Malcolm Preston was born in West New York, N.J. to Frank Pearlstein and Anniece (Landau) Pearlstein. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1940, where he was a member of the varsity swimming team and won several NCAA Awards. After service in World War II in the Aleutian Islands, he received a Ph.D. in Art History from Columbia University. In 1942, he married Mary Alice Bales during his service in the military. She predeceased him in 2002.
He was Professor of Art History and Fine Arts at Hofstra University on Long Island, and served as Dean until his retirement in 1968. While at Hofstra he participated in the creation of and hosted a television series, The Arts Around Us for the National Educational Television Film Service, which was aired on WOR-TV in New York City. After his retirement from Hofstra, he was art critic for several newspapers, including the Christian Science Monitor, the Boston Herald and Newsday. He was a noted landscape and figure painter, and his work is represented in many private and museum collections.
In 1968, he and his wife relocated from Long Island to live year-round in Truro, Mass. He served as the Truro Town Moderator for many years.