Initially, Marlon Brando turned down the role of Terry Malloy, leading director Elia Kazan to strike up a handshake deal, but not a formal contract, with famed singer Frank Sinatra. While Sinatra was preparing to take the role, Kazan still favored Brando for the role of Terry Malloy. Ultimately, after seeing a screen test with then-unknown actor Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Brando agreed to the film, beating out Sinatra, who Kazan thought wasn't enough of a force to play the part. The role of Terry Malloy further cemented Brando as one of the greatest actors of all time, earning him an Academy Award for his work.
Brando is known for being a forceful performer and a skilled practitioner of "the Method," having trained with acclaimed acting teacher Stella Adler in the 1940s. He had already worked with Elia Kazan first on Broadway and then in the screen adaptation of Tennessee Williams' masterpiece A Streetcar Named Desire. In addition to On the Waterfront his films include The Godfather, Viva Zapata!, The Wild One, Julius Caesar, The Last Tango in Paris, Guys and Dolls, Apocalypse Now, The Freshman, Don Juan DeMarco, and his final film, The Score. His unique contribution to film acting and realism have made him a film icon and can perhaps best be described in his own words: "Acting is the expression of a neurotic impulse. It's a bum's life."
Eva Marie Saint
The role of Edie Doyle was at first offered to Grace Kelly, who declined, instead choosing to star in Hitchcock’s Rear Window. After Kelly declined and Kazan looked through other options, Eva Marie Saint was chosen over Elizabeth Montgomery, and the young actress made her film debut. Like Brando, Saint’s performance was lauded, earning her an Academy Award. On the Waterfront is the actress' best known role, but she went on to star in other films such as A Hatful of Rain, North by Northwest, Raintree County, Exodus, Grand Prix, Nothing in Common, and Winter's Tale.
Kazan wanted Lawrence Tierney (who was famous for playing gangsters) to play the role of Charley Malloy, Terry’s brother. However, Tierney wanted too much money, so the role went to Rod Steiger, who received an Academy Award nomination for his performance. Like Brando, Steiger was closely associated with Method acting, and throughout his career, played edgy characters with complex backstories and unique perspectives. Other films include The Big Knife, Oklahoma!, Al Capone (in which he played the titular character), Doctor Zhivago, In the Heat of the Night, Waterloo, Innocents with Dirty Hands, W.C. Fields and Me, The Amityville Horror, The Magic Mountain, and Mars Attacks!
Lee J. Cobb
Michael J. Skelly a.k.a. “Johnny Friendly”
Lee J. Cobb received a Best Supporting Actor Nomination for his role as Johnny Friendly. He had previously worked with director Elia Kazan as Willy Loman on the Broadway production of the acclaimed Arthur Miller play Death of a Salesman. He was a member of the Group Theater, and his other major films include Golden Boy, 12 Angry Men, and The Brothers Karamazov, for which he was again nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Malden was another frequent Elia Kazan collaborator, having appeared as Mitch in Kazan's adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire, for which he won an Academy Award. Throughout his long career, Malden was celebrated for his authenticity and the honesty that he brought to character roles, notably in such films as Pollyanna, One-Eyed Jacks, Baby Doll, How the West Was Won, and Patton. While he often played an "everyman," Malden's range was notable, and he was known for playing a diverse range of character types, from simpletons to heroes. In addition to his film roles, Malden appeared on many television shows as well, most famously The Streets of San Francisco.
Pat Henning was widely known as a comedian as well as an actor, and came from a vaudeville family. He did not start acting until he was in his 40s, when he enrolled in classes at the Actors Studio. His other films include Man on a Tightrope and The Cardinal. In 1953 he won an Emmy for his performance on the television show The Catered Affair.
On the Waterfront Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for On the Waterfront is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.