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James Karen (1923 – 2018), recognizable character actor

by Kirk Fox

Appeared in “Poltergeist,” “Wall Street,” and many other movies and TV shows.

James Karen was a prolific character actor with a long career who appeared in “Poltergeist,” “Wall Street,” and “The China Syndrome.” The recognizable actor had over 200 credits on television and film. Memorable roles include Lincoln Tyler on the soap opera “All My Children” and Mac Churchill, the TV news boss of Jane Fonda’s character, in “The China Syndrome. “

He may be best remembered for his role as the real estate developer who builds a residential community over a former cemetery in “Poltergeist.”


Karen was born Jacob Karnofsky in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. He took acting classes in New York City and made his Broadway debut in 1947.

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Died: Tuesday, October 23, 2018 (Who else died on October 23?)

Details of death: Died at the age of 94 in Los Angeles, according to his wife Alba

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Did you know: Karen was the TV commercial spokesman for the Pathmark supermarket chain on the East Coast. The ads were so popular, he was known as “Mr. Pathmark.”

Notable Quote: “For some reason they never objected to other heavies I played. But the evilness of Nathan Lassiter blew their minds. I guess they realized that they’d never see Walnut Grove again, and it created a great sense of loss.” —Karen in an interview on playing the greedy developer who causes the demise of the town of Walnut Grove in the series finale of “Little House on the Prairie”

What people said about him: “Not only was James Karen a great actor who gave me hope to be as good as him, he was always happy and positive. I was just talking about him the other day and feel
very heavyhearted. I love you James. RIP.” —Actress Linnea Quigley who starred with Karen in “The Return of the Living Dead”

Full obituary: New York Times

Birthdate:  November 28, 1923 (Who else was born on November 28th?)

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