U.S. actor Karl Malden dies at 97

Wed Jul 1, 2009 5:35pm EDT
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Oscar winner Karl Malden, the character actor acclaimed for film roles in "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "On the Waterfront" before gaining TV fame as a leading man in "The Streets of San Francisco," died on Wednesday at age 97.

Also remembered as the commercial spokesman for American Express travelers checks, sternly warning tourists, "Don't leave home without them," Malden died in his sleep at his Los Angeles-area home, according to his longtime agent, Budd Moss. He said the actor had been in failing health in recent years.

In a career spanning seven decades, Malden made his mark portraying plain-spoken men of gruff manners, though he was noted for bringing an understated, natural dignity to many of his roles.

He acted in the plays of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, as well as in the films of directors Elia Kazan, Alfred Hitchcock and John Frankenheimer.

Malden, whose trademark bulbous nose was broken twice while playing high school sports, often said he was keenly aware that he lacked the looks of a leading man.

"There were times when certain leads would come along, and I'd say, 'Gee, I could do that,'" Malden recalled in a 2004 interview with Reuters. "But ... you've got to have a great nose. You've got to have great eyes. Everything that an actor has to have to be that leading man, I don't have. So I made the best with what I had."

He was born Mladen George Sekulovich in Chicago to parents of Serb and Czech origins, grew up in Gary, Indiana, and worked at a steel mill before moving to New York City in 1937 to pursue acting.

His stage debut came that year in "Golden Boy" and he later appeared in the original cast of Miller's "All My Sons."   Continued...

<p>Actor Karl Malden, age 92 best known for his role in the television series "The Streets of San Francisco" and his 1951 best supporting actor Academy Award for his role in "A Streetcar Named Desire" poses for photographers prior to receiving the Monte Cristo Award from the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center based in Connecticut at a luncheon in Beverly Hills, November 11, 2004. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>