James Karen, a prolific and beloved character actor whose hundreds of credits included memorable appearances in Poltergeist and The Return of the Living Dead, has died. He was 94. Karen's friend Bruce Goldstein tells the AP that he died Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles. He had been battling respiratory ailments. Few actors had so long and diverse a career. He appeared in Elia Kazan's 1940s stage production of A Streetcar Named Desire, which starred Marlon Brando. He befriended Buster Keaton in the 1950s and had a brief role in one of the silent star's most unusual projects, Film, an experimental short written by Samuel Beckett. He met Marilyn Monroe at the Actors Studio in New York and filmed a commercial with the Three Stooges.
Karen was directed by Oliver Stone in Wall Street and David Lynch in Mulholland Drive. His TV credits ranged from Dallas and The Waltons to Seinfeld and The Larry Sanders Show. Millions knew him as the friendly man with the glasses in TV ads for Pathmark. Others remembered him as the foreman in Return of the Living Dead, the boss in The China Syndrome or the notorious Mr. Teague, the real estate developer who moves the headstones—but not the bodies—in Poltergeist. Karen was born Jacob Karnovsky in Wilkes-Barres, Pennsylvania. He was interested in theater from an early age and, according to his friend Leonard Maltin, the movie critic, turned down a contract with MGM because he wanted to work on the stage. (Read a wild story about George Clooney getting tricked into writing an obit for Karen.)