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Karl Malden (born Mladen George Sekulovich; Serbian Cyrillic Младен Ђорђе Секуловић; March 22, 1912 – July 1, 2009) was a Serbian American actor. In a career that spanned more than seven decades, he performed in such classic films as A Streetcar Named Desire, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor; On the Waterfront; and One-Eyed Jacks. Among other notable film roles were Archie Lee Meighan in Baby Doll, Zebulon Prescott in How the West Was Won, and General Omar Bradley in Patton. His best-known role, though, was on television as Lt. Mike Stone on the 1970s crime drama, The Streets of San Francisco. During the 1970s and 1980s, he was also the spokesman for American Express.
Malden, the eldest of three brothers, was born in Chicago, Illinois and raised in Gary, Indiana. His Serbian father, Petar Sekulović (1886–1975), worked in the steel mills and as a milkman, and his mother, Minnie (née Sebera) Sekulovich (1892–1995), was a Czech seamstress and actress. The Sekulovich family roots trace back to Podosoje near the city of Bileća in Bosnia and Herzegovina, more specifically, in the Herzegovinian part. Malden spoke only the Serbian language until he was in kindergarten and was fluent in the language until his death. Malden's father had a passion for music, and organized a choir. As a teenager, Malden joined the Karageorge Choir. In addition, his father produced Serbian plays at his church and taught acting. A young Malden took part in many of these plays, which included a version of Jack and the Beanstalk, but mostly centered on the community's Serbian heritage. In high school, he was a popular student and the star of the basketball team (according to his autobiography, Malden broke his nose twice while playing, taking elbows to the face and resulting in his trademark bulbous nose). He participated in the drama department, and was narrowly elected senior class president. Among other roles, he played Pooh Bah in The Mikado. After graduating from Emerson High School in 1931 with high marks, he briefly planned to leave Gary for Arkansas, where he hoped to win an athletic scholarship, but college officials did not admit him owing to his refusal to play any sport besides basketball. From 1931 until 1934, he worked in the steel mills, as had his father.
He changed his name from Mladen Sekulovich to Karl Malden at age 22. He anglicized his first name by swapping its letters "l" and "a" and making the result, Malden, his last name; then he proceeded to take his grandfather's first name of Karl. This was because the first theatre company he was in wanted him to shorten his name for its marquee. He thought they wanted to fire him and were using his name as an excuse; although that wasn't the case, he still changed his name so as to give them no excuse.
Malden often found ways to say "Sekulovich" in films and television shows in which he appears. For example, as General Omar Bradley in Patton, as his troops slog their way through enemy fire in Sicily, Malden says "Hand me that helmet, Sekulovich" to another soldier. In Dead Ringer, as a police detective in the squad room, Malden tells another detective: "Sekulovich, gimme my hat." In Fear Strikes Out, Malden, playing Jimmy Piersall's father John, introduces Jimmy to a baseball scout named Sekulovich. In Birdman of Alcatraz, as a prison warden touring the cell block, Malden recites a list of inmates' names, including Sekulovich. Malden's father was not pleased, as he told his son 'Mladen, no Sekulovich has ever been in prison!' Perhaps the most notable usage of his real name was in the TV series The Streets of San Francisco. Malden's character in the program, Mike Stone, employed a legman (played by Art Metrano) with that name, who did various errands. Also, in On the Waterfront, in which Malden plays the priest, among the names of the officers of Local 374 called out in the courtroom scene is Mladen Sekulovich, Delegate.
Education and early stage work
In September 1934, Malden decided to leave his home in Gary, Indiana, to pursue formal dramatic training at the Goodman School (later part of DePaul University), then associated with the Goodman Theater in Chicago. Although he had worked in the steel mills in Gary for three years, he had helped support his family, and was thus unable to save enough money to pay for his schooling. Making a deal with the director of the program, he gave the institute the little money that he did have, with the director agreeing that, if Malden did well, he would be rewarded with a full scholarship. He won the scholarship. When Malden performed in the Goodman's children's theater, he wooed the actress Mona Greenberg (stage name: Mona Graham), who married him in 1938. He graduated from the Chicago Art Institute in 1937. Soon after, without work and without money, Malden returned to his hometown.
Acting career circa World War II
He eventually traveled to New York City, and first appeared as an actor on Broadway in 1937. He did some radio work and in a small role made his film debut in They Knew What They Wanted. He also joined the Group Theatre, where he began acting in many plays and was introduced to a young Elia Kazan, who would later work with him on A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and On the Waterfront (1954).
His acting career was interrupted by World War II, during which he served as a noncommissioned officer in the 8th Air Force. While in the service, he was given a small role in the United States Army Air Forces play and film Winged Victory. After the war ended in 1945, he resumed his acting career, playing yet another small supporting role in the Maxwell Anderson play Truckline Cafe, with a then-unknown Marlon Brando. He was given a co-starring role in the Arthur Miller play All My Sons with the help of director Elia Kazan. With that success, he then crossed over into steady film work.
Film career: 1950s to 1970s
Malden resumed his film acting career in the 1950s, starting with The Gunfighter (1950) and Halls of Montezuma (1950). The following year, he was in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), playing Mitch, Stanley Kowalski's best friend who starts a romance with Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh). For this role, he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Other films during this period include Alfred Hitchcock's I Confess with Montgomery Clift and Anne Baxter (1953), On the Waterfront (1954), where he played a priest who influenced Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) to testify against mobster-union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). In Baby Doll (1956), he played a power-hungry sexual man who had been frustrated by a teenage wife. He starred in dozens of films from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, such as Fear Strikes Out (1957), Pollyanna (1960), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), Gypsy (1962), How the West Was Won (1962), The Cincinnati Kid (1965), and Patton (1970), playing General Omar Bradley. After Summertime Killer (1972), he appeared in the made-for-television film The Hijacking of the Achille Lauro (1989) (as Leon Klinghoffer).
Malden’s wife, Mona, the former Mildred Greenberg, graduated from Roosevelt High School in Emporia, Kansas where she attended Kansas State Teachers College, now Emporia State University. He first visited the campus with her in 1959 and was impressed by the ESU Summer Theatre. He returned in the summer of 1964 to teach, working with the actors in the company. Upon leaving, he gave his honorarium to establish the Karl Malden Theater Scholarship still given today.
In 1963, he was a member of the jury at the 13th Berlin International Film Festival.
In 1972, Malden was approached by producer Quinn Martin about starring as Lt. Mike Stone in The Streets of San Francisco. Although the concept originated as a made-for-television movie, ABC quickly signed on to carry it as a series. Martin hired Michael Douglas to play Lt. Stone's young partner, Inspector Steve Keller.
Malden's father was delighted about this series being in San Francisco, as he had intended to settle in that city, but had to change his plans as he'd arrived on the day of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
On Streets, Malden played a widowed veteran cop with more than 20 years of experience who is paired with a young officer recently graduated from college. During its first season, it was a ratings winner among many other 1970s crime dramas, and served as ABC's answer to such shows as Hawaii Five-O, Adam-12, Ironside, Barnaby Jones, Kojak, McMillan & Wife, Police Woman, The Rockford Files, and Switch.
During the second season, production shifted from Los Angeles to San Francisco. For his work as Lt. Stone, Malden was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor - Drama Series four times between 1974 and 1977, but never won. After two episodes in the fifth season, Douglas left the show to act in movies; Douglas had also produced the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 1975. Lt. Stone's new partner was Inspector Dan Robbins, played by Richard Hatch. The show took a ratings nosedive, and ABC canceled it after five seasons and 119 episodes.
In 1980, Malden starred in Skag, an hour-long drama that focused on the life of a foreman at a Pittsburgh steel mill. Malden described his character, Pete Skagska, as a simple man trying to keep his family together. The pilot episode for the series had Skag temporarily disabled by a stroke, and explored the effects it had on his family and co-workers. While Skag met with poor ratings, critics praised it, in instances there were even full page ads taken out in newspapers in an attempt to keep the program from being taken off the air. Nevertheless the series was canceled after several episodes.
Malden's last role in film or television was in 2000 in the highly acclaimed first season episode of The West Wing titled "Take This Sabbath Day". Malden portrayed a Catholic priest and used the same Bible he had used in On the Waterfront.
Malden famously delivered the line "Don't leave home without them!" in a series of U.S. television commercials for American Express Travelers Cheques in the 1970s and 1980s. He also advertised the American Express Card, with the famous opening line, "Do you know me?"
Malden was a member of the United States Postal Service's 16-member Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee, which meets to review recommendations for U.S. commemorative postage stamps.
On December 18, 1938, Malden married Mona Greenberg, who survives him. Their marriage was one of the longest in Hollywood's history, lasting more than 70 years. In addition to his wife, Malden is survived by daughters Mila and Carla; his sons-in-law; three granddaughters, Alison, Emily, and Cami; plus four great-grandchildren, Mila, Stella, Charlie, and Thomas Karl.
In 1997, Malden published his autobiography, When Do I Start?, written with his daughter Carla.
Karl Malden's grave
Malden died at his home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles on July 1, 2009 at the age of 97. He is said to have died of natural causes. Malden's manager said, "It could be many things. I mean, he was 97 years old!" He is said to have been in poor health for several years.
Malden's friend and former co-star Michael Douglas wrote a tribute to Malden for Time magazine's "Milestones" section.
He is buried at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, Westwood, California, United States.
Awards and recognition
Malden won the 1951 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for A Streetcar Named Desire and was nominated in 1954 for his supporting role in On the Waterfront. Malden was a past president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In October 2003, he was named the 40th recipient of the Screen Actors' Guild's Life Achievement Award for career achievement and humanitarian accomplishment.
In 1985, he was awarded an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series for his performance as Freddy Kassab in Fatal Vision. During the same year, he was also awarded an honorary doctor degree in fine arts by Emporia State University.
In May 2001, Malden received an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, from Valparaiso University. Michael Douglas, his former "The Streets of San Francisco" co-star, presented Malden with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild on February 22, 2004. On November 11, 2004, Douglas also presented Malden with the Monte Cristo Award of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut, which is given for "distinguished careers exemplifying Eugene O'Neill's standard of excellence and pioneering spirit." Among other past winners were Jason Robards, Zoe Caldwell, Edward Albee, August Wilson and Brian Dennehy.
On November 12, 2005, the United States House of Representatives authorized the United States Postal Service to rename the Los Angeles Barrington Postal Station as the Karl Malden Postal Station in honor of Malden's achievements. The bill, H.R. 3667, was sponsored by Representatives Henry Waxman and Diane Watson.
For his contribution to the film industry, Malden has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6231 Hollywood Blvd. In 2005, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
June 5th, 2012
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