Sunday, July 5, 2009

Karl Malden's Nose: The Greatest!

When I think of star noses there are those stars who had big ones: Jimmy Durante, W.C. Fields.
And some had teeny, tiny ones: Jane Wyman, Nanette Fabray.
But Karl Malden's nose seemed to grow and prosper with the years.
Look at him in such oldies as Boomerang (1947) or Call Northside 777 (1947) and , sure, it looks big not not that big.
Later that proboscis towered over the rest of Malden's face.
And when I once asked him about that he merely grinned and allowed that his nose had acting abilities, too. It would glower all red and threatening in an angry scene and seem to fade a bit in a romantic encounter.
The last time we saw Malden was via a taped message on the recent AFI salute to Michael Douglas --Malden , a frail 97-year-old, hailed his former Streets Of San Francisco star as "my adopted son" and really meant it --and a few days ago Malden died of old age at 97 in his Beverly Hills home.
Born Mladen Sekulovich in 1912 Malden was determined to forge a career in theatre acting but in 1947 accepted a contract from 20-th Century-Fox where he can be seen in the background in such films as Boomerang.
A trip back to Broadway gave him his role of a lifetime: Mitch in A Streetcar Named Desire.
"When it was time for Warners to turn it into a movie Jack Warner hired the director, Elia Kazan, and three of the four players from the Broadway play: Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter and me. But Jessica Tandy who was wondrous as Blanche didn't get the call. Jack argued he needed a truly great star and picked Vivien Leigh who had done the West End version directed by her husband Laurence Olivier.
"Yes, there were set clashes because Vivien saw Blanche as the lead whereas Elia wanted to build up Stanley's part. But I guess it all turned out OK."
On the night of the Oscars Malden was toiling in another Warner film n when Jack Warner ordered him to get top the ceremonies. In the audience he sat beside Humphrey Bogart and told Bogey to hold his coat while he accepted his stauette.
Malden,Leigh and Hunter all won awards but Brando did not --he was beaten by Bogart for The African Queen.
"And Bogey didn't hold my coat, he lost it. When I told him off he said 'Kid, get another!'"
After that Malden became one of the kings of the stardust ballroom --he relentlessly hunted down Montgomery Clift in I Confess (1953), got another Oscar nomination for On The Waterfront (1954) and even directed a thriller, 1957's Time Out.
Asked to name his favourite film he giggled and said "Parrish (1961) because I was leading man to Claudette Colbert whom I'd worshipped as a boy watching her at the local bijou. But I also romanced Bette Davis and Rosalind Russell in those days. Pretty good for a character actor!"
I first interviewed Malden in a hotel room at the Century City Hotel as he prepared to embark for The Streets Of San Francisco which ran 1972 to 1977. Later on Malden starred in the NBC drama series Skag which had an all too brief run in 1980 and he went on to distinguish himself in a dozen TV movies as well.
I always enjoyed talking to him in person or on the phone.
Once I told him by phone that I'd had the flu and recuperated by watching VHS copies of my six favorite Malden movies.
"Why only six?" he shouted in mock outrage but later sent me an autographed picture: "My hat to you!"
Well, now my hat's to him, Karl Malden, one of those utterly dependable character actors who was also a star in his own right.

No comments: