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One year ago: Karl Malden

July 1, 2010 |  6:30 am

Karl-malden While he was still in drama school, actor Karl Malden, with his twice-broken bulbous nose, realized he would never be a leading man. Still, he determined that in whatever role he landed, he would be the best at it. Malden, who won an Academy Award for playing Mitch in the 1951 film "A Streetcar Named Desire," died one year ago today.

Although he earned much acclaim for his six-decade Hollywood career playing heroes and heavies, it was as a commercial pitchman that he gained perhaps the most recognition. For more than 20 years, Malden was the spokesman for American Express travelers checks who turned "Don't leave home without them" into a national catchphrase in a series of commercials that debuted in 1973.

In a movie career that flourished in the 1950s and '60s, Malden played a variety of roles in more than 50 films. He also starred in the 1970s TV series "The Streets of San Francisco" with Michael Douglas, then in his late 20s.

Malden, the son of Slavic parents, spent three years working in a steel mill before deciding to enroll in the Goodman School of Drama at the Art Institute of Chicago. After graduation, he met Elia Kazan of the Group Theater, a legendary repertory company, who would play a prominent role in Malden's stage and film career.

For more on the man who embraced his role as a character actor, read Karl Malden's obituary by The Times' Dennis McLellan.

--Michael Farr

Photo: Karl Malden. Credit: Associated Press