He may have become one of Hollywood’s biggest actors, but Karl Malden loved his family more than anything else — including his more than 70-year marriage to Mona Greenberg, the former actress and mother of his beloved daughters, Carla Malden and Mila Malden. “He was a magnificent, fantastic father,” Carla, 66, exclusively gushed to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now.
“He was funny and caring and in a lot of ways he was like a big child himself,” she added of her legendary dad, who died from natural causes at 97 in 2009. “Children adored him, and he adored children.”
The family moved into a home on a canyon in L.A., where he was neighbors with fellow movie stars like Richard Widmark and Eva Marie Saint. Though Karl often had to travel for jobs, he made sure to include his kids in his work whenever he was home. “I remember my sister and I rehearsing all his songs from Gypsy with him after dinner every night,” Mila, 72, shared with Closer of her dad’s role in the 1962 musical. “He was goofy, warm and sweet.”
Even though Karl rose to superstardom in the 1950s, the Streetcar Named Desire actor didn’t necessarily look like the typical movie star. “I learned in my second year of drama school I was not a leading man — I was a character actor,” he once told The Los Angeles Times in 2004. “So I thought, ‘I’d better be the best character actor around.'”
That’s exactly what he became, bringing a workingman’s ethic to his career that he’d learned while toiling in the steel mills of Gary, Indiana, alongside his Serbian-immigrant father. At 22 in 1934, Karl quit studying acting. “When I told my father, he said, ‘Are you crazy? You want to give up a good job in the middle of the Depression?'” Karl recalled to the Associated Press in 1962. “Thank God for my mother. She said to give it a try.”
Karl’s versatility as an actor became his calling card, as he played characters ranging from a streetwise priest in 1954’s On the Waterfront alongside lifelong close friend Marlon Brando, to a villainous rancher in director Blake Edwards’ 1971 Western Wild Rovers. “He picked parts that were different from each other, so he was never pigeonholed,” said Mila. “And he always threw himself into whatever he was doing 150 percent.”
He wasn’t above taking a gig doing TV commercials for American Express. “Laurence Olivier was doing an ad campaign for Polaroid cameras, so he figured, ‘Well, if Olivier can do it, I can do it,'” Carla says. “He shot one ad a week for 21 years, and he was happy to do it.”
But Karl’s two daughters said their dad was happiest when he was with his family, which came to include great-grandchildren. “He was never cantankerous — he was always loving and grateful,” Carla marveled. “He considered himself enormously fortunate, and he was always surrounded by family who adored him.”
The Streets of San Francisco actor’s daughters said he left behind a legacy of love. “He had a really magnificent life,” Carla said. “It was beyond his wildest dreams.”
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