Thursday, July 2, 2009

Karl Malden and Mollie Sudgen Pass On

Karl Malden

Oscar and Emmy winning actor Karl Malden has passed yesterday. He has appeared in such films I Confess, Baby Doll, and Birdman of Alacatraz, as well as the TV series The Streets of San Francisco. He was 97 years old.

Karl Malden was born Mladen Sekulovich in Chicago on March 22, 1912. When he was five his family moved to Gary, Indiana. Until he was in kindergarten, Malden's primary language was Serbian and he spoke very little English. His father would produce plays for local churches and Serbian organisations, in which young Malden sometimes appeared. In high school he both played basketball and participated in the drama club. After graduating from Emerson High School he worked the steel mills in Gary, Indiana. After three years he enrolled in the Goodman School of Drama at the Art Institute of Chicago.

After graduation and a period during which he worked as a milkman in Gary, Malden left for New York City. There he met Elia Kazan and Harold Clurman, then with the Group Theatre. He made his debut in the play Golden Boy on Broadway in 1937. In the Forties and the Fifties Malden would be a regular on the Broadway stage, although some of the early plays in which he appeared lasted less than a month. He appeared in such plays as Key Largo, Winged Victory, A Streetcar Named Desire, Peer Gynt, and The Desperate Hours. He also appeared occasionally on radio. During World War II Malden was stationed in the States in the Army Air Forces.

Karl Malden made his film debut in 1940 in the film They Knew What They Wanted. He reprised his role as Adams in the movie version of Winged Victory. He appeared in the classic film noir Kiss of Death, The Gunfighter, and Halls of Montezuma. In 1951 he reprised his role as Mitch Mitchell in A Streetcar Named Desire. For the part he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. A Streetcar Named Desire launched Malden on a very successful career in the Fifties and Sixties. He appeared in such films as On the Waterfront, Ruby Gentry, I Confess, Baby Doll, The Great Impostor, Birdman of Alacatraz, Billion Dollar Brain, and Patton.

Even though he is well known today in his role on The Streets of San Francisco, Karl Malden did not appear frequently on television. In 1950 he guest starred on an episode of Armstrong Circle Theatre and in the Omnibus adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire in 1955. Afterwards he would be absent from television until taking his role as Lt. Mike Stone in The Streets of San Francisco. He would later star in the series Skag. He made a guest appearance on the TV show The West Wing in 2000. He also appeared in a number of television movies.

Karl Malden's career slowed in the Seventies. Appearing in various telefilms, he appeared less frequently on the big screen than he had previously. From the Seventies into the Naughts he appeared in the films Il gatto a nove code, Wild Rovers, Un verano para matar, Meteor, Twilight Time, and The Sting II.

In addition to the Oscar he won for A Streetcar Named Desire, he also won several Emmys, four of them for Streets of San Francisco.

Quite simply, Karl Malden was one of the greatest actors of our time. He played a wide variety of roles and played all of them well. He played a priest in On the Waterfront. He played a police inspector in I Confess. He played a sex crazed older man with a teenage wife in Baby Doll. He played General Omar Bradley in Patton. The roles were vastly different, and yet he did all of them extremely well. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Karl Malden is that he did not win more awards. Regardless, he will be remembered.

Mollie Sudgen

Mollie Sudgen, best known for playing Mrs. Slocombe on Are You Being Served, passed Tuesday at the age of 86. She had been in hospital with a long illness.

Mollie Sudgen was born in Keighley, Yorkshire on July 21, 1922. She developed a love of performing while still young. World War II started just as she graduated from school, so she went to work at a munitions factory in Keighley. After losing her job she enrolled in the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. For many years she worked in the Swansea Rep at the Grand Theatre. She made her television debut in the British series Suspense in 1962. She also made appearances that year in Benny Hill and First Night. It was also in 1962 that she received her first regular role on a TV series, as Mrs. Crispin in Hugh and I. For the next many years Sudgen was a regular on British television, appearing on such shows as Steptoe and Son, Coronation Street, Armchair Theatre, Z Cars, Jackanory, Oh, Brother, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and Up Pompeii.

It was in 1972 that she was cast as Mrs. Betty Slocombe, the head of ladies wear at Grace Brothers Department Store, Are You Being Served. Although it would go onto be regarded as a classic in the United Kingdom and its Colonies, in the beginning Are You Being Served was not a phenomenal success. Airing opposite Coronation Street, it received very few viewers. When it was reran later that year, however, its audience increased dramatically. There were times in the United Kingdom when the show received around 22 million viewers.

Even while on Are You Being Served, Sudgen appeared on other shows. She appeared on Son of the Bride, Love Thy Neighbour, and Three Comedies of Marriage. After Are You Being Served ended, Sudgen starred in That's My Boy, My Husband and I, and the Are You Being Served sequel/spinoff Grace & Favour. She also became a regular on The Liver Birds. Her last appearance was on the long running The Bill in 2003.

Mollie Sudgen worked in only two movies in her career. She appeared in the movie version of Are You Being Served in 1977 and provided one of the voices in the animated adaptation of Roald Dahl's The BFG.

Much of the reason for the success of Are You Being Served was its brilliant cast, and Mollie Sudgen was one of the best in that stellar cast. Whether talking about her cat, Tiddles (which she referred to as "my pussy"), her attempts to sound posh despite traces of a very Northern accent, or her odd night life (frequenting roller rinks, discos, and, more often than not, pubs), Mrs. Slocombe was one of the most hilarious characters on a sitcom of all time. As Mrs Slocombe Mollie Sudgen made a perfect team with John Inman as Mr. Humphries, the two creating some of the most memorable moments in television comedy. Mollie Sudgen possessed a gift for comedy to such a degree that very could match. She is one of the very few actresses I can honestly say was funny in most everything in which she appeared.

1 comment:

Raquel Stecher said...

This was a very informative dual-bio on these two recently lost stars!

I didn't realize Malden had such a long career that started on stage.