Marlon Brando Is a Bowling Pin | John Grayson Heide

Johnny Carson, face beaming his familiar bemused knowingness, taps a pencil on the desk in front of him and leans forward into the mic. “My first guest tonight is the academy award-winning actor and one of Hollywood’s all-time best, Mr. Marlon Brando. Let’s welcome him.”

The audience erupts in applause and a sturdy man with headphones emerges from behind a curtain wheeling a hand truck. He cants his head to one side to accommodate the large object cradled in the curve of the upright dolly. With some effort, the stage crew member rolls toward the short riser that leads to center stage. Putting some back into it, he pulls up and backwards to position himself in front of the famed number one guest chair next to Johnny, where he deftly spins his cargo and leans it onto the chair.

The audience reaction is mixed. The splattering of applause peters out and is replaced by murmurs and soft chatter. Leaning on the chair next to Johnny is a six-foot tall bowling pin, complete with a shiny white skin and a red strip festooned around a pinched neck.

Johnny doesn’t miss a beat––he takes it all in stride. “Welcome back, sir. It’s been a while since you’ve graced our stage and a great pleasure to see you again. How have you been?”

The bowling pin figure sprouts an almost imperceptible mouth and two tiny eyes, nothing else. Brando’s velvety, hint of feminine, voice answers. “I’ll tell you how I’ve been. I turned into a damn bowling pin. I don’t know how, or why, but look at me.”

Johnny furrows his brow and shakes his head ever so slightly. “That’s wild. This must be in preparation for an upcoming role. Can you tell us what project this is for, and when we can expect to see it?”

“No, this is no prep at all. I’m a bowling pin. That’s it.”

“That is so unusual,” Johnny leans forward. “You’ve had so many iconic roles in your career, it’s hard for me to pick out a favorite. Do you have one characterization that stands out in your mind as possibly your best?”

“I can’t think of anything except my frustration at being a bowling pin.”

“Yes. So, what is everyday life like for Marlon Brando these days? Millions of us are curious about the real you.”

The small eyes blink. “I’ll tell you one thing that’s new. It’s very upsetting to be put in formation with a bunch of dull-witted pins, and then boom, a big ass ball comes crashing into you. You lie there on your side wondering ‘what the hell’ and then you get swept away. I don’t like it. And what’s more, here comes the ball again. The whole scene repeats itself while I hear people in the distance shouting and cheering. I do my best to play the part. That’s what I do, but still… give me a break.”

Johnny nods. “Incredible. I’m no actor, but I imagine that’s how it is on set. Some little inflection or missed line and you’ve got to do it all over again.”

“Johnny, you’re not getting it! That’s not it at all. I’m not filming, there’s no director. I’m a goddamn bowling pin.”

Johnny taps his pencil. “That is wild. Over the years, you’ve worked with almost everybody. Anybody missing from that list?”

“I can’t think about that. I’m just working on figuring out what happened. That’s it right now. It’s taking all my attention. I can’t even scratch my ass. I don’t even know if I have as ass.”

“Speaking of dreams, that brings to mind one of my favorite Brando scenes. It’s from a movie you did with George C. Scott called The Formula. A fantastic performance. Did you rehearse that scene exactly as written, or did you improvise while the camera rolled?”

The tiny eyes shut tight. “I don’t remember, Johnny. And frankly, I don’t give a shit. I’m a bowling pin now.”

“And only you can pull that off.” With eyebrows arched high, Johnny swivels his head toward an unseen stage manager. “We have to take a commercial break?” Returning his gaze to his guest, “Marlon, can you hang out with us a little longer?” The band music swells, and Johnny flips his pencil in the air. “Folks, don’t go away. We’ll be right back with the incredible, one and only Marlon Brando.”

As the camera pans out, Brando struggles in the chair, but only rocks side to side.

John Grayson Heide has dabbled with writing his entire adult life. After a particularly intriguing dream that combined fantasy and the reality of aging, he wrote the novel The Flight of the Pickerings. He now writes for fun and little profit while atop a mountain above the town of Sonoma, California. His short stories have been published in California Writers Literary Review, Bewildering Stories, the Redwood Writers anthologies, and more.