There is a great photo set (by Edward Clark) in the LIFE archive of Marlon Brando preparing for his 1950 film debut The Men. The story was based on a group of returning WWII vets that had to cope with the mental and physical injuries of war. After coming off of his role in Broadway’s Streetcar Named Desire, Marlon Brando spent a lot of time at a VA hospital preparing for movie.
Below is an excerpt from a great synopsis of the film.
Few members of the staff or patients knew who Brando was, so for a while he was able to blend in with the amputees, a cross section of America: blue-collar workers, farmers, enlisted men. He shared their physiotherapy, spending hours tumbling out of bed and into his wheelchair. He watched the paraplegics reach for their hand exercisers, and so did he. He learned to lift himself out of bed using only his arms. Eventually he was racing down the hall with the amputees in their wheelchairs.
By the end of the third week in the hospital, Brando had been completely accepted by the vets, some of whom played roles in The Men. He told them why he was there: He was going to act in a movie about them, and he just wanted to do it right. The vets began confiding in Brando. They told him that they were disappointments to their wives because they would never be able to make love again. Brando became especially close to one vet who had struggled for a year to learn how to light a cigarette, since he no longer had the use of his arms. (Later this man committed suicide.)
At night Brando accompanied the vets to the Pump Room, a popular bar in the San Fernando Valley where they all went to drink. Drink was their only solace. Like the vets, Brando was in a wheelchair, lined up with the others, ordering beer and talking and joking. Once a little old lady, slightly tipsy, staggered over to them and began ranting about the healing powers of Jesus and how if they kept on believing, they might really walk again.
Brando studied her for a long time, and then with a gigantic effort, he hoisted himself up. A few people gasped, and the room fell silent as he took a few halting steps unaided. Everyone else lounging at the bar assumed he was a paraplegic, and waiters stood by to catch him if he fell. The woman stared at him bug-eyed when he burst out laughing and began to perform a softshoe dance up and down the length of the barroom floor before crying out, “I can walk! I can walk!” to the wild applause of the vets as he disappeared into the night.
When the movie came out in 1950 the Korean War was going on and sentiments had shifted toward this type of story and The Men ended up as a failure at the box office. The LIFE photos however are a big success.