Question: Who were the stars on the TV show The Streets of San Francisco?
Televisionary: Karl Malden was the "name" star in the police drama, which ran on ABC from September 1972 to June 1977, and Michael Douglas was the unknown kid with the famous dad (Kirk, for you newcomers to TV and film). And a fitting match they were to play street-educated Det. Mike Stone (Malden) and college-boy Inspector Steve Keller (Douglas). (For the record, Douglas left the show and was replaced by a pre-Battlestar Galactica Richard Hatch's Inspector Dan Robbins in 1976, but I find the Malden-Douglas comparison to be far more interesting, so I'll just ignore poor Apollo.)
At the time the show debuted, Malden, born Mladen Sekulovich, was a film veteran who'd worked his way up from an impoverished working-class background and a stint in the rust-belt steel mills to critical acclaim for his theater work in A Streetcar Named Desire and a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for its film version. Douglas, for his part, was the rich son of a Hollywood legend who'd had it easy — and knew it. ("He's had to work and struggle from the time he was nine years old," the actor told TV Guide of his dad in 1974. "Because of what he did, I went to prep school and owned a motorcycle and lived three years in a commune before I decided to work.")
It's not like the differences weren't easy to spot, either. For starters, Malden sported the leather-tough face of a consummate character actor. And then there was the schnozz, which defined him. "It's broken in two places. From playing basketball," he said in 1975. "If you want to know why I've never been a star, look at me. Is this a leading man? I've been asked many times to have my nose fixed. Several times I almost did. Who knows what might have happened?"
Who knows, indeed? But Malden embraced his non-leading-man mug and it served him well, as he readily admitted. "When I was younger, I hid behind a lot of make-up. But the older we character guys get, the less we need it. Unlike leading men. When I was making How the West Was Won, I used to kid Jimmy Stewart because he was wearing a hairpiece to make him look younger and I was wearing one to make me look older."
One factoid about the Malden-Douglas history is worth noting: When Malden and actress wife Mila were appearing in summer stock, an apprentice named Isadore Demsky joined the company and was looking to change his handle to something a bit more actor-y. Mila suggested the first name Kirk.
And among the more interesting and prophetic quotes I dug up while researching this answer (okay, so I have to look stuff up), was this gem from young Douglas, who was in a relationship with actress Brenda Vaccaro at the time but was already having a tough time with the concept of commitment. "I'd like to spend all my life with one person," he said, "but that seems very difficult these days. You meet so many other people — on planes and trains, in cities and countries all over the world. Focusing on an individual isn't as easy as it was in the past."