Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Christian Brando — A Hollywood Family Tragedy

A Last Chance

Book cover of Anna Kashfi's book Brando for Breakfast
Book cover of Anna
Kashfi's book
Brando for Breakfast

Battling psychiatric problems, recovering from the severe auto accident that ended her modeling career and now pregnant by a man she felt was drifting away from her, Cheyenne Brando left Tahiti to stay at her father's Mulholland Drive compound high above the glamour of Hollywood. Friends said Cheyenne was never comfortable in Los Angeles, as she had grown up in the relative quiet of French Polynesia, about as different an environment from Southern California as one can imagine. Her father had mixed emotions about bringing his children to California from Tahiti.

"I don't think I will let them go to the States," Brando said in a 1976 interview. "As Tahitians, they are too trusting. They would be destroyed in the pace of life in the States."

However, Marlon knew his daughter was suffering from mental illness and he wanted her near him. He also reportedly distrusted the medical facilities on the island. "Marlon Brando has no confidence in French doctors, no confidence in the clinics in Tahiti," said Drollet's stepfather, Albert Lecaill, during court proceedings following his stepson's death. "He wanted her here for psychiatric care and to have her baby. Dag always wanted Cheyenne to go to Los Angeles to have her baby."

The invitation from her father in all likelihood could not have helped Cheyenne's fragile state of mind. She endured a love-hate relationship with Brando, alternately pleading for the actor to fulfill his role as father and pushing him away in an effort to create her own identity, separate from the great Marlon Brando.

"He is a beautiful man, my father," Cheyenne once told a close schoolmate. But as she grew, her feelings about Marlon Brando cooled.

"I have come to despise my father for the way he ignored me when I was a child," she said after her car accident. "He came to the island maybe once a year but really didn't seem to care whether he saw me or not. He wanted us but he didn't want us."

Cheyenne and Dag were living apart when she accepted her father's offer to stay at his sprawling, 12-room home in Hollywood Hills atop the Santa Monica Mountains. After the accident she became reckless and much more aggressive than ever before, something her sister Petra Brando, an attorney and filmmaker, said was due to schizophrenia.

Despite their estrangement, Drollet accompanied Cheyenne to California and stayed with her in Brando's two-acre, three-building iron-fenced compound he shared with equally private actor and friend Jack Nicholson. It was his hope that being in her father's company would help Cheyenne psychologically. It was the last chance for the relationship, Drollet told his family. If being with her father did not help her emotional state, Drollet planned to leave her once and for all. Cheyenne began psychological counseling, but Drollet told his father she was becoming increasingly unstable. Cheyenne was "very violent in her words and her manner. She has said very serious things, she has hit people... she hit Dag, when she was in a rage," Jacques Drollet told the Los Angeles Times.

"Two or three weeks before leaving, Dag discussed it with us. He said perhaps it's better they separate. What he did coming to Los Angeles was the last thing to help [Cheyenne], the last act," added Lecaill.

Dag's father said later that Cheyenne reacted to Dag's ultimatums like a spoiled child used to getting her own way, setting the stage for tragedy.

Dag, Cheyenne, Brando and his wife (Cheyenne's mother), Tarita Tariipia, a Tahitian, shared the single-story house which was large enough to allow everyone to enjoy the privacy Brando so carefully protected. Trees blocked the view of the home for curious fans who frequently wandered up the winding Mulholland Drive to gawk at the home of the two-time Oscar winner, his L.A. Lakers-loving neighbor and the house where Roman Polanski admitted having sex with a 13-year-old girl back in 1977. Razor wire atop the gate blocking the driveway and sharp iron points on the fence kept out those insolent or foolish enough to try to meet their idols.

Marlon Brando was well aware of his daughter's self-destructive behavior and took great pains to protect her from herself while she was living on Mulholland Drive. He locked up the kitchen knives and other sharp implements lest Cheyenne hurt herself. What he could not do was guard against the dangerous weapon that was his unbalanced and violent son, Christian.