The Unsung Heroes of Hollywood: James Karen

While we all adore and root for the stars and starlets of tinseltown, there is a treasure-trove of good men and women who have been integral to the success of all our favorite films. Bona fide, hard working and talented people who may never star in a film or see their name on a poster hanging in the local cineplex but will never escape our minds and imaginations when it comes to some good iconic and funny roles they play. This column is a tribute to the “Oh, That Guy” types, the common actor and the B-listers. They are the…


James Karen

James Karen

Age: 89

Number of Film & TV Roles: 191

Notable Roles: The Return of the Living Dead; Return of the Living Dead Part II; Wall Street; The China Syndrome; Mulholland Dr.; Thirteen Days; Poltergeist; The Pursuit of Happyness; The Larry Sanders Show; Eight Is Enough; Take This Job and Shove It

Typical Roles: Caring mentor; slimy businessman; politician; judge; doctor

Why He’s Great:Wonderful character actor who can seem like the nicest older gentleman in the world or a real bastard, and you believe both. There’s just something about his voice and demeanor that seems really comforting even when he’s playing a slimeball.

Trivia: Once stated in an interview that when he could not find work as an actor, he earned a living by restoring and customizing cars.

Biography (via Wikipedia): Karen was born Jacob Karnofsky in Wilkes-Barre, in northeastern Pennsylvania, the son of Russian-born Jewish immigrants Mae (née Freed) and Joseph H. Karnofsky, a produce dealer. As a young man, Karen was encouraged to be an actor by U.S. Congressman Daniel J. Flood, who was an amateur thespian himself, recruiting him into a production at the Little Theatre of Wilkes-Barre. He attended the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York. His big break came when he was asked to understudy Karl Malden in the original Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

On television he played Dr. Burke on As the World Turns and was the original Lincoln Tyler on All My Children. He is perhaps best known for his recurring role on the television series Eight Is Enough. He is also well-known on the east coast for his 20 years as television and radio spokesman for the Pathmark supermarket chain. He also appeared in the Golden Girls as a prospective love interest for Dorothy. He is also known for playing the evil tycoon Nathan Lassiter, who killed the town of Walnut Grove in the final TV movie of Little House on the Prairie.

He was married to Susan Reed, the former actress and folk singer. They divorced in 1967, and in 1986, he married current wife Alba Francesca.

Karen Klips!:


13 thoughts on “The Unsung Heroes of Hollywood: James Karen

  1. I saw Return of the living dead once I think. Then a friend a dragged me to see the second one and it stunk mostly so I guess I limped them together and have not seen either one since the 80’s.


  2. I have an ezrun 35A/3800kv combo that cogs even at higher sdepes, and only at full throttle.. any ideas what it could be?I can run it at 15mph, hit full throttle and it just stutters and hardly picks up speed. If I slowly pull the trottle, it runs really well and tops 30mph like it should.Ruled out the battery, it works even with a hotter motor, so thats ok and powerful enough. Also checked my soldering on the deans plug, and it was good as well.Ever come across a similar problem?


  3. Pingback: Schlocktoberfest IX – Day 3: Invaders From Mars | Hard Ticket to Home Video

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