brando and said, “Soldier, your battalion leader has been killed. What do you do?”
“Sir,” Brando said, “I’d ask the company commander.”
“He’s been killed, too. What would you do then?”
“Well, I’d ask the squad leader,” Brando said.
“He’s been killed, too,” the colonel answered. “What would you do then?”
“Sir,” Brando answered, “I guess I’d run like hell.”