By 1952, Marlon Brando was well on his way in Hollywood, with three incredible roles under his belt: his big-screen debut as a paraplegic war vet in The Men; a searing on-screen reprisal of his Broadway turn as the iconic brute Stanley Kowalski in director Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire; and the title role in the biopic, Viva Zapata!, about the Mexican revolutionary hero. But for all those successes, remarkably the actor had not yet made the cover of LIFE magazine. In ’52, that oversight was remedied, as legendary photographer Margaret Bourke-White shot a portrait session with Brando, capturing the 28-year-old star in a casual, playful mood. For reasons unknown, those photos — recently discovered in LIFE’s archives and marked with the sole descriptive phrase, “cover tries” — were never published. Until now. Here’s Brando at his sexy best, seen through the lens of one of LIFE’s greatest photographers.
A few more after the cut.