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Karl Malden Dies; Won Oscar for ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’

Was also President of the Academy and was honored with lifetime SAG honor.

Actor Karl Malden — an Academy Award winner, Emmy Award nominee and former President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — died Wednesday at the age of 97.

 

Malden first made his name in Hollywood by appearing in classic films such as "On the Waterfront," "Patton," and "A Streetcar Named Desire," for which he won his supporting actor Oscar in 1951.

 

More than 20 years after "Streetcar," Malden became a TV star with ABC’s "The Streets of San Francisco," which earned him four Emmy nominations in five seasons.

 

"Karl was an actor’s actor, the embodiment of professionalism, which included National Board service to this union," SAG National President Alan Rosenberg said. "We will remember the many indelible characters he created, and his screen legacy will continue to move us, educate us, and enrich our lives."

 

Born March 22, 1912 in Chicago, IIllinois, Malden struggled for nearly two decades to break into acting. 

He first encountered resistance because of his birth name, Mladen Sekulovich, which was too long for the marquee at his first theater company. After changing his name at the age of 22, Malden decided to pursue dramatic training at the Goodman School in Chicago, even though he could not afford to attend.

The director of the affiliated Goodman Theater told Malden he would earn a scholarship if he did well, which he did.

Still, Malden could not make a living in the Midwest and moved to New York in 1937. Shortly thereafter, he met a young director named Elia Kazan, who would later help launch Malden’s career.

 

After World War II, Malden acted in a variety of plays and developed his relationships with both Kazan and a young Marlon Brando. In 1951, he teamed with both of them, starring in “Streetcar” as Brando’s character’s best friend.

The trio would unite again three years later for “On the Waterfront,” in which Malden played a priestly advisor to Brando’s Terry Malloy. This time Brando earned Oscar gold, but for Best Actor.

Despite all of their success with the Academy in the 1950s, Kazan’s decision between the two films to reveal Communists to a Congressional Committee would spark Oscar controversy decades later.

 

In 1999, Kazan was set to receive an Honorary Academy Award, but Brando refused to go on stage and present it to Kazan. The Academy was forced to replace him with Robert DeNiro.

 

Meanwhile, Malden defended Kazan, believing his artistic achievements were a separate issue from his political past.
 

After “Waterfront,” Malden appeared in a variety of features during the 50s and 60s, including “Pollyanna,” “Gypspy” and “Patton,” in which he played General Omar Bradley.

After serving as a supporting actor for most of his feature film career, Malden took a starring role as Lt. Mike Stone on ABC’s  “The Streets of San Francisco.” The idea began as a made-for-TV movie, but ABC decided to carry it as a series and recruited Michael Douglas to co-star as Lt. Stone’s partner.

With Douglas and Malden on board, the show performed well in the ratings and Malden earned four consecutive Emmy nominations for lead actor in a drama series from 1974 to 1977.

Douglas left the show after two episodes of the fifth season, which would be the show’s last due to plummeting ratings.

Though Malden next starred in “Skag,” a short-lived NBC drama, he became more recognizable thanks to his role as an American Express spokesperson. With the signature catchphrase "Don’t leave home without them," Malden appeared in AmEx commercials for 21 years.  

 

Other than the commercials, Malden acted seldomly after the late 1980s, but he still garnered a series of accolades.

 

In 1988, he was elected President of the Academy — a post he held for four years — and in 2003 he received SAG’s Life Acheivement Award — the 40th ever recipient.

 

He is survived by his wife, Mona Greenberg, and two daughters.