By M.V. Pejakovich
Yesterday Academy Award winning actor Karl Malden died at age 97 of natural causes at home with his family. His long and varied career was rich with intelligently crafted roles. He is survived by his wife of 70 years Mona, two daughters Karla and Mila, three granddaughters and four great grandchildren.
It was a little over five years ago that I had the privilege of meeting Karl Malden for the first time at his home in West Los Angeles along with his kind and beautiful wife Mona. I was there to do an interview that would later be published in the American Srbobran.
But right now, that first meeting seems so long very long ago because it was before Karl Malden laughed and squawked like a chicken at me for me taking the path of least resistance with someone we both knew and weren't fond of. It was before he surprised my husband & I that first Christmas morning, calling to wish us Merry Christmas. And it was before I told him on several of his recent birthdays that 90+ years old wasn't old enough for a fighter like him to go -- he had to shoot for 100. And he almost made it.
I am not going to pretend that Karl Malden was "my best friend", but he was a special and dear human being to those who got the chance to spend time with him and I was lucky enough to have had that privilege.
My heart goes out to all his family and especially his wife Mona. Thank you for sharing him with us.
Below is that interview I did with him from 2003 that says more about him in his own voice than I can say with my own right now.
Karl Malden Interview
Part I of II
The day that I met Karl Malden, I knew that I would have to overcome an irresistible urge to hug him on first sight. Beloved father-figure of the 1970’s generation in which I grew up, a household face for over 20 years of American Express commercials, and a Serb-American – it was hard not to think of Karl Malden (born Mladen Sekulovich) as a member of the family – some down-to-earth, smiling “Chika Mladen” from the family photos -- someone who you hadn’t met yet but were about to, and you just knew that you’d love each other when you did. All warm thoughts. But, as I approached Karl Malden’s house for the first time, a more literal picture of him emerged – Oscar-winner, Emmy-winner, former President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, an actor strong enough to hold his own with Brando, as well as Steve McQueen, Edward G. Robinson, George C. Scott and a litany of other greats of stage & screen. This was the man who once asked Bogey (yes, the real Bogey!) to hold his coat for him when he won the Oscar for “Streetcar Named Desire.” If there was anyone who was due the formal respect of being called, “Mister” in this day and age, it was certainly “Mr. Karl Malden”. And by the time I arrived at the
Yet, despite my apprehension, entering the
Ultimately, Karl Malden did prove to be the imagined “Chika Mladen” in many ways and he certainly touched my heart, but he was a much brighter and more spirited version than I had envisioned. Despite some health problems, at 91-years-old, his sharp mind was still bustling with real-time ideas, questions and interest – and he was quick to tease and laugh – seeming much more like a contemporary than like someone nearly twice my age.
For this interview, he told me that he didn’t want to talk about his acting career or his personal accomplishments. Instead, he said that he had been “thinking about our people a lot in the last few years” and he was “very grateful for the opportunity to share his thoughts in this interview”. He most wanted to talk about being a Serb-American – about where we’d been and where we were going – and it was on issues affecting Serb-Americans, that he was the most animated and passionate in our conversation.
As I listened to him for these several hours, I was struck by a simple truth – Karl Malden really loved us Serbs and he wanted us to know that before he left this earth. He was born a Serb and would die a Serb, whatever else might have happened in the middle. In some ways, this wasn’t just “an interview”, it was “a love letter” -- to all the old-timers he had ever known, to those alive now and to all the generations he knew he would never live to see. Like the old-timers before him, Karl Malden still has faith in Serb-Americans -- and in our future.
MP: I am just going to turn this tape recorder on and we can forget about it. OK?
KM: You are the boss, whatever you say goes!
MP: So I am “the director” today? (Laughing) I love that!
KM: You bet!
MP: You grew up in
KM: Yes. I was actually born in
MP: Did you ever visit Bileca?
KM: No, not Bileca, but I did spend 2 ½ months over there (in
The shooting location was about an hour away from
What was strange, was that there was virtually no one in this village under age 60, and that was what the film was all about – how the young people left the villages to go to Germany and elsewhere to find work, send money home, and the old people were left behind taking care of their children. I played an old man who was left behind by his son. It was an interesting film, but sadly, it wasn’t a success.
But in spite of the politics and working about ten hours a day on the film, I loved the village life. I got into the way of living over there. It was honest hard work.
MP: Do you know why your father left the old country?
KM: I asked that question many times. Hercegovina was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire back then. My dad was of the age that he would have been conscripted into their army. He didn’t want to go into the Austro-Hungarian Army – so he left.
But in those days, the
My father was the youngest boy in the family and the family had run a kind of country store in Bileca. But other than this and a few things, my father didn’t have much to tell me about where he came from and what the family was about. I tried finding out more from my father before he died, but he didn’t have too much to say. I don’t think that his own father ever told him too much about the family history. Most of what I learned came through other relatives.
There was another story that I heard from one relative – and it is just that, “a story” that I can’t verify -- that the Sekulovici originally came from
MP: So you might really be “a Crnogorac (Montenegrin)”? That would explain a few things!
Yes, it would! (Laughing.)
MP: It always seemed a little strange to me that when many Serb families came here to the
KM: The old-timers had to go wherever the work was –even if that was on the other side of the world. That was their life.
But I had offered my father a chance to go to
So I went to
When my dad left Bileca, Veselin, my uncle (the oldest son) had gone to
I brought the tape of my trip to
MP: But how much were those ties to the old country really cut? You grew up in a Serb village in
KM: That’s a good question. I loved the Vlade Divac interview you did in the Srbobran, and what he had to say amazed me. Vlade Divac – a Serb who has only been in the
I was just talking to my friend Don Nikcevich --Don grew up on the same block as I did in
I am first-generation born in this country and I do know this – our fathers and grandfathers came to this country in the late 19th and early 20th century and as a very small minority, they helped build the
This “ladder” still exists but, somehow, I feel that we lost a large part of a generation – we failed this generation and wasted precious time. I can say this from my own experience --my children sang Serbian songs, we had a Serbian picnic every summer, tamburas were playing, many came from
MP: How could you say it was “wasted”? What a career!
KM: For me, it wasn’t wasted. But I was really raised to be a Serb! At the age of 13, I had to join the Serbian male choir. There were 25 men and me. These men were smokers and drinkers, but they never let me touch a drop. Even when I was nineteen and ready to go to college, they wouldn’t even let me have a beer at a concert in
But my kids never really had this kind of experience. Both my daughters went to church some and they know a bit of what being a Serb is about. They also know “Kako si?”, “Dobro” and “Hvala” and all of those short phrases. But they didn’t really get the full essence of it.
MP: I am not so sure that you “failed a generation.” The church split failed a generation. I recall thinking to myself as a kid, “How can these people claim to have Christianity when they are constantly at each others throats?” I came back to “being a Serb.” A lot of my generation never did come back.
KM: You “came back” to what? You came back to “a choice” – a choice that you should have never been forced to make in the first place. They made you do that, and that was wrong. It wasn’t your war, your fight -- it was theirs – and our young people, nearly a whole generation of them -- were lost in the crossfire of that fight. This spit on everything that the earlier generation fought so hard, and died for!
My father was so disappointed at losing so many of our kids here over the years. I can still hear him speaking in Serbian to the choir, saying “We must not lose the young people! We must get them into the choir before they get into high school, because after that, we’ve lost them.” People would complain that “our music isn’t written for them.” My dad, who was the first president of the Serbian Singing Federation, said “Then we must write it for them, because they are our future!”
MP: Men of your father’s and my father’s generation really amazed me. They were mostly uneducated laborers, but they set up “literary societies,” “theater groups,” and “choral societies” and they were so forward-thinking in terms of their children and their children’s children. They were working not just for themselves but for the future generations that they would never see. Unfortunately, today we don’t necessarily think for our future generations in that way. Perhaps we don’t have the faith that they had
KM: But we must if we are to survive. You and I are speaking the same language, and so was Vlade Divac in your interview with him.
I have been very lucky in some ways; I did have people who opened doors for me. But the best man who ever opened a door for me said, “Look I’ll open the door and point the way, but you have to take responsibility for getting where you need to go.” We, as Serb-Americans, need to take responsibility for where we are going, too.
I have a really dangerous idea, one that will invite criticism, but I am going to say it anyway: I’d like to see us to go all over the country and find the best ten of us, those who are truly worthy and willing stay together for a year or two, and allow these ten to plot a strategy for the future of our people -- our Serbs in America. We need that plan, that strategy. The Jewish people have it, the Polish people have it, the Irish have it, and look what they have been able to accomplish! And this is how they did it! The Irish have parades and we don’t even have that, because we have no plan, no strategy for the future. We just argue, bicker and bewail our fate, instead of doing something about it. There are better ways of handling things!
MP: I understand the need to do something positive and I feel it too, but it isn’t easy.
KM: You know I really love our people. And the Battle of Kosovo is a beautiful story and I love it too. It is a treasure. But must we Serbs always celebrate losing instead of winning? Must all our heroes be “tragic-dead-ones-who-lose”, instead of “live-ones-who-win” once in a while? We can’t continually embrace the negative without the positive, and expect to survive as a people in this country. We embrace being the victim and being beaten down too much. I’ve been beaten down in my life enough and I don’t like it – I don’t like it at all! We must find a way out of that. What someone else does to us is one thing, but what we do to ourselves -- and to each other -- is something else.
MP: I wonder sometimes if we don’t have too narrow a view of what being “a good Serb” is. By the time you get to the second, third and fourth generations of Serbs in America, it is highly likely –especially among the most well-integrated and educated of us-- that you are going to have interfaith marriages – the Greeks and others recognize this – but the Serbs don’t –and to the extent that they do, they don’t have a positive way of dealing with it. I know that you went through this and I know that I did at one time -- and it wasn’t comfortable at all.
KM: Yes, we were in the same boat from what you have told me. I think that in the old days Serbs were such a small minority here in the
MP: Now there is food for thought –a very interesting question. No, ultimately, I don’t think that we would be better off. Especially since so many of us American Serbs are related by blood or kumovi – the thought of so much intermarriage would be a little too creepy. And continually going overseas for mates would be impractical.
KM: Many years ago, I did have Serb girl I was interested in, just before I went to
MP: Ooh, that Serbian girl must have kicked herself later! (laughing.)
KM: Oh, I don’t know. (laughing)
MP: But it couldn’t have been easy for you and your wife in the early days; especially back in the 1930’s when you two married –a Serbian boy and a Jewish girl were an unlikely pair back then.
KM: Well, Mona & I just never really discussed religion; that she was Jewish and I was Serbian Orthodox. We were both actors. That was so much of our life. We had met at the Goodman Theater in
MP: I could understand how you two got together, but reading your book, you and your wife went through some very hard times together –long periods (years) of unemployment, having to live with her family, and then her having to live with some people who weren’t very nice to her while you were in the Army. Any one of those things could have put a lot of pressure on a marriage, let alone all of them. Especially when your wife was living with people who “measured her bathwater” and “how much she peeled off the potatoes” while you were in the Army -- I don’t understand how she didn’t run out the door screaming – I know that I would have.
KM: Well, actually she did. This friend of mine who was a mentor to me in
MP: Well, from what I have read and now meeting her, you truly have an extraordinary wife. And she gave up her acting career for you, too.
KM: Well, as an actress, Mona understood what we were getting into back then with this career of mine. But every once in a while when she is in a good mood she still teases that “The theater just doesn’t know what it missed when it lost me!”
MP: And I believe that it is true. And you got one hell of a wife in the bargain!
Karl Malden Interview
Part II of II
This February, the Screen Actors Guild will present him with their highest honor -- the “Lifetime Achievement Award” – a fact that I had to discover from CNN and not from him;
I never heard a word from him about the multitude of other prestigious awards he had been given (besides the Oscar) not only for his acting, but also for his humanitarian work -- with recognition coming from groups as diverse as the County of Los Angeles, the International Foreign Press Association and the University of Judaism;
He also never mentioned to me the Scholarship Fund he set up & funded in his father’s name through the Serbian Singing Federation. His father Petar Sekulovich had been the SSF’s first president;
Nor did he breathe a word about the hundreds-of-thousand- of-dollars he had donated over the years to his original home church in
And yet to date, no Serb-American organization has ever granted him a single award or special recognition –but I never heard even the slightest grumble about it from him.
Instead, for better or worse, Karl Malden wanted to honestly share whatever knowledge, and personal experience that he had acquired over the years to help Serb-Americans move forward into the future. It s this honesty, humility and faith in us, that will always distinguish Karl Malden as one of the most memorable and admirable human beings that I have ever had the privilege to meet.
KM: In the last few years, I have had a lot of time to sit up in my office above the garage and think – some of the mistakes I have made, how lucky I have been, and some things that were gained by just plain sweat.
You know, I started in the theater in 1937. And in 1972, a TV project came along called “The Streets of
MP: With “The Streets of
KM: Yes, with “The Streets of
MP: It was a little different for us, because for years Serb-Americans always used to point at you in every movie and say, “He’s ours!”
KM: Yes, when I won the Oscar (for “Streetcar Named Desire”), all the Serbs were saying to my father (in Serbian) Our Mladen – “jedno nase” (one of ours) -- won the Oscar!” And my father responded to me, “Oh yes, because you won the Oscar you are “nase” (ours), but if you were sent to prison, you’d only be Petar Sekulovic’s kid!” Dad was right. Our people often show a bad trait of loving you when you succeed and disowning you when you fail.
MP: Are you talking about the TV show “Skag”?
KM: Yes. Even after all these years, when I think about it, it still hurts.
I got the original script for “Skag” from Brad Dexter (another Serb-American) and it had the part of a Polish steelworker in it. I read it, called Brad and said, “Yes, I am interested, but, Brad, why in the hell can’t we make this character be a Serb? I could speak Serbian; we could go to a
But, when the movie was aired, that same committee said, “How dare you portray us in this way? There are no Serbian families like that! You have a lot of nerve!” And just what was I supposed to say to them? “Didn’t you do your job and read the script before we shot the film? And just where was the surprise for you?” They successfully disowned it all and blamed it all on me because I was the most visible target – yet they had no problems at all with getting nicely paid for it.
MP: Well, I think that there was a lot of miscommunication about the film and the TV show in the general Serbian community before it ever aired. I recall hearing up in
KM: Well, that’s probably true, but this was the first time on TV anyone had seen the inside of a
MP: Of course it can. But there is that “Serbian pride” that doesn’t allow us to think that we might be subject to the same family problems as everyone else – even in a mixed marriage, like the characters in the show.
KM: But we do have the same problems, don’t we? We aren’t immune. A positive way to deal with problems would be to see them as “opportunities”. We, as a people, really need to learn that.
Some years back, I recall a plan that a local Roman Catholic Church had. When some of their immigrant kids weren’t doing well in school, the parents would tell the parish priest. This priest had organized college-educated volunteer tutors from the parish to help the immigrant kids a couple of hours a week until their grades improved. Why can’t we do that with our new immigrant Serb kids? I am sure the parents of those kids could use this kind of help and it is a way to bring these families to the church – some perhaps for the first time in their lives. New parishioners!
And there is another wish I have had for the last twenty years, not for me because I won’t live to see it, but for meeting the needs of our people – a Serbian old-folks home. When my father needed a place, my brother
My mother was originally Roman Catholic. She had gone to
MP: Did you spend much time around Serbs or at church after you grew up? I know that it couldn’t be simple “blending in” at church after you became well-known.
KM: Well, I do have a reputation and it’s true. I could go anywhere and nobody would notice or bother me – no dark glasses, no disguises, walked straight in and no one recognized me. But if I was with Marlon or Monty Cliff or even, Jimmy Cagney, this “anonymity” meant I was always the guy who had to go out and hail the taxi.
MP: Yes, I could imagine that you’d be the familiar face that would take people a little while to place. And in that few seconds it would take to figure out that you weren’t just the neighbor down the block, you’d be gone.
KM: That’s exactly it.
But, there was no Serbian Orthodox church in NY when I got married in 1938. Yet, when I was “greeted by the government” and joined the Army in the forties, the place that they picked me up was right in front of the then-newly consecrated Serbian Orthodox Cathedral that I didn’t even know was there. I tried to get in that morning, but it was locked. After I came back from the Army, I was there every Sunday with Shukie (Father Dusan Shukletovic).
MP: Oh, wow, Shukie! He married my parents, baptized my brother and later married him. By the time I was old enough to get married, he had passed away. He was “a real character”.
KM: He was indeed “a character”, but he was also a good priest. He knew how to handle the young people. I knew him from both
KM: I was never his altar boy, but I was for Father Stijacic – another man who my father knew before he became a priest. Whenever they needed an altar boy, I hear, “Mladene! Moras! (You must!)” I did a full two years as an altar boy, plus filled in whenever I was needed.
MP: Well, my husband was an altar boy in the NYC Cathedral when you used to come to church. He said that you would come in, stand in the back and not try to make a fuss, but as an altar boy he got see everyone come in first. Yul Brynner also used to come to St. Sava’s in NYC.
KM: Yes, I saw him, too. In NYC, I used to live not far from St. Sava’s Cathedral. On Sundays, I’d take Mila (his daughter) and we would come to church. She was very young back then and when the Liturgy started, she’d say “Brigadoon! Brigadoon!” That was her favorite musical record, so any music that she liked became “Brigadoon!” back then.
MP: Did you ever see the Serbian plays that they put on NYC? My Dad acted in a few of them.
KM: Not in NYC. But my own father used to put on Serbian plays in
In the old days, father & Glisho Rapajic used to plan as to how to present our culture to people -- not our politics. When politics took over, we lost a lot.
MP: I know in a lot of your movies, and in the “The Streets of
KM: It just happened one day while filming “On the Waterfront”. The gangsters were going on trial and Gadge (Director, Elia Kazan) said that he was missing a few names for the gangsters, so he asked me if he could use my name, “Sekulovich” and I said, “Sure”. So when they call these guys to trial in the movie, you hear “Sekulovich”. And I thought, “That’s nice”, so that is where it started. And from there on, I tried to put a character named “Sekulovich” in every picture I was in.
MP: I heard that there was a little problem with your father and “The Birdman of
KM: Oh, yes. I couldn’t find a place to use the name “Sekulovich” anywhere else in that film, so I used it for the name of one of the prisoners. Well, my father came to me very upset and said (in Serbian), “I am going to tell you right now, Mladen, there has never ever been “a Sekulovich” in jail ever— ever (nikada)!”
MP: (Laughter) That’s too funny! That good old Serbian pride!
KM: Yes, my father had a lot of that. Do you know that he also gave some priests their start? When my dad first came to this country, he met a man named Mrvchin in
Many years later, the older Father Mrvchin wrote my father a letter telling him that Vlado was going to NYC to leave for
Luckily, we have a very good priest here at St. Steven’s now (Father Nicholas Ceko), too. You know what he did? He told my therapist that he had some Holy Water from Ostrog to help me with the problem with my eyes. The eyes themselves are fine, but the muscles around them have weakened. So when I went to church he came to me before the service and blessed my eyes with the Holy Water. Just the fact that he thought of me and did this for me was so kind. He is a good man and a good priest.
MP: Forgive me, but when you were talking about Elia Kazan earlier, he sounded like a very interesting character (Director, Elia Kazan, who has since passed away, was alive at this time of this interview).
KM: Oh, he is – and the most talented director I ever worked for. If he were to hire you right now, he’d take you out to lunch or for a walk in the park and ask you all kinds of questions, like “why did you marry him?” or “who is your best friend and why?” And before you’d know it, you’d be telling him your whole life story.
MP: There was a time when theater actors looked down on doing film. And not so long ago, there was also a time when film actors looked down on doing TV.
KM: Oh yes, all my friends in NYC in the theater thought it was ridiculous for us to come here, but the work was here in Los Angeles and I went to where the work was.
I moved into this house over forty years ago. When I wanted to make the move from NYC, a dear friend, who used to live a few doors down, told me about this house & we bought it -- Richard Widmark. Both of our families spent many Christmases here together. But now Dick is old and he lives in
MP: Did it ever dawn on you, how did I ever get here -- get to be such “a celebrity”?
KM: Not in that way. Mona & I have sat in bed many times and said to each other, “Did you ever think we would get to know so many brilliant people?”
MP: And be part of so many great pieces of work.
KM: Yes, we have really been pretty lucky. We’ve been very lucky.
MP: Well, having a tremendous talent didn’t hurt either. But I know that when I lived in LA and studied acting here, there were some really good actors --most everyone here was reasonably good to great --but out of that group, only a handful made any living at it – and not even the best necessarily made it.
KM: Yes, I can’t tell you how many people from the Goodman Theater who Mona & I know, who are still reading for parts. That’s the problem –you get hooked, really hooked and can’t walk away. There were many times in NYC when I said, “I’ve had it. I’ve done so many roles and they still don’t know who I am. I am still knocking on doors and being told come back in a month. I am too healthy and strong to waste this time waiting forever. I have energy. I am going home to work in the steel mills and at least when I come home, I’ll be physically tired.” But Mona stopped me. She said, “What are you, crazy? Together, we are going to do this. You just keep on doing what you are doing and whatever happens will happen.” She knew the business; she understood what it took, even when many times I was discouraged enough to quit.
MP: I watched you in the “
KM: What happened, was when we ran through that scene Steve McQueen took me by surprise and literally slammed me into the door. I was shocked. I could have easily gone through the door, but luckily it was a strong door. He apologized for it and said he would try not to hurt me, but he didn’t know any other way to play it right, so I said, “OK. Do it”. What you didn’t see in the shot, because they cut it, was my foot up hitting the door before I did. So that kept me there, on one foot, until I moved away. Funny, I haven’t thought of that for years --you are the first person to ask me about that scene ever, and I have been asked about a lot of scenes in a lot of movies. There were many things I had to do in films that were frightening, but luckily I had wonderful stunt men and stand-ins.
MP: You did an episode of “The West Wing” a couple of years ago. Are you still planning to work here and there?
KM: No. I am done. I didn’t retire from acting -- I just plain quit! I tried to quit the US Stamp Committee, too, but they refused to accept my resignation.
MP: Tell me about the Stamp Committee.
KM: The Stamp Committee is comprised of fifteen people from all walks of life. I represent the Arts. Digger Phelps, the retired basketball coach for Notre Dame, represents Sports, and there are Architects, Painters, and Doctors, Teachers & Design people. We get together three times a year for two days, and we pick stamps.
Digger Phelps and I were actually against producing the Elvis Presley stamp, for several reasons; we didn’t feel that he was a good representation of the entertainment industry or a good role model for kids. But it passed anyway, and you know what happened? That Elvis stamp made more money than any other stamp ever printed! So Digger & I looked at each other and said. “Just how wrong can you get?!!!” I also voted against the Marilyn Monroe stamp for similar reasons – plus she really was never an actress, anyway. But I did recommend Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, Alfred Lunt & Lynn Fontaine (half the committee didn’t know who Lunt & Fontaine were!). I recommended Betty Davis, who will be on a stamp soon. You have to be dead ten years before you can be on a stamp, unless you are the president of the
MP: And also the work you did for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, as president.
KM: I told you that I don’t want to talk about myself. But you are making me do it anyway, aren’t you? (Smiling)
MP: You bet! Remember, I am the boss!
KM: Yes, ma’am!
That Academy job was the most frightening work that I ever did. Really scary, but I finally figured, what do I have to lose?
I became president of the Academy and the first thing that came up was a remodel on the theater. There were springs coming up through those damn seats. Immediately, I got “let’s change the seats” –they voted on it and passed it. Then the design department says, “If you are going to change the seats, then you have to change the rugs to match – but, if you do that, then you also have to change the curtain to match the new seats & the new rugs.” Before you know it, we decided to completely remodel the whole theater. So we tore out two rows of seats to increase the apron so we could put a band up there if we wanted. I asked, what is this going to cost? They said $7 million to redo the whole theater. So I asked if we had it. The answer was yes -- but not a penny more.
Then I asked the Foundation what was being done about the new Academy Film Library. And the answer was nothing. It had been about three or four years since we decided on that, but no one had talked about it since. So I told the president that he had to start fundraising to move forward on it, but he insisted that I come with him I told him that I wasn’t good at asking for money -- I get too embarrassed -- but he said that he wouldn’t do it if I didn’t do it. So I started fundraising, and at the end of three years we had $12M for the new Film Library.
We bought the
I said, “Buddy when this is done we are going to have no money in the bank at all! Do you understand the term, broke?”
But the proudest thing that I ever did was to help create the Academy Library and it is the best film library in the country. Right now, if you were doing a show on Cary Grant and needed film on him, the Library would gather all they had on Cary Grant and have it waiting for you to view in a day or two. Before this, we were storing most of our film in warehouses all over town and on the fourth floor of the
DP: Amazing! Do you still have projects that you look forward to doing?
KM: I am trying to find a new project. I don’t really want to teach, I have done that (at seven universities and colleges). I don’t know how good I am as an acting teacher, but I do know that I can excite them about the theater and film, and how to work --that I know how to do.
My father was never a professional actor, but he acted in and directed Serbian plays here in the
I remember my dad giving me the best piece of direction I ever had when I was getting my start at the Goodman Theater. It was: to read the script several times through to understand why the author wrote that script; to read only my part to discover why my character was in this script and what he contributed; and finally, when I “became the character”, to figure out how to make this character honestly interesting to the audience so they didn’t fall asleep. At the Goodman, the instruction was virtually the same as what Dad had said, but with different terminology. Dad had a real instinct for theater, so maybe acting is just in my genes -- if you believe in that sort of thing.
MP: How are you feeling these days?
KM: A few years ago, I woke up one morning and couldn’t open my eyes although I was fully awake. I was that way for about eight months and I didn’t know what to do. I thought I was going crazy, but I discovered that I have myasthenia gravis – something that affects the muscles. Some people get it in their legs or their arms, at a much younger age than this; mine affects my head and neck. I get tired, my head just drops. In desperation during those eight months, I told my internist that I don’t care where you have to go to find someone to help me, but just find something somewhere. Even if I could see with just one eye, it would be OK, I’d be happy – because there is nothing wrong with my sight, just the muscles that around my eyes that are affected by this disease. Three or four days later, he sent me to a plastic surgeon right next door who said that he could help me by giving me an eye-lift, making it easier to open my eyes. It was out-patient surgery and he did both my eyes with a little tape-like spring. That was a year ago, and he said that I should come back in six months, so I am due to go back. But this is my face now.
MP: And you still look like yourself, but a little older. You made me laugh on the phone when you said that you don’t look like you did fifteen years ago. Who does? I’d like to look like I did fifteen years ago, too! Find me the secret!
KM: (Laughing) Yes, that’s true -- and what “a secret” that would be!
But, beyond what I have told you, my physical therapist still keeps telling me that I am strong as an ox. So, at ninety-one years old, that’s too not bad, is it?
MP: No, that is not too bad at all!
Thank You, Mr. Malden! On behalf of all Serb-Americans, you have made us prouder than you will ever know!
Photo courtesy of Mark Milich
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