FROM OUR FILES: An Interview with Karl Malden

Karl Malden, who died today, spoke to the MONITOR in 1959 about acting and working with directors such as Kazan and Hitchcock.

Mike Blake/Reuters/File
Actor Karl Malden, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1951 for ‘A Streetcar Named Desire,’ appeared in over 50 films, including ‘Patton’ ‘Pollyanna’ and ‘How the West Was Won.’ He is remembered by younger audiences as the longtime, trenchcoated spokesman for American Express.

From the October 13, 1959 issue of The Christian Science Monitor

Karl Malden, who directed "Time Limit" for Richard Widmark, doesn't want to become a director. Nowadays most actors, whether from Broadway or Hollywood, seem to want to grasp the reins one way or another, either as director or as producer. Mr. Malden, so far, is unconvinced.

"I'd have to start all over as a director," he explains. "If I did that, then people would stop thinking of me as an actor, and I couldn't get acting jobs any more. Direction is a tough business, a highly specialize d kind of country to work in. Of course if something wonderful comes along again, like 'Time Limit,' it might be hard to reluse."

Mr. Malden is also much more interested in movies than in the stage or television. "The theater seems to be growing smaller in this country,'' he observes. "There arc good signs Off-Broadway and on college campuses; but the New York stage, over the years, has been contracting in size. Maybe now the film can become the major dramatic art form, with TV taking over the old 'B' picture production."

As an actor, he'd much rather work in films than TV, for one very simple reason. "On live television, you're completely at the mercy of the director's booth. My performance is in the hands of a fellow pushing a button. I never get a chance to see how it looks. In Hollywood, I usually can see the rushes with the director, and if 1 think the scene misses the point, I can say to him, 'Look, I think this is wrong. Let's do it again.' "

The best kind or character to play is one that isn't all black or white, Mr. Malden says. In "Pollyanna," for Walt Disney, he has a part like that, a kind of "wild - eyed, long - haired evangelist." He likes to keep his roles out of a rut. In the first movie he ever made, "Boomerang," Elia Kazan cast him as a detective; for two years after that he turned down detective roles. He had never played a villain when "The Hanging Tree" came along, "unless you include the father in 'Fear Strikes Out." " After a long stint in Marlon Brando's "One-Eyed Jacks" (to be released next year), he's not interested in villains for a while.

Talking of directors in general, lie suggested an interesting theory about the long production schedule of the Brando picture. "Of course in the first place, he was trying to direct himself, and that's always a terribly difficult thing to do. But you know, years ago we were in 'Streetcar' together on the stage and our dressing rooms were right next to each other. We used to have long discussions about many things, and particularly about cliches. Marlon insisted it was never necessary to use cliches—you could always do things in new ways. J used to argue that sometimes the cliche was the right do it, perhaps even the honest way. In 'One-Eyed Jacks' he was still trvins to avoid the obvious, even in a western, and it took months."

Alfred Hitchcock is a first-rate teacher, Mr. Maiden says. The actor asked the director a lot of questions about the film medium when he was working in "I Confess." Delmer Daves is a remarkable craftsman from the technical point of view; he knows what wonderful things the camera can do and pulls dramatic values from it, while trusting the actors to do their job without too much help.

There are always the directors who consider it their primary concern to establish authority over the actor: the dictatorial man usually gets a tight feeling on the set and tenseness rather than clarity on the screen. Elia Kazan, Mr. Maiden testifies, is not like that, but he certainly works against the tendency to relax between "takes."

"He wants you to keep alive eight hours a day. He keeps you busy‚ makes you feel you arc contributing something every moment. He'll put you to work on a scene that doesn't come up for two weeks. He asks you what you think about it, and expects you to come up with some thoughts worth discussing. When you're on a Kazan picture, you go home at night ready to fall into bed and sleep from sheer exhaustion."

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