Karl Malden dies at 97
Malden starred in the 1970s TV series "The Streets of
With his unglamorous mug -- he broke his bulbous nose twice playing sports as a teenager -- the former
"I was so incredibly lucky," Malden once told The Times. "I knew I wasn't a leading man. Take a look at this face." But, he vowed as a young man, he wasn't going to let his looks hamper his ambition to succeed as an actor.
In a movie career that flourished in the 1950s and '60s, Malden played a variety of roles in more than 50 films, including the sympathetic priest in "On the Waterfront," the resentful husband in "Baby Doll," the warden in "Birdman of Alcatraz," the outlaw-turned-sheriff in "One-Eyed Jacks," the pioneer patriarch in "How the West Was Won," Madame Rose's suitor in "Gypsy," the card dealerin "The Cincinnati Kid" and Gen. Omar Bradley in "Patton."
His varied performances established Malden, former Times film critic Charles Champlin once wrote, "as an Everyman, but one whose range moved easily up and down the levels of society and the IQ scale, from heroes to heavies and ordinary, decent guys just trying to get along."
Malden was a longtime holdout to television until he agreed to play Lt. Mike Stone on the
When he finally won his sole Emmy, it was for outstanding supporting actor in a limited series or special, as a man who begins to suspect that his daughter was murdered by her husband in the fact-based 1984 miniseries "Fatal Vision."
Malden also starred in "Skag," a short-lived 1980
But for all his movie and television roles, it was primarily the series of American Express traveler's-check commercials Malden made between 1973 and 1994 that gave him his greatest public recognition. (Even
"After 50 years of doing all those other things in the business, wherever I go, the one thing people will say to me is, 'Don't leave home without it,' " Malden said in 1989. "What am I going to say? It's kind of frustrating in a way, but at the same time, American Express has been very good to me, and it's given me independence. I don't have to jump at anything and everything that comes my way."
He was born Mladen Sekulovich in Chicago on March 22, 1912, the son of an immigrant mother from the nation that later became Czechoslovakia and a Serbian father, who delivered milk for 38 years.
Malden spoke little English until after his family moved from their Serbian enclave in Chicago to the steel-mill community of
Malden's father was a theater lover who staged Serbian plays in the church and in Serbian patriotic organizations in Gary. As a teenager, Malden played heavies -- usually Turks, complete with a big, black mustache -- in his father's productions.