Often times when character actors pass away, obituaries like this one make the claim that “you may not know his name, but you sure did know his face!” There is a reason for this cliche-but-true statement, and that is that these type of journeyman performers travel from role to role throughout their careers — not so much pursuing fame and fortune, but to enhance their craft. James Karen, who died yesterday at his Los Angeles home of cardiac arrest at the age of 94, was one of these individuals.
Best known for his film roles in Poltergeist and The Return of the Living Dead, Karen portrayed hundreds of characters on stage, screen, and in movies throughout his decade-spanning career. His genial nature and everyman quality resulted in his long-running role as the spokesperson for the Pathmark supermarket chain:
Working steadily from the 1940s (he was Karl Malden‘s understudy in the original Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire) through to earlier this year when he completed work on the upcoming indie film Cynthia, Karen was a reliable figure whose prolific career resulted in friendships with Hollywood royalty spanning several decades — including Buster Keaton, who served as godfather to his son.
In this in-depth interview with the New York Film Academy, Karen discusses his career. It is a fascinating peek into the life of a successful actor and the hard work that goes into embodied various characters:
Share your memories of James Karen and the performances he leaves behind below.