Broadway, film, and television actor Karl Malden passed away Wednesday, July 1 of natural causes. Malden, known for his unmistakable nose and realistic acting style, was the son of immigrant parents, a Czech mother and Serbian father. He was born in Chicago on March 12, 1912 with the name Mladen George Sekulovich. His family soon moved to Gary, Indiana, where Michael Jackson also spent his formative years. Malden later dropped out of college to be a steelworker, and then quit his job to pursue acting, a move his father didn’t approve of.
“When I told my father, he said, `Are you crazy? You want to give up a good job in the middle of the Depression?’ Thank god for my mother. She said to give it a try.”
Malden met his wife Mona at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre Dramatic School, which he got into after saving up money from extremely dangerous steel working jobs and talking the school’s administration into giving him a scholarship. His marriage, just like his acting career, was made to last; earlier this year the couple celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.
After Goodman, Malden successfully tried his hand at Broadway where he met director Elia Kazan, who suggested he change his ethnic, hard to pronounce name. Kazan went on to direct Malden in the film versions of “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951) and “On the Waterfront” (1954).
In this clip, you’ll see Malden in his Oscar-winning role as Mitch in “A Streetcar Named Desire”:
In 1956 Malden had the lead role in the mass publicized “Baby Doll”, and in 1957 he took his one and only shot at directing in “Time Limit.” Other notable films in Malden’s carreer are “Gypsy” (1962), “Cheyenne Autumn” (1964), “Hotel” (1967), and “Patton” (1970).
From 1972 to 1977 Malden starred in the hit television show “The Streets of San Francisco” as a veteran cop partnered with new recruit Michael Douglas. He added an Emmy to his award collection during the run of this show. Below is a segment from “The Streets of San Francisco”. You can watch all five seasons of “The Streets of San Francisco” at tv.com.
Malden often joked that he was more famous for his 21-year-run as an American Express spokesman than for this acting career. Wearing a detective’s hat and trenchcoat Malden advised generations of viewers to “Not leave home without it.” Below is an American Express spot from the 1970s.
Karl Malden also served three terms as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1989-1992.
At Karl’s 97th birthday party this year, he let his last wishes be known:
“After I die, I don’t want you to do anything but have a party.”
Sounds like a plan, Karl.