My local news station describes Karl Malden, dead today at 97 years young, as having been "a fixture of seventies television." Even for a committed Quinn Martin fan, that seems like pretty uncharitable praise for a major cultural figure. If nothing else, as celebrities continue to pop off before their time, Malden proved that clean living can help get you almost a century.
With his slightly monstrous physiognomy and a temperament permanently set at "lovable but overbearing," Malden was the greatest of the second bananas. Even his breakthrough American Express commercials hinged on Malden's ability to reassure you: "I'm not a big star; you can trust me." And you could! By some accounts it was Malden's eloquent defense of Elia Kazan that got the controversial HUAC songbird his lifetime achievement award in 1999. As it is the nature of supporting players not to get the glory, there's no sense in complaining about underrating. So I'll just say that for me, On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Patton are all Karl Malden vehicles in which somebody else got most of the credit.