Karl Malden, 1912-2009


Karl Malden was a serious actor in the league of Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Rod Steiger. But he wasn’t as showy as they were about it. The Chicago Serbian-American had an unpretentious midwestern manner and lumpy features which may have encouraged him in his behavioral modesty. But Malden, who studied acting at the Goodman, was every bit as good as the Method guys at making characters so real they could bite you. And if you needed an ordinary, working-class character with outsized feelings — like Mitch in A Streetcar Named Desire — Malden was your guy. He did a lot of first-rate stuff, but our favorite might be his evil lawman in One-Eyed Jacks. There he’s so normal that it takes us a while to even suspect there’s something awful about him, and when we find out how bad he is, we understand how he’s been pulling it off. We spare a thought too for “Skag,” Malden’s weird Abby Mann TV project in which he played a middle-aged factory worker beaten down by the changes in American life and values. Malden was that show-biz rarity, a real-people star.