Marlon Brando 1943: “It was ecstasy sleeping on the sidewalk of Washington Square”

Marlon Brando 1948

Marlon Brandon arrived in Greenwich Village in 1943 and stayed with his sister who lived near Patchin Place. In his 1994 autobiography, the actor wrote about this experience singling out the “ecstasy of sleeping on the sidewalk of Washington Square.” Arriving downtown after being expelled from a Minnesota military school, Brando loved the fact that nobody bothered him, and he could do what he wanted to do; this was obviously quite freeing. And, it was the Village!

Actor Cherished New York City “Freedom,” Particularly in Greenwich Village

In “Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me”, the esteemed actor wrote about this experience:

As I got out of the cab delivering me from Pennsylvania Station to my sister’s apartment in Greenwich Village in the spring of 1943, I was sporting a bright red fedora that I thought was going to knock everyone dead.

I cherish my memories of those first few days of freedom in New York, especially my sense of liberation from not having to submit to any authority, and knowing that I could go anyplace and do anything at any time.

One night I went to Washington Square and got drunk for the first time. I fell asleep on the sidewalk and nobody bothered me.

It was ecstasy sleeping on the sidewalk of Washington Square, realizing I had no commitment to anything or anyone. If I didn’t feel like going to bed, I didn’t. I formed the sleeping patterns of a lifetime; stay up past midnight, sleep til ten or eleven the next morning.

Once I stayed up all night at a party in Brooklyn and looked out the window at a gray dawn at about six A.M. and watched the streets glow with the headlights of buses, cars and taxis. Then the sidewalks began to fill up with people carrying briefcases and scurrying to their offices. I thought, God, wouldn’t it be awful if I had to get up and go to work like that every day?

Frannie, who lived in an apartment near Patchin Place in the Village, invited me to move in with her. I got a job as an elevator operator at Best & Company department store, then worked as a waiter, a short-order cook, a sandwich man, and at other jobs I don’t remember now.

The photo above captures an aerial view of what Washington Square looked like around that time, circa 1940-1949.

Brando began acquiring serious acting roles in 1944 on so perhaps the freedom of that time in the Village and on the Washington Square sidewalk helped his future career.

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The sidewalk reconstruction work, part of the park redesign (which began in late December 2007), was left for last in the plans, delayed and delayed. Still, Washington Square East sidewalks have not been completed (photo below). This sidewalk would not be very comfortable for sleeping!

Washington Sq East 2018

Watch Your Step: Washington Square Sidewalk Repair Delayed for Years August 11, 2015

This is a reworked version of a post originally published March 28, 2011.

Photo 1: Marlon Brando by Carl Van Vechten

Photo 2: The Washington Square Park (New York, N.Y.) and Washington Square Area Image Collection; New York University Archives, New York University.

Photo 3: Cathryn

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