Wednesday, July 1, 2009

R.I.P., Harve Presnell and Karl Malden (and updated, Mollie Sugden)

I remember a few months ago when a spate of celebrities seemed to be shuffling off this mortal coil in rapid succession, and my friend Scott Clevenger ended up pleading: “Death…take a holiday, already!” That sentiment crossed my mind a few minutes ago when I read a quick blurb from Tom Sutpen that actor-singer Harve Presnell has gone on to his rich reward at the age of 75…with Academy Award-winning actor Karl Malden close at his heels, dead at 97.

Modern day moviegoers will remember Presnell as Wade Gustafson, the hard-assed father-in-law of William H. Macy’s hapless Jerry Lundegaard in Joel and Ethan Coen’s jet-black comedy thriller Fargo (1996), but his career stretches even further back to a healthy career on the Broadway stage, starring in productions of Annie and The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Unfortunately for baritone Presnell, the golden age of movie musicals had entered a severe state of decline by the time he got a firm footing in the business, yet he did manage to make his mark in the film version of The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) and outshone the large cast of non-singers in Paint Your Wagon (1969), in which he sang They Call the Wind Mariah. His other film performances include The Whole Wide World (1996), The Chamber (1996), Face/Off (1997), Saving Private Ryan (1998; in which he played General George C. Marshall), The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), The Family Man (2000) and Old School (2003).

As a young sprout, I’d always ask my father as we prepared to go on vacation if he was carrying American Express traveler’s checks…only because the stern gentleman with the W.C. Fields-nose was always reminding folks on TV to “never leave home without them.” That individual was, of course, actor Karl Malden—whose film credits resume reaches to the moon and back, giving such memorable performances in features like Boomerang! (1947), Kiss of Death (1947), The Gunfighter (1950), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951; the role that nabbed him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), I Confess (1953), On the Waterfront (1954), Baby Doll (1956), One-Eyed Jacks (1961), Patton (1970) and Wild Rovers (1971). (I know, tip of the iceberg…these are just my personal favorites.) Malden also made his mark in television history with his starring role (alongside Michael Douglas) in ABC-TV’s The Streets of San Francisco, a popular crime drama that was seen from 1972 to 1977. (I also enjoyed watching his short-lived effort, Skag, an enjoyably real drama about the life of a Pittsburgh steel mill foreman who’s forced to retire upon experiencing a crippling stroke.)

R.I.P, Messrs. Presnell and Malden. Thanks for the fine performances, for you shall surely be missed.

Update: A personage on Facebook mentioned that British comic actress Mollie Sugden passed away today also, at the age of 86. Does the Great Beyond have a quota they need to meet? R.I.P, Mollie (a.k.a. Mrs. Slocombe).


Mike said...

So sad to see such icons like Malden leave us. He was a tremendous talent and a generous person.

And Presnell, too?

I agree with your friend Scott!

- Mike

Kliph Nesteroff said...

Well if we're leaving the United States then Jan Rubes died this week too, if that means anything to anybody.

Edward Copeland said...

It's become clear that a serial killer is knocking off celebrities.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Kliph -- had I been aware of Rubes' passing, I would have certainly included him on the list. I remember him best as one of the villains in Dead of Winter (1987).

Brent McKee said...

I've always tended to regard Harve Presnell as sort of a poor man's Howard Keel, and never really held him highly as a singer.

I don't know if I'm more shocked to hear that Jan Rubes had died or that I found out about it here (because the "quality" of the local rag means that something like this gets reported when they get around to it - and there is a shocking lack of round to its locally). Rubes was an opera singer, broadcaster and actor and nationally rated senior athlete. I remember him well as the medical examiner on Due South but he had many great character roles including Santa Claus in One Magic Christmas.