‘Streets of San Francisco’ Actor Karl Malden, 97, Dies

[IMG: LI was saddened to hear that one of my favorite actors has died.

For those of you too young to remember, Karl Malden was an impressive screen and television actor who created such indelible characters as Father Barry in Elia Kazan’s classic 1954 film On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando and, of course, Detective Lt. Mike Stone in the classic ’70s television cop show The Streets of San Francisco.

Streets ran from 1972-1977 and launched the career of a then unknown young actor named Michael Douglas. I had the good fortune to attend AFI’s tribute to Michael Douglas a couple of weeks ago, and Douglas spoke lovingly of Malden, whom he called “his other father” and described as a caring and generous man who truly personified the word “mentor.”

Back in the mid-1990s when I worked with my professional mentor, the late great president of Exhibitor Relations Co., John Krier, John took me to an event at the world famous Chasen’s Restaurant in Beverly Hills (now gone and replaced by a Bristol Farms Supermarket, and I was dumbstruck by the sight of the iconic actor. This was the guy from Waterfront, Streets and also the now famous American Express commercials, which starred Malden as their spokesman for — get this — 21 years! Johnny Carson himself parodied these commercials while donning a rather large and bulbous prosthetic proboscis and uttering the famous line: “American Express Travelers Checks, don’t leave home without them!”

When I finally worked up the courage to speak to Mr. Malden, I approached him cautiously, and the first thing I noticed was his height (he stood at just over six feet). And then I noticed what a truly amazing presence he commanded; he seemed uncharacteristically powerful for a man of his age (at the time, he was in his early eighties), and when he shook my hand my little paw got lost in his grip. I remember saying something goofy like: “Sir, it’s an honor to meet you!” and I recall a big smile and a kind word from one of my cinematic heroes and I walked away on Cloud Nine.

I will never forget meeting Karl Malden and always cherish the memory of getting to meet one of my heroes in a place that no longer exists, in a time long ago.