A Streetcar Named Desire
An American supporting character player of several prominent movies of the 1950s and 1960s, Karl Malden, born Mladen George Sekulovich, was launched to stardom with his Academy Award-winning turn as Marlon Brando's best friend in the Elia Kazan-directed “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951). He furthered proved he was a standout with notable performances in Kazan's movies “On the Waterfront” (1954), which earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the dockside priest, and “Baby Doll” (1956), from which his role as the bridegroom to Carroll Baker's child bride brought him a Golden Globe nomination and a BAFTA nomination, as well as other movies like “The Hanging Tree” (1959), “Gypsy” (1962, received a Golden Globe nomination) and “Patton” (1970). However, since “Summertime Killer” (1972), Malden's feature film career slowed down and he eventually made his last film performance in 1987's “Nuts.”
When his movie career stalled, Malden enjoyed some success on the small screen. He picked up four Emmy nominations for his popular portrayal of Lt. Mike Stone on the 1970s crime/drama “The Streets of San Francisco,” which ran on ABC from 1972 to 1977, and won an Emmy Award for his scene-stealing role of Freddy Kassab on the TV film “Fatal Vision” (1984). Other TV credits include ABC's “Miracle on Ice” (1981), NBC's “The Hijacking of the Achille Lauro” (1989), NBC's “Back to the Streets of San Francisco” (1992) and ABC's “They've Taken Our Children: The Chowchilla Kidnapping Story” (1993). His more recent TV performance was Father Thomas Cavanaugh in a 2000 episode of “West Wing.”
In the entertainment industry for over seven decades, the Academy Award winner Malden once served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (1989-1993). In October 2003, he was voted the 40th recipient of the Screen Actors Guild's Life Achievement Award for career accomplishment and humanitarian achievement. On receiving the award, he stated, “I am thrilled to be honored by the Screen Actors Guild because I've been with it for such a long time. The Screen Actors Guild is sort of a highfalutin name for a union and this union was always wonderful to work for. For the rank-and-file of the union to honor me is the best compliment I can receive.”
Malden was also handed a Golden Boot Award (1997), the Temecula Valley International Film Festival's Lifetime Achievement Award (1998) and the Satellite's Mary Pickford Award (2002). For his significant contribution in the cinematic industry, he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City in 2005.
As for his private life, Malden has been married to Mona Greenberg since 1938. They have two daughters, Mila and Carla. Carla co-wrote Malden's autobiography, “When Do I Start.”
Childhood and Family:
Mladen George Sekulovich, who changed his named to Karl Malden at age 22 when he became an actor, was born on March 22, 1912, in Chicago, Illinois, to a Serbian father, Petar Sekulovich, and a Czech dressmaker, Minnie Sekulovich. The eldest of three brothers, Karl moved with his family from Chicago to the Serbian quarter of Gary, Indiana, in 1917, when he was five years old. Once living in Gary, his father worked in a steel mill and then as a milkman.
Influenced by his father's love of music and the performing arts, young Karl acted in many Serbian plays produced by his father and joined the Karageorge Choir as a teenager. In high school, Karl was a star basketball player. He also took part in the drama department. He graduated from Emerson School for Visual and Performing Arts in 1931. He spent three years working in steel mills in Gary and in 1934 he left Gary for Chicago, where he received formal dramatic training from the Goodman School (later part of DePaul University). Three years later, in 1937, Karl graduated from the Chicago Art Institute.
While performing with the Goodman's children's theater, Karl attracted the attention of actress Mona Greenberg and they married on December 18, 1938. The couple has two daughters, Carla and Mila. Their marriage is one of the longest in Hollywood history.
Karl Malden became involved with the Goodman Theater when he trained in Chicago. After completing his studies, he returned to his hometown but soon made his way to New York City to pursue an acting career. Malden's first stage assignment arrived in 1937 when he landed a role in Clifford Odets' “Golden Boy.” He then worked on radio and in 1938 he was seen on Broadway in “How to Get Tough About It” and “Missouri Legend.” In 1940, Malden launched his career as a character actor in movies with the remake of “They Knew What They Wanted,” starring Carole Lombard and Charles Laughton.
Malden's acting career, however, was disrupted by WWII when he served as a noncommissioned officer in the U.S. Air Force. While in the war, he got a small role in the U.S. Army Air Force play “Winged Victory,” which he recreated for the 1943 film version of the same name directed by George Cukor. After the war, Malden was given a supporting role in the play “Truckline Cafe,” in which he acted alongside a young, unknown actor named Marlon Brando. He also made several guest stints in both The Ford Theatre and The Armstrong Circle Theatre. Malden was about to quit due to the difficulty in finding work when director Elia Kazan cast the actor in his breakthrough stage role in Arthur Miller's drama “All My Sons” (1947). Later that same year, Malden and Kazan reunited for Tennessee Williams' “A Streetcar Named Desire,” in which he portrayed Mitch. Malden's success on stage re-launched his film career in 1950.
After starring in such films as “The Gunfighter” and “Halls of Montezuma” (both 1950), Malden experienced a huge breakthrough when he reprised his stage role of Harold Mitchell for the Kazan-helmed film version of “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951). As the best friend of Stanley Kowalski (played by Marlon Brando) and the lonesome suitor of Blanche DuBois (played by Vivian Leigh), he picked up an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The actor then delivered an impressive supporting turn as the police investigator in the thriller “I Confess” (1953), directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and enjoyed another success with his next collaboration with Kazan in 1954's “On the Waterfront,” in which he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
Following a return to Broadway in 1955's “Desperate Hours,” Malden once again worked with noted director Elia Kazan for the drama “Baby Doll” (1956), written by Tennessee Williams. Starring as a power-hungry man disappointed by a young wife (played by Carroll Baker), he nabbed a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Actor – Drama and a BAFTA nomination for Best Foreign Actor. He was cast as the domineering father of Anthony Perkins in “Fear Strikes Out” (1957), a biopic about baseball player Jimmy Piersall who battled mental illness to achieve stardom in the major league. Still in 1957, the actor made his last stage performance to date in “The Egghead” and emerged as a film director with “Time Limit,” a drama starring Richard Widmark and Richard Basehart. Malden closed out the 1950s as Frenchy Plante in the western movie “The Hanging Tree” (1959), from which he received a Golden Laurel nomination for Top Male Supporting Performance.
Malden continued to act in numerous films during the 1960s to the early 1970s. Among the projects were Disney's “Pollyanna” (1960), “One-Eyed Jacks” (1961, directed by and starred in by Marlon Brando), “Birdman of Alcatraz” (1962), “Gypsy” (1962, earned a Golden Globe nomination), “How the West Was Won” (1962), “All Fall Down” (1962), “The Cincinnati Kid” (1965), Ken Russell's “Billion Dollar Brain” (1967), “Hotel” (1967), and “Patton” (1970), a blockbuster movie in which he starred as General Omar Bradley. After “Summertime Killer” (1972), Malden worked on TV in the ABC crime/drama series “The Streets of San Francisco,” starring as Lieutenant Mike Stone from 1972 to 1977. The role brought the actor four Emmy nominations in the category of Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series from 1974 to 1977. After the demise of the show, he was cast as Disko Troop in the ABC remake of “Captains Courageous” (1977) before returning to the big screen in feature roles in “Beyond the Poseidon Adventure” and “Meteor” (both 1979).
In the 1980s, Malden continued to work on television, but his film work became more and more rare. He starred as Pete Skagska in the NBC short-lived series “Skag” (1980), teamed up with actors Rue McClanahan and Ron Silver to star in the TV film “World of Horror” (1981) and memorably portrayed American Olympic hockey team coach Herb Brooks in the ABC film “Miracle on Ice” (1981). His portrayal of the father of a murder victim in the based-on-fact NBC miniseries “Fatal Vision” (1984) and won a 1985 Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Special. He also had roles in such TV films as CBS' “Alice in Wonderland” (1985) and NBC's “The Hijacking of the Achille Lauro” (1989), as wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer. Malden made his last motion picture appearance to date in 1987's “Nuts,” a drama starring Barbra Streisand and Richard Dreyfuss.
Malden could be seen making only four TV movies throughout the 1990s. He costarred with Patty Duke, Timothy Carhart, Howard Hesseman and Deborah May in the ABC drama “Call Me Anna” (1990), based on an autobiography of Patty Duke, was reunited with actress Patty Duke for the based-on-true story “Absolute Strangers” (1991) and reprised his coveted role of policeman Mike Stone for the 1992 NBC movie “Back to the Streets of San Francisco.” His last performance of the decade was that of a bus driver named Ed Ray in ABC's “They've Taken Our Children: The Chowchilla Kidnapping Story” (1993).
On February 9, 2000, after many years’ hiatus from acting, Malden made a guest appearance as Father Thomas Cavanaugh on an episode of the NBC “The West Wing.”
Screen Actors Guild: Life Achievement, 2004
Satellite: Mary Pickford Award, 2002
Temecula Valley International Film Festival: Lifetime Achievement, 1998
Golden Boot: 1997
Emmy: Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Special, “Fatal Vision,” 1985
Oscar: Best Actor in a Supporting Role, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” 1952