Brando Skyhorse's Unusual Name: Background information when reading Take This Man

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Take This Man

A Memoir

by Brando Skyhorse

Take This Man by Brando Skyhorse X
Take This Man by Brando Skyhorse
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2014, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2015, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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About this Book

Brando Skyhorse's Unusual Name

This article relates to Take This Man

Print Review

Brando Skyhorse, author of the memoir Take This Man, has been known by many names. A mistake in his first name meant that his birth certificate read "Brandon Ulloa" (the last name was his real father's) — but his mother, Maria, had it officially changed three months later to "Brando," as she had always intended. Later he was known as Brando Skyhorse Johnson, and now, after an official name change, his name stands as Brando Skyhorse.

Echo Park, CA Maria "Running Deer" Skyhorse gave her son his name in honor of Marlon Brando, who refused his 1973 Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather because of Hollywood's poor treatment of Native Americans. He believed the film industry only depicted stereotypes of savages, and also relegated Native American actors to extras — instead putting makeup on white actors so they could portray "Indians" on screen. Brando was sympathetic to the American Indian Movement (AIM) and critical of the United States' record of violence and oppression toward its native peoples. He had activist Sacheen Littlefeather read a portion of his speech on stage at the Academy Awards ceremony. (The full text of that speech is available on The New York Times' website, and a video clip is on YouTube.) The spectacle inspired Skyhorse's mother, who prized her affected Native American identity, to name her son Brando.

The last name Skyhorse also bears a tale, this one even more convoluted. In 1974, Paul Skyhorse Durant, a Chippewa, and Richard "Mohawk" Billings were accused of the torture and murder of a Los Angeles taxi driver. Although both were eventually acquitted, they were held in jail on suspicion for a full four years. The case provoked outrage in the Native American community, and Skyhorse's mother, Maria, offered her support to the campaign to free the two prisoners.

However, there was another Paul Skyhorse: Paul Martin Henry "Skyhorse" Johnson, also in prison, and also the subject of Maria's hero worship. This time she went a step further and appropriated the man as her son's new father. In 1973, Paul Skyhorse Johnson was indicted for armed robbery in Illinois. He and Maria corresponded while he was in jail, having met through a personals ad, and Johnson agreed to adopt Brando, though this arrangement was never formalized. Johnson would flit in and out of the author's life, eventually becoming his mother's third husband; he died of brain cancer in 2002. He was just one in a stream of official and unofficial stepfathers in Skyhorse's very unconventional childhood.

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Article by Rebecca Foster

This "beyond the book article" relates to Take This Man. It originally ran in July 2014 and has been updated for the June 2015 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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