July 1, 2009


Karl Malden, Everyman Actor, Dies at 97 (ROBERT BERKVIST, 7/01/09, NY Times)

In many ways, Mr. Malden was the ideal Everyman. He realized early on that he lacked the physical attributes of a leading man; he often joked about his blunt features, particularly his crooked, bulbous nose, which he had broken several times while playing basketball in school. But he was determined “to be No. 1 in the No. 2 parts I was destined to get,” he once said.

He wound up playing everything from a whiskey-swigging cowboy to a prison warden, from an Army drill sergeant to a combative priest.

On Broadway, he appeared with Marlon Brando in a legendary production of Tennessee Williams’s “Streetcar Named Desire,” then repeated the role in a film version that brought him an Oscar. On film he won memorable parts in major productions like “On the Waterfront,” “Ruby Gentry” and “Patton.”

And on television he found broad popularity as Lt. Mike Stone in “The Streets of San Francisco” and as a long-running pitchman for American Express travelers’ checks in the 1970s. His signature line, “Don’t leave home without them” — delivered as he peered intently from under the brim of his “San Francisco” fedora — entered the popular lexicon as a catch phrase. [...]

Mr. Malden was born Mladen Sekulovich in Chicago on March 22, 1912, one of three sons of Petar Sekulovich, a Serbian immigrant who worked in a steel mill and later delivered milk, and the former Minnie Sebera, who came from Bohemia, later to become part of Czechoslovakia. As a young man, Mladen helped his father deliver milk in Gary, Ind., and spent three years working in the same mill.

At 22, having acquired a taste for the theater and determined to make his own life far from the mills, he set off for Chicago with a few hundred dollars in savings to study acting at the Goodman Theater. He earned tuition by building sets and eventually met the woman he would marry, an aspiring actress named Mona Greenberg.

He graduated from the Goodman in 1937 but found himself back in Gary driving a milk delivery truck, much as his father had. Luck came along in a letter from Robert Ardrey, a playwright he had met at the Goodman. Ardrey invited him to New York to try out for a part in his latest play. The play was never produced, but Mr. Malden also auditioned for the director Harold Clurman and Mr. Kazan, who were casting “Golden Boy” for the Group Theater. He wound up with “four lines in the third act,” he later wrote, but it was a significant initiation.

The Group Theater and “Golden Boy” began a half-century friendship between Mr. Malden and Mr. Kazan. It was Mr. Kazan, in fact, who persuaded the young actor to change his baptismal name to something less daunting. So Mladen became Malden, and he took the name Karl from one of his grandfathers.

He also took classes with the Group Theater in the early 1940s and later with the Actors Studio, but he did not regard himself as one of the studio’s Method actors. “I do have a method, of course,” he wrote in his 1997 autobiography, “When Do I Start?” He said it was “any method that works.”

After serving in the Army in World War II, Mr. Malden played a drunken sailor in a Clurman and Kazan production of Maxwell Anderson’s 1946 play “Truckline Cafe.”

The play was a flop, but Mr. Malden got good notices. The reviews also took note of another young actor who had made the most of a small role: Mr. Brando. The two actors became friends, and little more than a year later, they and Mr. Kazan collaborated on “Streetcar.”

...he ought to be remembered for his role in the great anti-Communist film.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 1, 2009 4:39 PM
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