Kenneth Kendall, the artist known for his many paintings and sculptures of James Dean, worked early in his career as an extra for various film studios in Hollywood. One memorable occasion occurred in 1952 when Kenneth had the opportunity to work on the film Julius Caesar starring Marlon Brando as Mark Antony. It was during the filming of the forum scene where the famous “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” speech was given that Kenneth felt he had been a “witness to theatrical history.” Standing in the second row of the crowd of “Citizens,” a mere 10 feet away from Brando, Kenneth experienced the power of great acting. As he later described it, the hair on his arms stood on end, and Kenneth was inspired to produce the extraordinary sculpture of Marlon Brando, which would soon catch the attention of James Dean.
From Kendall’s notes we learn that he first worked up some sketches of Brando done in the manner of a 19th century theatrical poster in red and black. The artist hoped to offer them for sale in theatre arts magazines and split the proceeds with a charity of the actor’s choice. The sketches were presented through Kenneth’s friend Phil Rhodes, who was Brando’s makeup man. They were rejected immediately!
Another chance to work on the Caesar production, this time as a soldier, gave Kenneth the opportunity to again get closer to Brando. Kenneth’s curious and ingenious solution to a costuming problem attracted attention. In his hand-written recollection of the time, Kenneth noted: “We were up in Bronson Canyon wearing Roman Soldier costumes with sandals and you couldn’t walk 3 steps without getting gravel under your foot, which wasn’t too comfortable. That night I took an old pair of white tennis shoes and painted toes on them and made them flesh colored. Then I put the sandals on over them and could walk in comfort. My ‘Toe Shoes’ were the sensation of the set. All the stuntmen were interested. I even had Marlon Brando on his hands and knees looking at them.” Seizing the opportunity, Kenneth personally offered his artistic services and inquired about photographs to assist in the process, but was brushed off again.
Despite Brando’s aloof responses, Kenneth was not deterred in his efforts to draw, paint and sculpt the actor. He continued by gathering available photographs and created an oil portrait that was used by MGM publicity. Kendall also obtained access to the actor’s life mask in the MGM makeup department. This proved to be the key to delivering a final sculpture that captured the actor as the powerful force that Kenneth had witnessed during the forum scene. Ultimately, this same sculpture, which was rejected by one actor, was valued by another. James Dean dropped by Kendall’s Melrose studio with his friend Toni Lee Scott to view it first hand when it was displayed in the window. The rest is history.