James Karen – Rest in Peace

James Karen - RIPI’ve been going to conventions for over twenty years and have met more than a few celebrities over those two decades. Some are very cordial, while others a little standoffish. But there are few that compare to the pure joy that I felt from meeting James Karen in an elevator at Chiller convention back in the mid ’90s. As we were talking the elevator down to the show, Mr. Karen walked in and could immediately tell from the black horror t-shirts we were wearing that we were there for the show. He immediately said hello and started talking to us as the doors closed. He wasn’t embarrassed by his work in the horror genre, or that some young fans were geeking over the fact that we were in the same elevator as Frank from Return of the Living Dead! He just seemed so happy to be there and loved the fact that we were fans and knew who he was. While the ride only lasted a minute or two, it is one of the best memories from my convention memories. I met him again a few years ago and he still gave off that same vibe to his fans. So it was very sad hearing of his passing.

The funny thing is that if you look at his immense filmography, with over 200 screen appearances, he only appeared in a few horror titles. But in those, he created very memorable characters, such as the real estate developer in Poltergeist (1982) or the bumbling but loveable Frank in Return of the Living Dead (1985). His very first film appearance was in the wonderfully titled Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (1965), as well as appearing in so many television series and even more commercials, starting back in 1948, in a production of A Christmas Carol. But before that, he started acting on the stage. He made his Broadway debut in 1947 in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire, being Karl Malden’s understudy.

Horror fans have lost a friend, as well as an extremely talented actor, who could make you love his character as easily as hate him. He was that good. He will be deeply missed. At least we still have his films to keep his memory alive. I know that each time I pop in my copy of Return of the Living Dead, no matter that I’ve seen the film countless times, James Karen will still make me smile and laugh. So he will never be forgotten.

Our thoughts go out to his friends and family during this difficult time.

Don Calfa: Rest in Peace

don-calfa-ripOkay 2016, enough, huh? I mean, you’ve only got a few weeks left, let’s end it on a something more than these obits, shall we?

There is something about a movie that can have the best dialogue, the best makeup effects, production values, locations, and everything else to make it a memorable feature. But if you don’t have the right cast making these characters come to live, it will just come across flat and uninteresting. Actor Don Calfa made his career at bringing characters to life. Whether he was in a feature film or just a small part on an episodic television show, it was magic when Calfa came on.

My first memory of him where he stood out was as the guy who lived across the ravine from Dudley Moore in Blake Edwards 10 (1979), who was always having sex parties. But it also could have been one of his seven different appearances on the TV show Barney Miller, which I used to watch religiously. But no matter what show it was on, he makes an impact. He worked with directors like Spielberg, Scorsese, Bogdonovich, Levinson, and many more.  He was quoted in saying that “I’m not a star, I’m a journeyman actor.” I think he was right.

Of course, we horror fans know him from one his greatest characters, that of Ernie Kaltenbrunner, the mortician from Dan O’Bannon’s 1985 film Return of the Living Dead. From his dialogue to just the way he acts, he gives the horror genre an unforgettable performance, and one that he puts RotLD in a lot of fans Top Ten lists.

Don Calfa RIP2.jpg

Calfa passed away last Thursday at his home in Yucca Valley, California, just two days before his birthday. So, on what would have been his 77th birthday, let us take a moment to remember Calfa and the incredible and memorable performances that he gave us over his career that almost reached 50 years. You will most definitely never be forgotten and always remembered by us horror fans. Even if it as a white-haired mortician. Our thoughts go out to his friends and family.