‘Don’t leave home without it.’
Fair warning: if you are related to Karl Malden, or are the president of his Fan Club or anything like that, you may wish to stop reading this post. Switch to the one about the silo. Or the one about Bruce Dern and the sweepstakes.
Because this is an Ad Story in which Karl is the butt (as opposed to the nose) of the joke. But he deserved it. As you will see. To mangle a phrase, ‘Hell hath no fury like a bunch of creative women dissed’.
First, a little (probably necessary) background. Karl Malden was a movie star once upon a time (terrific as Mitch in ‘Streetcar Named Desire’; good in ‘On the Waterfront’ too). But it was his run as a police detective on a TV show called ‘The Streets of San Francisco’ (with a youngster named Michael Douglas as his sidekick) that got him his looooong lucrative run as the Spokesguy for American Express Travelers’ Cheques (‘Don’t leave home without them’).
It grieves me to realize that I just explained who the hell Karl Malden was and now I have to explain ‘travelers’ cheques’. (Do they even make travelers’ cheques anymore?) Anyway, travelers’ cheques were these things you’d get before going on a trip to use instead of cash because, if you lost them or (gasp) if a bad guy stole them, you didn’t lose out. American Express would replace them, and you’d be fine.
In order to get people to use their travelers’ cheques instead of dangerous old cash, AmEx (as we who worked on their business affectionately called them) ran these commercials where pathetic travelers who used cash were duped and/or robbed and lost their money. Then Karl, wearing his trademark tough-guy hat,