Following his somewhat astounding but appalling performance on Broadway in A Streetcar Named Desire, a 25-year-old Marlon Brando decided to leave the theater behind, headed out west to try for film stardom. His first screen role was in The Men, a wrenching drama about a bitter paraplegic war veteran facing struggles while attempting to adjust to society. To prepare for the role, Brando spent a month at the Birmingham Army Hospital in Van Nuys, Los Angeles. Film reviewer Bosley Crowther of the New York Times wrote that his character “is so vividly real, dynamic and sensitive that his illusion is complete.”
During Brando’s preparation, LIFE photographer Ed Clark captured the soon-to-be legend actor deep in “The Method.” According to Theodore Strauss’ notes about Brando from LIFE’s archives, the actor refused director Stanley Kramer’s intention to put him in a good hotel. “First of all he insisted on living with the paraplegics in Birmingham Veterans Hospital during the four weeks before production began.” Strauss wrote. “This, he felt, was necessary to giving a completely knowledgeable and valid performance in his role. He was given a bed in a 32-bed ward, where he was treated almost like any other patient.”
Below is a rare photo gallery presented by LIFE.com on the 10th anniversary of Brando’s death:
Marlon Brando takes a break while training for his role in ‘The Men,’ 1949.
Marlon Brando chats with a production manager while training for his role in ‘The Men,’ 1949.
Marlon Brando in training for his role in ‘The Men,’ Van Nuys, Calif., 1949.
Marlon Brando rehearsing his role in ‘The Men,’ Birmingham Veterans Administration Hospital, Van Nuys, Calif., 1949.
As his real-life inspirations play cards in the background, Marlon Brando takes a break from rehearsing for ‘The Men,’ Birmingham Veterans Administration Hospital, Van Nuys, Calif., 1949.