The Story Behind Marlon Brando's $2 Million Apocalypse Now Rolex
Few Hollywood performances have ever been as chilling as Marlon Brando's turn as Walter E. Kurtz in 1979's Apocalypse Now. Brando brought an unsettling charisma to a Kurtz that feels engrossing to this day, even as he careened through excruciating monologues about the horrors of war. Like many of the great Hollywood actors, that was Brando's brilliance—remaining Marlon Brando even as he completely inhabited his character. One of the remaining historical artifacts evincing that duality sold at the Phillips "Game Changers" auction on Tuesday, December 10, in New York: the Rolex that Brando wore for the role.
"This watch is like a tank," Brando wrote in a note when he gave the watch to his daughter Petra Brando Fischer in the '90s, as a college graduation present. "You can do anything you want to it and it will keep on going. I want you to have it as a reminder of how proud I am of you."
Brando, as Kurtz, wearing the Rolex GMT-Master reference 1675.
Unsurprisingly, it's a beautiful timepiece. The Rolex GMT-Master reference 1675, which left its factory in 1972 before coming into Brando's possession, is made of stainless steel, and has never been polished. It's got all the original curves and sharp edges it had originally, with one key history-making exception: Brando himself personally engraved "M. Brando" on the back of the watch.
When Petra's graduation rolled around, Brando gave the watch to her with a hand-written letter addressed to "Petra (dream girl)," and she kept it for several years before giving it to her husband Russel on their wedding night in 2003. Now that the couple has sold the watch, a portion of the proceeds will go to their Brando Fischer Foundation, a charitable organization that provides financial support to children living through abuse, neglect, poverty, or disability.
The watch is engraved with "M. Brando" on the back.
The sale is accompanied by two brief retrospective essays on Brando written by his friends and contemporaries, Al Pacino and Martin Sheen. The two actors recall the impact he made on their lives as an exemplary actor, a champion of social justice issues, and a friend to them both.
"Marlon was every bit the powerful image projected for decades but the simple reality of his presence and common humanity were completely disarming," wrote Sheen, Brando's co-star in Apocalypse Now. "His genuine kindness and compassion, coupled with his infectious sense of humor were commonplace with everyone he encountered during his all too brief time working on the film."
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.