While few can likely relate to the turbulent ups and downs of the famous Brando family, every one of us understands the desire for a friendly place where we can escape from real life, even if just for a short while. Incredibly, for legendary actor Marlon Brando and eldest son Christian Brando, that place was right here in Kalama.
Like many of Hollywood’s onscreen tales, this story is firmly rooted in the deep bond between a father and child. Christian Brando was born in 1958, the son of Marlon and his first wife, actress Anna Kashfi. Though the couple split up shortly after Christian’s birth, Marlon maintained a close relationship with his son. A long custody battle ensued, during which time Christian was often shuttled back and forth between his parents. In the early 1970s, Christian ran away from his embattled life in California, staying for a time with the family of Marlon’s longtime friend and business manager JoAn Corrales in Vancouver, Washington.
Years later, having already led a life filled with struggle, poor decisions and consequent prison time, Christian returned to Washington, first to reconnect with Corrales and later to stay, purchasing a home near Corrales’ ranch outside Kalama. It was here that Christian was finally able to find some peace from a chaotic and troubled life.
For his part, Marlon not only approved of the move, but became a frequent visitor to Kalama himself, often staying at the Corrales ranch for weeks at a time and enjoying everyday activities like mowing the lawn or fawning over pet chickens. He also loved spending time at the Heritage Square Antiques, a former general store in Kalama that Corrales restored in 1993. Many evenings, Marlon would sit in the mezzanine of the shop, where he could watch the comings and goings of Kalama residents undisturbed. Just imagine strolling the streets of this little Washington town, only to look up and lock eyes with one of the world’s most famous actors.
It was in Kalama, a place of refuge for the Brandos, that father and son found a community not only willing to provide them a level of anonymity unheard of in Hollywood, but also one that was fiercely dedicated to protecting the Brandos’ privacy. Throughout their time in Kalama, both Christian and Marlon were mostly treated “like nobody special” by local residents, undoubtedly a welcome reprieve from the endless grind of celebrity life and paparazzi. They could often be found around Kalama taking meals together, where other diners largely left them alone, allowing them to enjoy each other’s company in a way that most of us take for granted. Christian, who was also a welder by trade, became a familiar fixture around town in his work boots and flannel shirts.
It was a quiet, simple time for the Brandos, one that neither father nor son ever forgot. Before his death in 2004, Marlon was rumored to be considering a full-time move to Kalama, where he felt his younger children would have more opportunities to grow up outdoors and enjoy normal lives.
Sadly, Christian Brando passed away in 2008 at 49 years old. Today, he is buried on a hilltop overlooking the Columbia River at the cemetery in Kalama, a place of refuge where he was able to escape a difficult life, if only for a short while.