Obituary: Anna Kashfi
Actress brought up in Wales, who married Marlon Brando, unhappily
Published 30/08/2015 | 02:30
Anna Kashfi, who has died aged 80, was an actress of exotic appearance who was the first wife of Marlon Brando and the mother of his first child, Christian. She played 'foreigners' in several Hollywood films of the 1950s.
Her origins were never clarified beyond doubt. When she was thrust into the spotlight, there were suggestions that she had invented her Indian ancestry, with one newspaper offering the theory that she browned her skin by bathing in coffee.
She insisted that she was Indian, the daughter of Devi Kashfi, an architect, and a woman called Selma Ghose.
But the day after she married Marlon Brando in late 1957 - she wore a sari for the ceremony - one William O'Callaghan from Cardiff and his wife Phoebe emerged, claiming to be her parents. Her real name, they said, was not Anna Kashfi but Joan O'Callaghan.
The truth may be that, as the actress explained in her memoirs, she was the result of an "unregistered alliance" and was subsequently adopted by O'Callaghan.
Her films included, most notably, her debut The Mountain (1956), a thriller starring Spencer Tracy, in which she played a Hindu woman who survives an aeroplane crash in the French Alps. Edward Dmytryk, the director, told reporters at the time that he was aware of Anna Kashfi's "real" name, but assumed that she was Anglo-Indian.
It was during production that she met Marlon Brando in the Paramount studio commissary. Recalling the meeting years later, the actress wrote: "The face, with an incipient heaviness about the jawline, reflected a wistfulness, an open sensuality and an ineffable indifference."
She was pregnant by the time she married the star and they were divorced within two years. Their relationship had been violent and tempestuous while they were together - Anna Kashfi was reported to have thrown a tricycle at Brando - and it remained difficult.
For 15 years, a painful dispute rumbled on over custody of their son Christian, whom Anna Kashfi preferred to call by his second name, Devi.
During legal proceedings, it was claimed that she had been emotionally unstable and at times reliant on alcohol and barbiturates.
Christian was also troubled. He dropped out of school, failed to make a career out of acting and was sent to prison after shooting dead the boyfriend of his half-sister, Cheyenne. He died at the age of 49 of pneumonia.
Anna Kashfi was born Joan O'Callaghan on September 30, 1934 in Darjeeling, where her father was a traffic superintendent on Indian state railways. She was brought up there until she was 13, when the family moved to Cardiff, where William O'Callaghan worked in a steel factory.
Anna attended St Joseph's Convent School, then the Cardiff School of Art. Early on, she had jobs in a butcher's shop in the city and in an ice cream parlour at Porthcawl.
She soon started modelling and in 1952 was spotted by an MGM talent scout.
Her flourishing as an actress was brief. After The Mountain she played a Korean woman in Battle Hymn (1957), opposite Rock Hudson as a Christian minister turned fighter pilot; then the daughter of an over-protective Mexican cattle baron for whom Jack Lemmon has fallen in Cowboy (1958); the next year she had a small part in Night of the Quarter Moon.
Anna Kashfi published a 'tell-all' memoir, Brando for Breakfast, in 1979.
Latterly, she lived in California and then in Washington state. She died on August 21.