James Karen, who began a long career as a character actor at the suggestion of a congressman and appeared in thousands of commercials and more than 200 roles in film and television, including "All the President's Men," "Poltergeist," "The Syndrome of China. "And the cult classic" The Return of the Living Dead, "died Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 94 years old.
He had a respiratory illness, said his wife, Alba Francesca.
Mr. Karen did not settle in Hollywood until he was over 50, but found his career at an early stage, when he walked home from school in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
"A man poked his head out the window, with a big wax mustache, and said:" Hi! ", Said Karen in a 2013 profile in the voice of the citizens of Wilkes-Barre .
"I said: 'Yes, sir? & # 39; & # 39;
"He said: & # 39; Are you a boy scout? & # 39;
"I said:" Yes, sir. "
"He said, & # 39; Do you have a uniform? & # 39;
"I said:" Yes, sir. "
"He said:" This is the little Wilkes-Barre theater. Go home and ask your father and your mother if you can participate in a play, that Dan Flood wants you in a play. "
Mr. Karen, then known by his original name of Jacob Karnofsky, got his first acting job, thanks to the eye that detected the talent of the amateur actor and the US Representative. UU Daniel Flood.
"It was fantastic for me," Karen said of her early theatrical experience. "He gave me a real reason to exist and to live. I was doing exactly what I wanted to do. "
In the late 1940s, Mr. Karen appeared on Broadway and in the first television programs. He began acting in films in the 1960s and, after moving to the west coast in 1975, had a constant demand.
He played a lawyer in "All the President's Men" (1976) and "Kiss Me Goodbye" (1982); a news producer for television and the boss of Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas in "The China Syndrome" (1979); a judge in "Frances" (1982), with Jessica Lange; a business magnate with Will Smith in "The Pursuit of Happyness" (2006); a television executive on Garry Shandling's "The Larry Sanders Show" (1992-98); a reverse-facing real estate agent, Mr. Teague, in Steven Spielberg's "Poltergeist" (1982); and a warehouse foreman who knows where (supposedly) the bodies buried in "The Return of the Living Dead" (1985).
"Let me ask you a question, child," he says in an early revealing scene in the spoof of the zombie movie. "Did you see that movie" Night of the living dead "?"
"Yes, yes, yes," says a young enthusiast played by Thom Mathews. "That's where corpses start eating people, right? What's so weird?
"Did you know that the movie was based on a real case? . . . What really happened was that, in 1969, in Pittsburgh, in the hospital in Virginia, there was a chemical spill and all that material leaked into the morgue. . . "
Along the way, Karen appeared in three films directed by Oliver Stone, playing Charlie Sheen's boss on "Wall Street" (1987), Secretary of State William P. Rogers on "Nixon" (1995) and a soccer executive at "Any Sunday given" (1999).
He was also a living link to Hollywood history, as a close friend of silent movie star Buster Keaton, whose career he helped to resurrect in the 1950s, when they appeared together in a play.
In later years, Mr. Karen was a mentor to younger actors, including George Clooney, who quoted him this year by accepting the award for the career of the American Film Institute.
Clooney said that Mr. Karen's wife had asked him to prepare an obituary for her ill husband. After four years, Clooney called to ask how Mr. Karen felt.
"Jimmy is fine," Clooney told Francesca. "I just wanted to know what everyone thought of him while he was still around. He got a lot of people to do it. "
Jacob Karnofsky was born on November 28, 1923 in Wilkes-Barre, where his immigrant father sold products. His mother was a housewife.
He was a nephew of the stage actor Morris Carnovsky, who encouraged his career and recommended that he change his name. After serving as a cryptographer in the Army Air Forces during World War II, Mr. Karen moved to New York to study acting and dance. In 1947, he was a substitute for Karl Malden in the original Broadway production of "A Streetcar Named Desire," with Marlon Brando.
He appeared in several stage roles before becoming a regular in soap operas, including "As The World Turns" and "All My Children." After moving to Hollywood, he had frequent roles in "Hawaii Five-O", "Magnum, PI" and "Jake and the fat man". He continued to act until shortly before his death.
His marriage to popular singer and actress Susan Reed ended in divorce. The survivors include his wife of 29 years, the actress and producer Alba Francesca of Los Angeles; a son from his first marriage; and two grandchildren.
For more than 20 years, Mr. Karen was the television launcher for Pathmark, a supermarket chain in the northeast for which he made thousands of ads.
"This is the best job an actor can have," he said in 1984. "It pays very well and is stable."
That year, Mr. Karen appeared in the television movie "Little House: The Final Farewell", playing a rapacious real estate developer that destroys the buildings in the quaint Walnut Grove meadows town.
"Hundreds of letters came to Pathmark asking the store to do something for me," Karen said. "The customer relations department could not believe it."
Mr. Karen called or wrote to many Pathmark clients to make amends.
"I guess I can not go around destroying cities like Walnut Grove," he said.