Thursday, July 2, 2009

RIP - Karl Malden

I've been extremely busy and wasn't able to post this until today, but for those out there who don't know, Oscar-winning actor Karl Malden passed away yesterday at the age of 97.

Malden graduated from the Goodman School of Drama at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1937 and soon after moved to Manhattan to try his luck on Broadway. Soon after, he met Harold Clurman and Elia Kazan of the legendary Group Theatre and made his debut with the Group playing a boxing manager in their production of Clifford Odets' Golden Boy. In 1938, he married fellow actress Mona Graham, whom would remain by his side until his death seventy years later.

Following WWII, Malden appeared in a play called Truckline Cafe, a play that bombed but is notable for one reason; it featured the debut of a young actor named Marlon Brando. In 1947, Malden finally broke through after appearing in Arthur Miller's breakthrough play All My Sons.

He would re team with Kazan and Brando in the stage production that brought all three of them no small measure of fame; A Streetcar Named Desire. Malden played Blanche Dubois' suitor Mitch and had to hold the stage with Brando, who was giving a performance that would forever change acting and theatre. "Playing with Marlon consistently brought out the best in me," Malden wrote. "I guess, in the final analysis, it is impossible to beat genius, but it can be great fun to try to match it."

He would try to match it on stage for two years, and reprise the role in the 1951 movie version, earning an Oscar for best supporting actor. He would try to match it again in 1954 in On the Waterfront, playing a priest that inspires Brando's character and earning his second Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor.

Over the next five decades, Malden crafted many exceptional performances. Kazan directed him as middle-aged man with a teen aged bride in the controversial Baby Doll. He acted opposite Montgomery Clift in Alfred Hitchcock's I Confess. He was directed by his friend Brando in One Eyed Jacks. As a sadistic warden, he tormented Burt Lancaster's Birdman of Alcatraz.

In 1972, he gained a whole generation of fans, as he took on the role of Lt. Mike Stone on the long-running police drama, The Streets of San Francisco. He starred opposite a young Michael Douglas, who, in a statement to the LA Times called Malden a "mentor" whom he "admired and loved" deeply. During this time, he also became the spokesperson for American Express, and his catchphrase, "Don't leave home without it" entered into the cultural lexicon.

A founding member of the legendary Actors Studio, Malden was instrumental in ensuring that Elia Kazan received his honorary Oscar in 1999 for his body of work, a controversial decision given Kazan's testimony before HUAC in the 1950s. Malden stood by his friend when many deserted the director.

Malden's final significant work was a guest starring role in the first season of The West Wing, once again playing a priest.

I leave you with a nice story about the night he won his Oscar from his LA Times Obituary:

As Malden recounted, "I had a coat because in New York you had a coat -- a topcoat -- and I walked in. Nobody knew me."

He put
his coat in the adjacent seat before Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall sat down. When Malden's name was called as a winner, he asked Bogart to watch his coat.

"He said, 'Get up there kid, take your Oscar.' . . . . About a half-hour later, I see Bogart holding an Oscar for best actor in The African Queen. The first thing I said to him is, 'What did you do with
my coat?' He said in nice words, 'Forget your coat, hold on to the goddamn Oscar.' "

The man was a giant of the screen, one of the last true giants, and he will be missed.

No comments: