Nationality: American. Born: Mladen Sekulovich in Chicago, Illinois, 22 March 1914. Education: Attended Emerson High School, Gary, Indiana; the Art Institute of Chicago, 1933–36; Goodman Theatre Dramatic School, Chicago. Military Service: U.S. Army Air Force, 1943–45. Family: Married the actress Mona Graham, 1938, daughters: Mila and Carla. Career: 1937—Broadway debut in Golden Boy; 1940—film debut in They Knew What They Wanted; 1945—resumed Broadway career following military service; 1947—in Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire, and in film version, 1951; 1957—directed the film Time Limit; 1966–69—director, Screen Actors Guild; 1972–77—starring role in TV series The Streets of San Francisco; 1980—in TV series Skag; 1989–93—president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Awards: Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, for A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951. Address: 1845 Mandeville Canyon Road, Los Angeles, CA 90049, U.S.A.
Films as Actor:
They Knew What They Wanted (Kanin) (as Red)
Winged Victory (Cukor) (as Adams)
13 Rue Madeleine (Hathaway) (as flight sergeant)
Boomerang (Kazan) (as Lt. White); Kiss of Death (Hathaway) (as Sgt. William Cullen)
Where the Sidewalk Ends (Preminger) (as Lt. Thomas); The Gunfighter (Henry King) (as Mac); Halls of Montezuma (Milestone) (as Doc)
The Sellout (Mayer) (as Buck Maxwell); A Streetcar Named Desire (Kazan) (as Mitch); Decision before Dawn (Litvak)
Diplomatic Courier (Hathaway) (as Ernie); Ruby Gentry (King Vidor) (as Jim Gentry); Operation Secret (Seiler) (as Maj. Latrec)
Take the High Ground (Richard Brooks) (as Sgt. Laverne Holt); I Confess (Hitchcock) (as Larrue)
Phantom of the Rue Morgue (Del Ruth) (as Dr. Marais); On the Waterfront (Kazan) (as Father Barry)
Baby Doll (Kazan) (as Archie Lee)
Fear Strikes Out (Mulligan) (as John Piersall); Bombers B-52 (No Sleep till Dawn) (Gordon Douglas) (as Sgt. Chuck Brennan)
The Hanging Tree (Daves) (as Frenchy Plante)
Pollyanna (Swift) (as Rev. Paul Ford); The Great Imposter (Mulligan) (as Father Devlin)
One-Eyed Jacks (Brando) (as Dad Longworth); Parrish (Daves) (as Judd Raike)
All Fall Down (Frankenheimer) (as Ralph Willart); Birdman of Alcatraz (Frankenheimer) (as Harvey Shoemaker); Gypsy (LeRoy) (as Herbie Sommers)
"The Rivers" ep. of How the West Was Won (Hathaway) (as Zebulon Prescott); Come Fly with Me (Levin) (as Walter Lucas)
Dead Ringer (Dead Image) (Henreid) (as Sgt. Jim Hobbson); Cheyenne Autumn (Ford) (as Capt. Wessels)
The Cincinnati Kid (Jewison) (as Shooter)
Nevada Smith (Hathaway) (as Tom Fitch); Murderers' Row (Levin) (as Julian Wall)
The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (Neilson) (as Judge Higgins); Hotel (Quine) (as Keycase); Billion Dollar Brain (Ken Russell) (as Leo Newbegin)
Blue (Narizzano) (as Doc Morton); Hot Millions (Till) (as Carlton J. Klemper)
Il gatto a nove code (Cat o' Nine Tails) (Argento) (as Franco Arno)
Patton (Patton: Lust for Glory) (Schaffner) (as Gen. Omar Bradley)
Wild Rovers (Edwards) (as Walter Buckman)
The Streets of San Francisco (Grauman—for TV) (as Det. Lt. Mike Stone)
Summertime Killer (Isasi) (as John Kiley)
Captains Courageous (Hart—for TV)
Meteor (Neame) (as Harry Sherwood); Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (Irwin Allen) (as Wilbur Hubbard)
The Wildcatters (for TV); Skag (Perry—for TV)
Miracle on Ice (Steven Hilliard Stern—for TV); Word of Honor (Damski—for TV)
The Sting II (Kagan) (as Macalinski); Twilight Time (Paskaljevic) (as Marko)
Fatal Vision (David Greene—for TV) (as Freddy Kassab); With Intent to Kill (Robe—for TV) (as Thomas E. Nolan)
Alice in Wonderland (Harry Harris—for TV) (as Walrus)
Billy Galvin (John Gray) (as Jack Galvin)
Nuts (Ritt) (as Arthur Kirk)
My Father, My Son (Bleckner—for TV) (as Adm. Elmo Zumwalt Jr.)
The Hijacking of the Achille Lauro (Collins—for TV) (as Klinghoffer)
Call Me Anna (Cates—for TV) (as Dr. Harold Arlen)
Absolute Strangers (Cates—for TV) (as Fred Zusselman)
Back to the Streets of San Francisco (Damski—for TV) (as Mike Stone)
Earth and the American Dream (Couturie—doc) (as voice); They've Taken Our Children: The Chowchilla Kidnapping (Gillum—for TV) (as Ed Ray)
Film as Director:
By MALDEN: books—
When Do I Start?: A Memoir, New York, 1997.
By MALDEN: article—
"What the Hell, I'm a Frank Guy," interview in Cinema (Beverly Hills), February/March 1964.
"Guest Speaker: Karl Malden," interview in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1990.
On MALDEN: articles—
Current Biography 1957, New York, 1957.
Marill, Alvin H., in Films in Review (New York), April 1977.
Film Dope (London), December 1987.
Stars (Mariembourg), December 1990.
* * *
Karl Malden was already an established young Broadway character actor when he came to Hollywood to do several minor roles in such films as 13 Rue Madeleine and Kiss of Death. Elia Kazan did not (as is often reported) introduce Malden to films, but he did give the actor's career a new direction by making available to him roles in which Malden's dramatic intensity and Method-influenced acting style could be displayed. Malden had returned to Broadway to play Mitch in A Streetcar Named Desire for Kazan, and afterward followed the director to Hollywood to appear in his Boomerang. A few years later he repeated his role in Kazan's screen version of Streetcar, and won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor.
His performance in that film revealed an underlying and uneasily repressed well of emotion that was effectively exploited by Kazan. In On the Waterfront, Malden plays the parish priest as a man who cannot refrain from either righteous anger or direct involvement in waterfront politics. His intensity suits Kazan's social message and contrasts nicely with Brando's subtle characterization of the exprizefighter who turns crusader. More often, however, Malden's energy was channeled into portrayals of an evil bordering on obsession or neurosis. As a crooked sheriff who cannot control his temper, he is once again effectively contrasted with the coolness and self-possession of Brando's outlaw in One-Eyed Jacks. Or if not outright evil, his characters were misguided and obsessive. This especially was so when he played weak-willed parents. As the neurotic father who is determined that his son achieve his own frustrated dream of athletic stardom in Fear Strikes Out, Malden is effectively contrasted to the twitchy insecurity of Anthony Perkins's Jimmy Piersall. As the superficially friendly, semi-alcoholic father of Warren Beatty and Brandon de Wilde in All Fall Down, he is just as equally contrasted to Angela Lansbury's exasperating, clinging mother.
Malden has repeated these characterizations with only minor variations in a number of films, most notably Birdman of Alcatraz, Cheyenne Autumn, and Nevada Smith, where he played off the cooler styles of Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, and Steve McQueen respectively. The self-effacing subordination of Mitch in Streetcar also has been employed successfully in other roles. As Omar Bradley in Patton, for example, he is almost insistently ordinary in a way that contrasts to George C. Scott's obsessive and self-concerned hero.
But Malden's best work on screen came in the 1950s, under the guidance of Elia Kazan, a director who has been able to channel and emphasize the subtler qualities of his acting style. His most memorable role is that of Archie Lee in Baby Doll, where his acting meshes beautifully with the ensemble work of Carroll Baker and Eli Wallach. Malden lends the character a sense of repressed sexuality which perfectly suits the erotic subtext of Williams's story.
In later years, Malden has starred on television in a popular weekly crime drama, The Streets of San Francisco (not to mention a series of credit card commercials). He has appeared in higher-quality made-for-television movies, often playing fathers who have complex relationships with their sons (such as My Father, My Son and Billy Galvin) or leaders of younger men (e.g., Coach Herb Brooks in Miracle on Ice).
—R. Barton Palmer, updated by Rob Edelman