The son of Yugoslav immigrants, Karl Malden labored in the steel mills of Gary, Indiana before enrolling in Arkansas State Teachers College. While not a prime candidate for stardom with his oversized nose and bullhorn voice, Malden attended Chicago's Goodman Dramatic School, then moved to New York, where he made his Broadway bow in 1937. Three years later he made his film debut in a microscopic role in They Knew What They Wanted (1940), which also featured another star-to-be, Tom Ewell. While serving in the Army Air Force during World War II, Malden returned to films in the all-serviceman epic Winged Victory (1944), where he was billed as Corporal Karl Malden. This led to a brief contract with 20th Century-Fox -- but not to Hollywood, since Malden's subsequent film appearances were lensed on the east coast. In 1947, Malden created the role of Mitch, the erstwhile beau of Blanche Dubois, in Tennessee Williams' Broadway play A Streetcar Named Desire; he repeated the role in the 1951 film version, winning an Oscar in the process. For much of his film career, Malden has been assigned roles that called for excesses of ham; even his Oscar-nominated performance in On the Waterfront (1954) was decidedly "Armour Star" in concept and execution. In 1957, he directed the Korean War melodrama Time Limit, the only instance in which the forceful and opinionated Malden was officially credited as director. Malden was best known to TV fans of the 1970s as Lieutenant Mike Stone, the no-nonsense protagonist of the longrunning cop series The Streets of San Francisco. Still wearing his familiar Streets hat and overcoat, Malden supplemented his income with a series of ads for American Express. His commercial catchphrases "What will you do?" and "Don't leave home without it!" soon entered the lexicon of TV trivia -- and provided endless fodder for such comedians as Johnny Carson. From 1989-92, Malden served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Born to a Czech mother and a Serbian father.
- Changed his name at age 22. Made his Broadway debut in 1937 and his film debut in 1940's They Knew What They Wanted. Originated the role of Mitch in A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway in 1947; reprised the role in the film version in 1951, for which received a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. Both of his Oscar nominations were for films opposite Marlon Brando and directed by Elia Kazan. Earned four Emmy nominations for his role as Mike Stone in The Streets of San Francisco (1972-77) but never won. Served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 1989-1992. His 1997 autobiography, When Do I Start?, was co-authored by his daughter Carla.