Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Karl Malden, one of the Best

In downtown LA they were celebrating the life (the good parts) of Michael Jackson; meanwhile reports said the coroner still had his brain, and there was no plan to bury the body. His death certificate did not say how he died.

In another part of the world, a man of 97 years passed away leaving a long legacy of great cinematic performances. His name was Karl Malden.

He was the priest in On the Waterfront. The well-meaning schlub in Streetcar Named Desire. The nemesis in One-Eyed Jacks. In each, he played against another great actor named Marlon Brando and because he was so different from the brooding Brando, because his face with its large, off-center nose and his piercing, searching eyes and his ability to be both unassuming, honest, threatening and familiar all at once, he never seemed to be in Brando's shadow, but fighting right alongside as an equal.

He didn't have a wealth of sex appeal (I don't think). But he had enormous appeal as a regular guy, a smart guy, a tough guy. You didn't mess with a Karl Malden. You figured you could kid with him for as long as you wanted, but if he got tired of you, he might easily kick your ass and not feel guilty about it.

Karl Malden played cops and priests and truckers and cowpokes and detectives and was the everyman every man could aspire to be--he not only had plenty of self-respect, but he commanded respect.

I confess I had no idea he was still with us when he died. 97 is pretty old. My guess is he had a pretty good life. I know of no scandal, ever, involving Karl Malden.

Good-bye, Karl Malden. You were one of the best in your profession during the golden era of movies between World War Two and the resignation of Richard Nixon. I am sure you've already got a star on Hollywood Boulevard. One hopes they have recently applied to it some extra polish.