fb-pixel Skip to main content

The strange tale of Arlington’s mysterious Marlon Brando poster

In 2013, Winona Campbell bought a poster of the actor at a yard sale, but after an apparent misunderstanding she gave it back. Eight years and a Facebook post later, the print showed up on her porch.

After nearly a decade, Winona Campbell was mysteriously reunited with a poster of Marlon Brando that she'd purchased at a yard sale in Arlington.
After nearly a decade, Winona Campbell was mysteriously reunited with a poster of Marlon Brando that she'd purchased at a yard sale in Arlington.Winona Campbell

When she went to check the mail on Sunday, Winona Campbell was shocked to see a young Marlon Brando leaning up against her front door. A blast from the past, in more ways than one.

It was a framed black-and-white poster of the late actor, clad in a leather jacket, his eyes squinting as he strode through a movie set. She had seen this Brando staring back at her before.

“I started to scream, ‘Oh my God, Oh my God,’” said Campbell, 59, who lives in Arlington.

But it wasn’t the classic image that startled her. As someone who once did a monologue from “A Streetcar Named Desire” in college, she adored Brando’s sharp look and timeless talent.

Advertisement



Instead, it was the mysterious return of the familiar poster, which she bought at a local yard sale eight years ago and almost took home before having a change of heart. Just a few days after she shared the tale online, the poster appeared out of thin air on her porch.

On June 9, Campbell shared a Facebook memory from 2013 to a private page for Arlington residents. The post described a funny — yet ultimately heartwarming — encounter she had at the yard sale near her home.

“Picked up a HUGE close up portrait of a young Marlon Brando,” she wrote in the post, which she cut-and-pasted from her own profile and into the group.

But when the husband of the woman who had sold her the poster spotted Campbell with it, he wasn’t pleased, claiming he didn’t want to sell it. Campbell, a serious Brando fan, didn’t budge.

“He offered to buy it back from me for more money. I declined. He seemed angry and I called him on it before driving off with my prized possession,” she wrote.

But by the time she got home, Campbell felt bad about what had happened.

Advertisement



“I drove back and GAVE it back to him. He looked me in the eye and gave me the warmest hug,” she wrote in the post. “[He] states he bought and framed it when he was young and had no money.”

Her recollection, shared with roughly 15,000 current and former Arlington residents, drew a mix of spirited reactions — from applause for doing the right thing to jokes that she may have saved a marriage that day.

“What made it a fun [story] is that I look back at it and I felt good that I could walk it back, something that I wanted really bad,” Campbell said in an interview. “I gave it back to him because I understand when you have something and you like it, you know, I wouldn’t want someone coming to take something that I like.”

But several days after her Facebook post, there it was again, in its glory: what Campbell believes has to be the same framed poster of Brando from the yard sale almost a decade ago.

The mystery has swirled through her mind all week.

“How did they find my address? Did they feel guilty? Who was it that dropped it off? All of this stuff was going through my head,” Campbell said. “I also felt a little sad on Sunday night, because I felt like I made a person feel bad — I made whoever it is feel bad and then return it to me.”

Advertisement



Campbell, who is a nurse and studied acting while at Bunker Hill Community College, returned to Facebook on Monday to share the surprising twist.

“OMG. I came home yesterday, opened the door to get the mail, and there was the portrait of Marlon Brando leaning on my door,” Campbell wrote. “I started to scream. But then I felt guilty. I did not want this person to give THEIR prized possession to me. Whoever you are, please inbox me.”

No one has contacted her yet. But many were mesmerized by the tale of the framed image — taken by photographer Phil Stern in the 1950s on the set of “The Wild One.”

“This picture has a more exciting life than I do,” one person quipped.

“This is the most wholesome saga I have seen on this [Facebook] page and I am so invested,” a second wrote.

Many were as curious about how it arrived at Campbell’s home as she was, asking, “Do you think the wife [from the yard sale] snuck it over to you?”

Campbell isn’t sure what to think. But she doubts that it’s a gag and doesn’t see how someone could have purchased the same poster as a joke since she never described what it looked like. There are also dust and cobwebs on the frame, suggesting it’s been in storage for some time.

Campbell, who bought the poster from the yard sale for $15, believes the husband or wife might be in the same Facebook group where she shared her story. She said it’s possible they saw her recent post and then looked her up before quietly dropping it off at her house as belated thanks for her kindness.

Advertisement



“I hope they are still married and that the husband is just finally done with needing to identify with a brash, tough, sexy young man,” she quipped in a Facebook comment about the saga.

They would have known it was her home, she said, because Campbell and her partner also purchased wicker outdoor furniture from the yard sale that day and it’s still on their porch.

Campbell said she believes the yard sale was a moving sale, and the couple likely doesn’t live at the same home anymore, otherwise she’d swing by to thank them for the poster in person.

“He was the perfect actor ... it was sexy,” she said. “He looked really good in it. One of the best pictures I’ve seen.”

While there was part of her that had hoped the couple would see her cheeky tale in the Facebook group, she never imagined it would lead to somebody returning the poster.

Campbell hopes the fellow Brando fan will reach out to her on Facebook. They could chat about the great actor and perhaps share a drink and some food on the grill.

“I think I’ll enjoy the picture for as long as I can have it, and if he ever wants the picture back I will gladly give it back,” Campbell said. “Maybe I’ll even make a friend out of it.”

Advertisement




Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.