O’Connor brothers Mike, Pat and Tim, in 1975, shortly after the brothers prevailed in a suit against Marlon Brando. Photo courtesy of the O’Connor family

Attorney Tim O’Connor recalls suing the then down-on-his-luck actor, and offering some unsolicited advice about women


by Brian Moore

When an Oscar-winning actor strides into a Redondo Beach law firm to give a deposition, the atmosphere around the workplace tends to intensify. Ties are straightened, makeup is adjusted.

“It was a big thing in the office,” recalled Tim O’Connor, a stalwart of the Redondo Beach legal community since the late 1950s. “The secretaries are running around, you know – ‘Marlon Brando’s coming today!’

“And my partner comes out and says, ‘Who the hell is Marvin Brando?’”

O’Connor’s partner, Mark Wood, a future Superior Court Judge, was joking. But lawsuits are no laughing matter, particularly when the defendant is one of the most popular and honored stars in movie history.

On a warm afternoon in his home office overlooking Redondo Beach, O’Connor sat down with the ‘Easy Reader’ to tell the tale of how he came to sue Marlon Brando in the late 1960s, and the glimpses it gave him into the special treatment afforded Hollywood stars, and about vague legal concepts like “an appearance of marriage.” The disagreement wasn’t over a busted movie deal or an unfulfilled endorsement. What started it all was a local offering on the old Velvet Turtle dinner menu – abalone.

Tim O’Connor: I have two older brothers, now both deceased. Mike and Pat talked about forming an abalone business in the early 1960s. So they bought a boat and Mike started diving.

Mike evolved into being the manager and Pat built a processing plant in Wilmington on two streets that are gone now: B Street and Hawaiian. By that time we had built four brand new diving boats with brand new Mercedes Benz engines.

Around the mid-1960s, we were starting to have problems with our divers. They were people who were not subject to taking instructions. They were a wild bunch of guys. They were very athletic. But they didn’t give a crap about how much of an investment you’ve got. They get paid, of course, right away. We would have trouble.

So we decided to sell the O’Connor Brothers Abalone Company. A guy comes along named Bruce McMahan, a member of the family that owned a chain of furniture stores in Southern California called McMahan’s Furniture — kind of a mid-priced place. Bruce McMahan’s primary claim to fame was he was a ladies man. He didn’t care about anything. He’s bought this business and owed us some money – about 40 thousand bucks.

Bruce was dating Movita Brando, who was divorced from Marlon Brando – Brando’s second wife. Movita had to be in her fifties, but she was a very, very good-looking lady. You could not tell how old she was. We said to Bruce, “Hey, we want Movita Brando to guarantee this debt.” She does. Bruce is the love of her life. 

Bruce defaults. He ran the business into the ground. He didn’t give a shit about it. That took maybe two years. I sued Bruce, and I sued Movita. 

I got judgment against Bruce. But it doesn’t mean anything because he’s got no money. And I got a judgment against Movita. So now I have a judgment against Movita for 40 thousand bucks plus interest. What am I gonna do?

Enter Brando

I will say at the outset that Marlon Brando is an innocent party to this. But my dad, Gus O’Connor, was an outstanding trial lawyer, a Harvard law graduate with the natural knowledge of the most remote legal principles. He says to me, “Tim, she is a judgment creditor of Marlon Brando’s. She’s a judgment debtor of yours. You can sue him directly. Instead of paying what he owes Movita, he’s gotta pay it to you. That’s what we do.”

I’d been trying to find out before I filed the lawsuit what Brando is ordered to pay Movita. Ordinarily, a divorce is filed, it’s in the clerk’s office. You just walk in, you fill out a card, and they hand it to you. Well, the file was in the judge’s chambers – a judge named Edward Brand. And I can’t get the file. I wrote the judge two or three letters. No response. 

Judge Brand had been active in the movie business as a lawyer. He’s a protector of Hollywood. So I go to his bailiff at the Santa Monica courthouse, and said who I was, and said I want to see the judge. The bailiff comes back and he says, “Goodbye, counsel.”

Now I’m pretty good at controlling my temper, so I said, “What?”

“I said goodbye, counsel.”

“Are you telling me the judge isn’t even going to talk to me about this?”

“Goodbye, counsel.”

“Well, tell that judge TO GO F… HIMSELF!” 

I went back to my office. I was so goddamn mad. That’s a public record. I got a right to see it. My secretary’s laughing at me. “You’ll never see it.” So I look up the public records act and I’m sure I’ve got an absolute right to it. 

O’Connor sued the judge and the superior court for the release of the divorce records. He lost. He lost again at the Court of Appeals. He eventually won an order from the State Supreme Court. He discovered the divorce, which did not yield extravagant sums for Movita, had been granted in Brand’s chambers, a legal no-no. Divorces must be granted in open court. (Movita’s attorney chose not to contest the divorce, since he felt the settlement had been fair.)

Armed with the divorce settlement, and a law most attorneys were unfamiliar with, O’Connor faced off with Brando, and his lawyers in a Santa Monica court.

As a sideline, Brando at this time was on the outs. He wasn’t making any money. He had not made ‘Last Tango in Paris.’ He had not made ‘The Godfather.’ All he was doing was running around getting laid. 

Now Brando’s defense is, I don’t have to pay her what I was ordered to pay because our marital settlement says I only have to pay her until she remarries. The settlement says that means the ceremony of marriage or “an appearance of marriage.” Very unusual. It is vague. Brando’s saying she is having a relationship with somebody – it wasn’t Bruce McMahan anymore, it was another guy – and that’s an appearance of marriage. “I don’t have to pay her.” 

“An appearance of marriage” is not just a sexual relationship, I had argued. You’ve got family, you’ve got economic concerns, you’ve got joint ownership of assets – all this kind of stuff.

We spend eight days in trial, and Brando’s there every day — quiet, cordial, courteous, friendly, unassuming. It’s like he’s Joe Jones. 

One morning, the last day of the trial, nobody’s there except me and Brando and he said, “Do you wanna go upstairs and get a cup of coffee?” And I said, “Yeah, okay, sure.” He was very cordial. It was very unusual. You don’t do that kind of stuff, but we weren’t talking about the case. 

So I asked him, “What was this attraction for dark-skinned women? Dark hair and all that.”

He said, “When I was a kid, my folks had nannies and they were dark haired. I loved them. One of my favorite women was my nanny – a beautiful girl.”


Brando finishes his case. We made a motion that says Brando didn’t prove his case, so we don’t have to put up a defense. That motion is granted. We win. It’s about $55 grand with interest. So Brando appeals.

The appeals process went into gear, winding over years from the appeals court to the supreme court, and then back down for a second trial, but the parties reached a settlement before the encore began.

We settle the case with Brando rather than go back to trial. He paid us a fair amount. I can’t remember the exact amount. More than 60 percent. By that time, he could’ve written us a check for $50 grand, and it would’ve been nothing. He’s buying islands in Tahiti. That’s the early ‘70s, so a lot of time has gone by.

O’Connor returned his conversation with Brando over coffee at the trial.

I said, “You know something, you know why you’re here?”

 He goes, “No.” 

“Because a guy like you should never get married. What are you getting married for?”

He just smiled.

I have no complaints about Brando. I took his deposition down in my chickenshit little law office in Redondo Beach. He was dressed in a pair of white pants and a white long-sleeved shirt. He laughed. He was good. He was fine.

The way it was

The legal profession in the South Bay is a different animal than when Redondo Beach lawyer Tim O’Connor began practicing over 60 years ago. From its inception in 1953, the meetings of South Bay Bar Association, in particular, were uniquely chaotic, O’Connor recalled

Tim O’Connor: There were older guys, but predominantly (the bar association was composed of) guys who were World War II vets who came in and just wanted to have a good time. They’d come through World War II and this was nothing.

They started the bar as a social thing, so these guys would get drunker than shit, have dinner. 

The first time I went to a South Bay Bar Association, I think I was probably in my second year of law school (in the late 1950s). The principal speaker was a guy who was the prominent defense lawyer in Los Angeles County, a guy named Grant Cooper. Grant Cooper’s there with his wife. These guys, the lawyers, they’re drinking so goddamn much that when Cooper gets up to start giving his speech, the lawyers are throwing sugar cubes at him. I’m not shitting you. This is a professional meeting. Oh Christ!

They used to have a function called the “trip to nowhere.” It was a daytime function of the bar. You would meet at the end of the Redondo Pier, for instance, and a boat came around and picked up all these lawyers at noon. And they didn’t know where they were going. They’d go down to the Portuguese Bend Club, have a few drinks, get back on the boat, get off at the harbor in Long Beach, have more drinks, get on a bus, and drive downtown to eat.

Now it’s completely different. I went with (former law partner) Mark Wood after he retired as a judge to one of these things. And the guy who was president at that time was the driest, dullest speaker you’ve ever heard. It was awful – all this serious shit, talking about new statutes, and Mark said, “I gotta leave. I can’t take it.”

You don’t see that wild stuff anymore. I miss it. It’s nice to have guys who are eccentric. And these guys were good lawyers. I’m not saying they’re not. They were damn good lawyers. Pen


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