The world was already sick with grief the day Karl Malden died – I think because Bazooka Joe fell off a vintage arcade machine and his head came off – but they mourned the great Malden just the same. “[He] was perhaps the ideal Everyman,” wrote The New York Times. The Guardian UK lauded his “powerhouse performances on screen.” “A consummate actor,” Eva Marie Saint told the LA Times. Some person on Twitter added, “karl malden why is your nose sooooooooooooo big.”
One part of Karl Malden that most obituaries didn’t bring up was his involvement in the shadowy Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, the group of well-connected individuals who choose what goes on your stamps. That’s a lot of power. So we can’t help but wonder what their involvement in the death of Karl Malden – who was, after all, just 97 years old – may have been.
And what was the motive? Was it jealousy over the dedication of the Karl Malden Post Office in 2005? Was Malden a threat to the philatelic status quo? Did he push too hard for that extra year of “Celebrate Kwanzaa” stamps? Or maybe it was a combination of factors that caused someone on the inside to stamp out (excellent pun there) one of the great actors – and stamp lovers – of our day.
I was intending to write this article soon after Malden’s death, and I’m glad I held off, because new evidence suggests that Karl Malden’s death may not have been due to internal Stamp Advisory politics but an anti-stamp militia intending to do harm to the entire stamp infrastructure, working from the top down! My evidence? Look who else is on the Committee:
BAILAR, BENJAMIN F.
Former Postmaster General; Postal History Stamp Collector
BRICK, CARY R.
Retired U.S. Congressional Staff; Adjunct Professor of Government and History
DE VARONA, DONNA
TV Sports Commentator; Olympic Swimming Champion; Select Director of the Board, U.S. Soccer Foundation
FIRSTENBERG, JEAN PICKER, **CHAIRPERSON
President Emerita, American Film Institute
GATES, JR., DR. HENRY LOUIS
Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research Harvard University
Information Design Strategist & Graphic Designer
Graphic Designer; Author; Senior Critic, Yale School of Art; Partner, Winterhouse Studio
HEYMAN, I. MICHAEL, **VICE CHAIRPERSON
Chancellor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley; Secretary Emeritus, Smithsonian Institution
HOTCHNER, JOHN M.
Department of State-Consular Affairs Representative; Philatelic Writer; Editor; Lecturer; and Judge; Past President of American Philatelic Society
MONDALE, JOAN A.
Patron of the Arts; Former Vice Presidential First Lady
PEDERSEN, B. MARTIN
Chief Executive Officer and Creative Director Graphis, Magazine
RODRÃGUEZ, CLARA E.
Professor of Sociology, Fordham University; Author
So less than a month after Karl Malden dies of – ahem – “natural causes”, one of his Stamp Advisory colleagues is taken into police custody. If you think it’s coincidence, you’re not paying attention.
(Incidentally, I did send a warning to Joan Mondale in the form of writing this column; unfortunately she did not feel the need to respond, possibly because the column was just published and no one seems to know if she reads this site.)
What the perpetrators want is still unclear. They may be freedom fighters, hoping to put an end to stamp tyranny and elitism. Or they may fight the Committee members so as to gain power for themselves, hoping to steer stamp design in a new direction. Maybe they want stamps to recognize the cast of TV’s “Gimme a Break,” or honor Mr. Pibb for his innovations in the field of thirst-quenching. We don’t know, and probably can’t. But the existence of a plot against the Stamp Illuminati is as clear as a well-restored print of a classic movie starring Karl Malden, a print so clear that audience members are heard to remark, “Gosh, this film is so clear now that it’s been restored. Anyone want a Raisinet?”