July 01, 2009

Actor Karl Malden Dies

Acclaimed Emmy & Oscar Winner

Karl Malden, who achieved the highest accolades in the acting professional-including an Oscar and a Primetime Emmy-while never losing a natural sense of everyman humility, died July 1, 2009 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 97 years old.

In a career that spanned decades, Malden, on the surface was an unlikely star with his average-guy appearance and modest demeanor. But the former steelworker appeared in some of the most acclaimed stage and film productions of the 20th century-including the original Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire and its film adaptation-and worked with dozens of world-recognized talents along the way.

He won his Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his performance as a pugnacious priest in the 1954 film On the Waterfront, which, like Streetcar, starred Marlon Brando and was directed by Elia Kazan

Later in his career he branched into television and enjoyed success in the 1970s with the police drama The Streets of San Francisco, for which he earned four Primetime Emmy nominations. He won his only Emmy for the 1984 production Fatal Vision.

His Streets of San Francisco character, a crusty Bay Area cop named Mike Stone, led to landed Malden another highly visible TV role as pitchman for American Express traveler's check. The 21-year relationship spawned a ubiquitous catch phrase: "Don't leave home without them."

The son of Serbian immigrant laborers, he was born Mladen George Sekulovich on March 22, 1912, in Chicago, and raised in Gary, Indiana. At the urging of Kazan, he changed his name in the late 1930s as his acting career began to build.

In high school he was active in both drama and sports, and on two occasions broke his nose playing basketball, resulting in his most distinctive facial characteristic.

After working in steel mills to save money to pursue his acting ambitions, Malden entered Chicago's Goodman School of Drama in 1934. Three years later he moved to New York City, where he scored a tryout with the renowned Group Theater, which at the time was casting the boxing drama Golden Boy, by playwright Clifford Odets. He won the role of a boxing manager, and through his work on the production made the acquaintance of Kazan.

He spent the next decade working on the New York stage, and eared strong notices for the 1947 production of Arthur Miller's All My Sons, directed by Kazan.

He followed that with Streetcar, which launched movie careers for himself, Brando and Kazan.

His early films included Boomerang, directed by Kazan, as well as Alfred Hitchcock's I Confess. Other memorable projects included Fear Strikes Out, The Birdman of Alcatraz, One Eyed Jacks, directed by Brando, Baby Doll, Gypsy and Patton, in which he played Gen. Omar Bradley to George C. Scott's Gen. George S. Patton.

In addition to The Streets of San Francisco, he starred in the short-lived dramatic series Skag, and in the 1990s played a priest on the drama The West Wing.

From 1989 to 1992, Malden was president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and helped raise millions of dollars to build a new library and film research center. He received a Screen Actors Guild award for a lifetime of achievement in 2004.

His survivors include his wife of 70 years, two daughters, three granddaughters and four great-grandchildren.

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