In Memory of Karl Malden 1912 – 2009 R.I.P.


Th great Oscar-winning actor Karl Maden died today. He is remembered for being a fine character actor.  Charles Gibson, the ABC news anchor, just quoted Malden as saying he was the only actor in Hollywood whose nose qualified him for handicapped parking.

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According the the IMDB, his last role was as a Catholic priest, Fr. Thomas Cavanaugh, former pastor to President Bartlett (Martin Sheen) in The West Wing episode #14, “Take this Sabbath Day” in 2000. He was called in by Bartlett for counsel about whether or not to commute the death penalty of a prisoner. It remains one of my favorite episodes of all time, both from the series, and from television. Whenever you doubt that television can be and is, sometimes, art, watch this episode again.

I just spoke with Fr. Willy Raymond at Family Theater and he said that Karl Malden was a Catholic. [July 2: I later received an unsigned notice saying that Karl Malden’s mother was a Catholic who then converted to the Serbian Orthodox faith of her husband and that Malden was also Serbian Orthodox… though this really doesn’t matter or change the fact that Karl Malden was a fine artist, married to his wife for more than 70 years and father of two, etc.] 

Fr. Willy also told a wonderful story that he heard when Karl Malden addressed a symposium on the death penalty.

Malden told the group that when he appeared on the set to shoot that episode of The West Wing he brought with him the stole and breviary he had used in On the Waterfront – and that everyone on the set, actors, crew, assistants, etc., all went up to touch these items with reverence because of their link to this great film.

It is fascinating to think that 46 years after the film was released its hold on the popular and religious imagination remained strong.

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Father Cavanaugh: You know, you remind me of the man that lived by the river. He heard a radio report that the river was going to rush up and flood the town. And that all the residents should evacuate their homes. But the man said, ‘I’m religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.’ The waters rose up. A guy in a row boat came along and he shouted, ‘Hey, hey you! You in there. The town is flooding. Let me take you to safety.’ But the man shouted back, ‘I’m religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.’ A helicopter was hovering overhead. And a guy with a megaphone shouted, ‘Hey you, you down there. The town is flooding. Let me drop this ladder and I’ll take you to safety.’ But the man shouted back that he was religious, that he prayed, that God loved him and that God will take him to safety. Well… the man drowned. And standing at the gates of St. Peter, he demanded an audience with God. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘I’m a religious man, I pray. I thought you loved me. Why did this happen?’ God said, ‘I sent you a radio report, a helicopter, and a guy in a rowboat. What the hell are you doing here?’


Malden was the Reverend Paul Ford in Disney’s 1960 version of Pollyanna. I think people may dismiss this film as saccherine but actually it is filled with wisdom. The Reverend, and the whole town, learned a lot from Pollyanna. To his credit, the Reverend listened to her, really heard her, before anyone else.

Then who will ever forget Karl Malden as Father Barry in On the Waterfront?


Here is a link to an online article by Michael Paulson of online version of The Boston Globe:

Karl Malden recalled for priest portrayal

Here’s a link to a great story about Malden and the priest on whom his Fr. Pete Barry  character was based: Fr. John Corridan, SJ. The article is from the Jesuit magazine The Company:  The Waterfront Priest by James Fisher 2003.

Fr. Barry quotes from On the Waterfront:

Father Barry: Some people think the Crucifixion only took place on Calvary. Well, they better wise up!

Father Barry: You want to know what’s wrong with our waterfront? It’s the love of a lousy buck. It’s making love of a buck – -the cushy job – -more important than the love of man!

Terry: If I spill, my life ain’t worth a nickel.
Father Barry: And how much is your soul worth if you don’t?

Father Barry: Isn’t it simple as one, two, three? One: The working conditions are bad. Two: They’re bad because the mob does the hiring. And three: The only way we can break the mob is to stop letting them get away with murder.

Father Barry: Some people think the Crucifixion only took place on Calvary. Well, they better wise up!

Father Barry: You want to know what’s wrong with our waterfront? It’s the love of a lousy buck. It’s making love of a buck – -the cushy job – -more important than the love of man!

As already mentioned, Karl Malden had an intersting pop culture link with the Catholic Church. He portrayed priests but the 1956 film “Baby Doll”, in which he had a lead role, was condemned by the Legion of Decency for “carnal suggestiveness.”

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Karl Malden, interestingly enough, grew up in Gary, Indiana. He was married to his wife, Mona Greenburg, for more than 70 years.  What a wonderful legacy to leave the world – a life of art and integrity.

Karl Malden Bio Wikipedia

Karl Malden Internet Movie Database

Karl Malden Obituary YahooNews

War on Error: Real Stories of American Muslims by Melody Moezzi


When I was at the University of Dayton (working at the Institute for Pastoral initiatives for the online media literacy course a couple of weeks ago I visited the university book store. While it is a typical college bookstore (though one of the better ones, I think) I found a section of books by local authors. Melody Moezzi’s book looked – and is – very appealing.

For a contemporary American writer, Moezzi excells in combining humor, self-reflection, and an open, long-sentence narrative style.  She never rambles but sometimes she can leave you breathless. I felt like she wrote the book in a hurry!

Moezzi begins with her own story: an American-born child of Iranian parents who were skeptical of all religion.  Her life, as with the other 11 people she interviews in the book, were changed by 9/11. She focuses on how American Muslims, mostly born here, or who converted here to Islam (or are on their journey to becoming Muslim), or fallen away, find themselves and identify themselves as Americans.

What the author offers is clarity about Islam. She elicits from these friends, relatives, or acquaintances their perspectives about Islam and why they reject extremism; why extremism is illogical to Muslims. These people are informed, well-educated,  and some have suffered as a result of 9/11 because they follow Islam.

They were also typical American college students….

Moezzi’s wit is most noticeable when she describes how “American” these people are, or how they become American or are Americans that became Muslim. She is also very good at unmasking all the stereotypes about Middle Easterners. Not all Arabs are Muslim, for example. Many are Christian, many are Jewish (outside of Israel; although the Persian Jewish population, for example, is mostly in the diaspora). Iranians are not Arabic; they are Persian. People in the Middle East are not all the same, nor are their children who were born in the USA.

She also describes the essence of Islam and lets the interviewees say why terrorism is not part of it.

I did not get the feeling I was reading a book of Islamic apologetics, however. The book is too wry and sometimes poignant for that. I feel like I know more about Islam today. For example, The Five Pillars. At first glance the Pillars seem like a check-list of things to do to be a good Muslim, that these Pillars don’t require that a person grow and change spiritually and as a human being. But when there is authentic theology, the Pillars do provide a way of life that can be good for the person and the world. The lack of Islamic scholarship in the Middle East is probably the biggest challenge to Islam today. At least one of the interviewees also notes how U.S. policies often have not helped the people of the Middle East to set aside violence and strive for peace – yet none of those interviewed want to leave the US; they are Americans. They want to find a way to go forward as Americans of Middle Eastern descent (except for two who converted) who practice Islam to varying degrees.

I enjoyed reading this book for the insight and information it provides; for the way it invited me to walk in the shoes of someone else for awhile.

Dayton can be proud of this hometown author (who is also a lawyer and a journalist) and her work.

(For your homework, look up the Five Pillars of Islam).

War on Error: Real Stories of American Muslims

by Melody Moezzi

University of Arkansas Press, 2007

ISBN 10: 1-55728-855-0