LOS ANGELES — Karl Malden, the Academy Award-winning actor whose intelligent characterizations on stage and screen made him a star despite his plain looks, died Wednesday of natural causes, his family said. He was 97.
While he tackled a variety of characters in more than 50 films over the years, he was often seen in working-class garb or military uniform. His authenticity in grittier roles came naturally: He was the son of a Czech mother and a Serbian father, and worked for a time in the steel mills of Gary, Ind., after dropping out of college.
Malden said he got his celebrated bulbous nose when he broke it a couple of times playing basketball or football, joking that he was "the only actor in Hollywood whose nose qualifies him for handicapped parking."
Malden won a supporting actor Oscar in 1951 for his role as Blanche DuBois' naive suitor Mitch in A Streetcar Named Desire — a role he also played on Broadway.
He was nominated again in 1954 for his performance as Father Corrigan, a fearless, friend-of-the-workingman priest in On the Waterfront.
Malden gained perhaps his greatest fame as Lt. Mike Stone in the 1970s television show The Streets of San Francisco, in which Michael Douglas played the veteran detective's junior partner. During that period, Malden gained a lucrative 21-year sideline and a place in pop culture with his "Don't leave home without them" ads for American Express.
He acted sparingly in recent years, appearing in 2000 in a small role on TV's The West Wing.
In 2004, Malden received the Screen Actors Guild's Lifetime Achievement Award, telling the group in his acceptance speech that "this is the peak for me."
Besides his wife of 70 years, Mona, Malden is survived by daughters Mila and Cara, his sons-in-law, three granddaughters, and four great-grandchildren.