Wednesday, October 31, 2018

R.I.P. James Karen

Damn it, not another celebrity obit! I'm gettin' real tired of seeing the stars I grew up with shuffling off this mortal coil. This time it's James Karen, who died last week at 94.

You may not recognize the name, but you definitely know his face. Karen starred in over 200 movies and TV shows over the years, beginning with 1965's Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster. He's probably best known though for his VERY memorable performance in The Return Of The Living Dead. He was also mean old Mr. Teague, the one who built the housing development over the cemetery in Poltergeist, and mean old land baron Nathan Lassiter, who bought up Walnut Grove in the final episode of Little House On the Prairie.

Karen was working right up until the end too, as his final film appearance was a small role in low budget 2018 release Cynthia.

I was lucky enough to meet James Karen back in 2010, and he was as nice and accommodating as can be. I talked with him for quite a while, and he seemed just as interested in me as I was in him. Best of all he wasn't charging for autographs or photos! He said he wouldn't be where he was without his fans, so that was his way of saying thanks.

Sad to hear of his passing, but I guess 94's a pretty good run. R.I.P. James Karen.

Here's another look at my original post on James Karen:

This past weekend I went to Wonderfest 2010 in Louisville and got to meet James Karen, star of one of my all-time favorite movies, Return of the Living Dead.

If you've not seen the movie, stop reading right now and go seek it out. It's an awesome horror/comedy from the 1980s, and the precursor of movies like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. I highly recommend it.

Mr. Karen gives an amazing and memorable performance in the movie. He's been in a ton of films over the years and has guest starred on just about every TV show you can think of. Among other things, he was the evil contractor who moved the tombstones (but not the bodies!) in Poltergeist, and he was the mean old land baron who bought up Walnut Grove and forced out the residents in the final episode of Little House on the Prairie.

By the way, I asked him if he ever got hate mail from people for causing Walnut Grove to be blown up. He said he did and still does to this day!

He was extremely nice to me and all the other fans, asking everyone their name and where they were from and how long they'd driven to be there. He graciously listened to me and everyone else tell him the same story about how much they loved him in Return of the Living Dead. His actress wife Alba Francesca was with him, and she was very nice as well, dutifully taking photos of everyone who wanted a picture.

In fact, he was so nice that he didn't charge to sign autographs or take a photo with him. He said he wouldn't be where he is today without his fans, and this is his way of giving something back. Now that's a rare and refreshing attitude!

He also participated in a Return of the Living Dead panel, answering questions and entertaining the audience with behind the scenes stories and anecdotes about the filming of the movie.

Believe it or not, James Karen is 87 years old! He certainly didn't look it or act it. I'd have guessed 70 at the most. He's still working too, starring in upcoming movies and doing voice over work. In fact right after WonderFest was over he was leaving for New York to record the narration for a documentary. I'm happy I got a chance to meet and talk with him.

Here're a few screen caps of Mr. Karen in action as Frank in Return of the Living Dead.

And as mean old land developer Mr. Teague in Poltergeist.

And here he is as mean old land developer Nathan Lassiter in Little House On The Prairie.

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