Karl Malden

2 minute read
Michael Douglas

He had the most piercing blue eyes, and you always had a sense of where you stood with him by looking into them. They shone either with warmth or with wariness, depending on the situation–and if you ever drifted down and looked at his busted-up nose, they grew very wary.

My first meeting with Karl, who died on July 1 at age 97, was in the office of the producer of The Streets of San Francisco, the ’70s TV show. I had been recommended for a part, and Karl was giving me the once-over. My dad [actor Kirk Douglas] had worked with him on a summer-stock production, and he told me what a hard worker Karl was. That was an understatement. Karl came from the steel mills of Gary, Ind. He taught me just how fortunate I was to be an actor.

Early on in his career, Karl recognized that he was not going to be the leading man. But he was intent on being the best second lead there was. He had so many wonderful roles, in films from A Streetcar Named Desire–for which he won an Oscar–to On the Waterfront. He was an amazing reactor. For San Francisco, we were on location six days a week, and Karl used to pull me aside to work on our lines for the next week so that we would have them memorized for the first rehearsal.

He made actors around him better. Karl was a habitual teacher who prided himself on making everyone around him understand how to make the whole piece work. That has been one of the lasting lessons of my career.

Karl gave me opportunities I never would have had. He was my mentor. And he topped all this off with a wonderful sense of humor and a great, maniacal, cackling laugh. Karl always made me feel like I was the son he never had. I loved him and will miss him so.

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