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Karl Malden: 'Ideal Everyman'

What made the late Academy Award–winning actor with the unglamorous face unforgettable

Karl Malden was "perhaps the ideal Everyman," said Robert Berkvist in The New York Times. The Academy Award–winning character actor, who died Wednesday at 97, brought "homespun authenticity to roles in theater, film, and television, from 'A Streetcar Named Desire' to 'The Streets of San Francisco.'" He knew that his "crooked, bulbous nose"—broken playing sports in school—would keep him from being a leading man, so he resolved, he once said, "to be No. 1 in the No. 2 parts I was destined to get."

And Karl Malden certainly accomplished that, said Dennis McLellan in the Los Angeles Times. He "built a six-decade Hollywood career playing heroes and heavies—and, often, relatable ordinary men"— yet he "was certain he was best known as a commercial pitchman for American Express." But he was thankful for the series of ads for American Express traveler's checks—and the catchphrase, "Don't leave home without them"—because they gave him financial security that let him carefully choose his roles instead of taking any work that came his way.

"Someone who dies at 97 after a happy life and dignified career doesn't get as much media coverage as someone who dies at a younger age under more unusual circumstances," said Eric D. Snider in Cinematical, "and that would probably be just fine with Malden." But Karl Malden will be remembered—as much for his work in classic films such as "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "On the Waterfront" as for his unchallenged reputation as a "consummate professional." And for his scandal-free, 70-year marriage to his wife, Mona, "which might literally be a show-business record."

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