Heartland Interviews: KARL MALDEN

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This month’s “My Truly Moving Pictures” interview is completely unique – unlike the Q&A style of past articles, this time the subject matter was such that we decided to write more of a feature piece. Our very special guest this month is the multi-talented Academy Award®-winning actor, Mr. Karl Malden.

Karl Malden is probably best known for his roles in classic films like A Streetcar Named DesireOn the WaterfrontBaby DollBirdman of Alcatraz, and Patton, as well as his role in 1970s television show, The Streets of San Francisco. Malden, an Indiana native, won high critical acclaim for his 50+ year acting career, working with some of the greatest talents Hollywood has ever seen and even serving as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for five years. In 1997, Malden’s autobiography, “When Do I Start?: A Memoir” was published. He was also the longtime recognized spokesman for American Express credit cards.

Inspiration and heroes

Malden said he watched a lot of movies before he was actively a part of them, referring to himself as “a real film buff” even at a young age. “I fell in love with everything I saw,” he said.

One of his favorite actors, and subsequently, a star in many of his most Truly Moving Pictures, was Paul Muni, a major studio actor in the 1930s, whose career included ScarfaceThe Story of Louis PasteurBordertown andThe Good Earth. “He did a lot of great films,” said Malden. “I admired what he did and how it was done.”

Malden explained that one of his greatest joys in acting was to get the chance to work with some of his childhood film heroes, such as Gary Cooper (in The Hanging Tree, 1959) and Bette Davis (in Dead Ringer, 1964). “All those people who were in pictures I enjoyed when I was younger were great to work with,” he said.

Truly Moving experiences

Malden explained that while a lot of the more popular films, such as On the Waterfront, Baby Doll and Patton were wonderful to make, some of the lesser movies he enjoyed creating very much as well. These were movies like Hotel,Ruby Gentry, and One-Eyed Jacks. “Just because they weren’t successes, doesn’t mean they weren’t great movies,” he said.

He used Hotel as an example. In this film, he played a thief, though he began the film assigned to a different role. Though the first part he was asked to play had more lines, Malden was fascinated by the thief’s role instead, appealing to the director, saying, “I think I can do something with this, and I’d like to try.”

However, Malden said he feels “lucky” that he could also take part in the timeless and better-known features like A Streetcar Named Desire.

“A Streetcar Named Desire was one of the best-written plays I’d ever read, written by Tennessee Williams. There was poetry in his script…I was lucky to be in it [the film version],” Malden said.

He also referred fondly to the late Marlon Brando, who paired with him in Streetcar, in addition to at least two other film projects, as “one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with.”

Once a film buff, always a film buff

Though Malden has not acted in a film for several years, he is still an active watcher. Recent favorites? “Just this past year, I saw one I loved about the author, J.M. Barrie, and Peter Pan,” he said. “Finding Neverland – I loved Finding Neverland.”

And when complimented on his role as “Walrus” in the 1985 made-for-TV childhood favorite, Alice In Wonderland, Malden laughed and said, “Did you ever see Pollyanna? That was another great kid’s movie I got to do.”

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