Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Karl Malden, R.I.P.

By Mitchell

Karl Malden was responsible, albeit one step removed, from one of my favorite sayings. I have often been heard, at work and elsewhere, to declare that "A good excuse is like an American Express card - don't leave home without it."

Perhaps Malden didn't write that memorable line forAmerican Express, but he was the one who said it - and after that it belonged to him, no matter who said it. There was a presence about him (the profile, the nose, the hat, the commanding voice) that served him well even when he wasn't hawking travelers' checks: in A Streetcar Named Desire, for which he won his Oscar; for On the Waterfront, with his gritty portrayal of a priest who understood exactly what social justice means; or in Patton, for which I think he should have won an Oscar, playing the difficult role of General Omar Bradley to perfection - a hero in his own right, Bradley had to be played as second banana to Patton without losing his dignity or stature. Not every actor could pull that off, but Malden could and did.

He was known to millions for his role in the cop show The Streets of San Francisco, where he mentored the star-to-be Michael Douglas, who in those days was better known for being Kirk's son. He went on to become president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a role he fulfilled honorably for many years.

Karl Malden died today at 97, a life well lived. He was never in the stratosphere of superstars, just a hard-working actor who did his job often and well, and never left it at home.

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