The voice sobbing on the phone was my oldest surviving friend, Vincent Lovecraft, my co-star in so many movies, always as the lustful villain who swore at me again and again his timeless catch-phrase: "Love me - or die!" But now he wasn't threatening me; he was trying through tears to ask me, "Where were you when you heard about - about - [sob] about GS?"
No need for him to say more. I knew he meant Gale Storm, the Queen of Com, everyone's Little Margie, the Greatest Entertainer of the 20th Century. All humans will remember where they were and what they were doing when they first heard Gale Storm had died. ("I was reading Tallulah Morehead's column on The Huffington Post" many will answer.) I was leaning out my window to holler rude things at the helicopters circling around the house next door, which had been Gale Storm's house 50 years ago. That was when I saw the lines of thousands of fans carrying flowers, and holding signs saying things like "R.I.P. Little Margie," and "No Susanna," while the current residents of the house yelled back "Who the hell is Gale Storm?" in a vain attempt to cheer everyone up. No use. Gale was gone with the wind. And I'd never returned that cup of vodka I'd borrowed from her in 1962.
All Sunday and Monday, there was no escaping Gale's death TV coverage. I remember one adorable 10-year-old girl, sitting on a curb, sobbing out to a reporter the words, "I'd only just begun to recover from the shock of Zazu Pitts's untimely death 36 years before I was born, and now this pulls the scab off of that scar."
I enjoyed Fox on Monday rerunning American Idol's March episode from "Gale Storm Week." Touching as Kris Smith was singing Why Do Fools Fall in Love?, and as blatantly self-contradictory as Danny Gokey's cover of Memories Are Made of This was, the moment that brought Gale back to me most vividly was Adam Lambert's Heavy Metal take on Teenage Prayer.
So now, when in years in the future I am repeatedly asked "What were you doing when you heard that Karl Malden had died?" I will answer, "I was crying up a Storm." In my grief and horror, I tired calling the one man who could always make me smile again, no matter how sad I was, but for some reason, Fred Travelena hasn't returned my calls.
Karl, Karl, Karl. He was The Greatest Actor of All Time, The King of Perp. How many of us spent our childhoods watching Karl get his heart broken by Blanche DuBois, and then playing a succession of crusading urban priests and hard-bitten cops? We all fell in love to Karl hollering sermons at us in Pollyanna, we first experienced sexual awakening watching Karl get waterlogged riding logs through water in Cinerama in the shooting-the-rapids sequence in How the West Was Won, and we first realized that TV drama in the 1970s was truely silly watching Karl collar "perps" as the raw rookie working with the grizzled old veteran cop-nearing-retirement played by Michael Douglas on The Streets of San Francisco. How I treasured that T-Shirt I bought in the lobby when I saw Karl in A Streetcar Named Desire, the one that said, "My Mom Got Poked by Marlon Brando, and all I got was dumped by Karl Malden."
And yet now, from out of the blue, comes Karl's sudden, unforeseeable, tragic death at the ridiculously young age of 97. Why? How could Karl be dead? That's all anyone on TV have been asking for hours now. Who is responsible for the tragic death of Karl Malden?
We are! We all are. And by "we," I mean you! You all killed Karl Malden! Yes, all of you. Yes, you too. Get back with the others.
The man who brought happiness to every person on earth was so hounded by his overwhelming fame, he couldn't stick his nose out the door of his compound/private-amusement park, Skagland, without the paparazzi that were camped outside 24/7/52 for the last 40 years setting off strobe-lights in his face, while his jealousy-ridden detractors screamed at him, "Show us your schnoz, big nose!" This is your fault! You haters who hounded him. (He didn't do it!), and you fans who wouldn't leave him a moment to himself.
We all heard the rumors, about Karl getting endless plastic surgeries to enlarge his ever-expanding proboscis, about the giant-nosed men invited to Skagland for the night, who all left with bandaged faces and huge financial settlements, while Karl's nose grew ever bigger. No one has discredited the tale of terror told by Jimmy Durante of his one night at Skagland, just days before his own mysterious death.
And then there was the mockery directed towards his four children, all created via parthenogenesis: his daughter Le Havre Malden, and his three sons, Prince Karl Malden, Another Prince Karl Malden, and the youngest, Still Another Prince Karl Malden, affectionately known as "Coverlet." So what if they're all older than Karl? Is it a crime to be older than Karl Malden? Unlikely? Sure. But not a crime! Who will get custody of those poor, elderly kids now?
Perhaps the saddest of the millions of fans lining up outside Skagland are the children, some as young as 50, who bought tickets to the 250-concert tour he was going to be doing starting next month in Detroit, Karl Malden Unplugged: Nothing to Sniff At, in which Karl would hector his audiences with some of the greatest stern sermons, turgid lectures, and over-the-top jeremiads in literature. Who was it who forced Karl to do another tour when his years of abusing antihistamines had left him too weak to even sniffle, or do his trademark "Perpwalk"? We, that is, you.
I hope you're happy now, America. Cheers, darlings.
To read more of Tallulah Morehead, go to
The Morehead the Merrier.