RIP Karl Malden: A Legendary Life

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Not again.

Yes, another iconic figure has left us. Academy Award-winning actor Karl Malden died today at his house in Brentwood, Calif. at age 97. Though he made it big on the big screen as Father Barry in Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront and Mitch Mitchell in Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire (the Oscar-winning role), and appeared in over 50 movies, he was a stoic presence on the small screen, too. Malden portrayed Det. Lt. Mike Stone on the show The Streets of San Francisco, which ran from 1972-1977 and co-starred a green Michael Douglas as his partner. The series, which ran on ABC, earned much critical acclaim and presented a unique, intelligent take on the crime drama genre that was already running wild with shows like Hawaii Five-O, Barnaby Jones and Kojak.

Malden starred in the short-lived drama Skag, where he played the title character, a foreman named Pete Skagska. The show was cancelled during its first season in 1980. He also provided the pipes behind the American Express slogan, "Don't leave home with out it!" Most recently, he had a small part on The West Wing.

When Karl Malden was born in 1912, the film industry was just getting on its feet and television hadn't even been invented yet. Edwin S. Porter's breakthrough film The Great Train Robbery was just nine years old and people went to the movies to get their news. Over the course of his life, Malden adapted effortlessly to the technological, stylistic and cultural changes that these two mediums imposed. His understated grace made him a star -- he won both an Oscar and an Emmy (for TV mini-series Fatal Vision) -- but as an actor he seemed hugely underused in the starring role. And yet he never sought glitzy recognition in an industry that survives on self-indulgence. As noted in Variety, New York Times critic Herbert Mitgang said it best: "Malden represents the serious actor who had triumphed over what was once considered the greatest handicap -- lack of glamour."

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