Karl Malden: The Hazards of Being in the Spotlight by Tony Piazza
Did you know that KARL MALDEN actually got death threats because of that American Express commercial he did years ago? Some disgruntle user of American Express sent the company letters with inflammatory language and quite blatantly announced that they would like to kill the actor who said, “Don’t leave home without it!” We had gotten word on the set of “The Streets of San Francisco” and security was immediately beefed up. I could see the difference when I reported on location that morning…enough that it caused me to ask questions. I learned however that quite frankly from the start they were not taking it too seriously. Karl was alerted and didn’t seem too worried. Nevertheless they had to go through the motions. It seems this has happened before. In fact threats like these happened more often then one would think. It is pretty much understood by all concerned that if a celebrity becomes identified with a product, and that product doesn’t for some reason come up to the standards of the consumer, that celebrity would become the focus of their anger. And regarding the threat; it is usually the person who doesn’t advertise his or her intentions that are far more dangerous than those who do. Nine times out of ten the others are just blowing off steam. That was fortunately the situation in this case, and after a few days everyone relaxed on the set.
Unfortunately, not all situations such as this have happy endings. Crazed fans have cost the lives of a number of celebrities. John Lennon instantly comes to mind, as does Selena and the actress Rebecca Schaffer. Marla Hanson, model was attacked and her face sliced in 1986 by two men hired by her landlord because she shunned his sexual advances. In recent years we’ve also read of stalkers who hound the stars with strange fan mail, or invade their privacy by trespassing on their property or following them running errands- Letterman being an example. And then there is the paparazzi, chasing after them for those valuable photographs. They were responsible for the Lady Diana tragedy. It makes you wonder whether fame is really worth it. If being in the spotlight is all that it’s cracked up to be.
Tony Piazza is author of the 1930s Hollywood murder mystery novel, “Anything Short of Murder,” which had its roots on the TCM fan website. His next novel, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” was released early 2012 and is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. He was an actor/extra during the 1970s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden. His non-fiction e-book “Bullitt Points” is an in depth look at the making of “Bullitt” from a person who was there. Look for it where fine books are sold, or at the link posted below. All profits go to the BoysRepubliccharity: www.bullittpoints.com.