Callas in 1956
|Birth name||Charles Callias|
December 20, 1924|
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Died||January 27, 2011
Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
|Genres||Stand-Up, Dark Comedy|
|Spouse||Evelyn Callas (1942–2010; her death); 2 children)|
Charlie Callas (born Charles Callias; December 20, 1924 – January 27, 2011) was an American comedian and actor most commonly known for his work with Mel Brooks, Jerry Lewis, and Dean Martin, and his many stand-up appearances on television talk shows in the 1970s. He was also known for his role as Malcolm Argos, the restaurant owner and former con man, on the Eddie Albert and Robert Wagner television series Switch (1975–1978). Callas was also known as the voice of Elliott the dragon in Disney's live-action/animated musical film Pete's Dragon (1977).
Life and career
Callas was born in Brooklyn, New York, as Charles Callias, the son of a Greek father and German mother. He served in the United States Army during World War II. He began his career as a drummer playing in groups with Bernie Cummins, Tommy Dorsey, Claude Thornhill, and Buddy Rich. He dropped a vowel from his legal name, Callias, when he took to the stage.
Callas was known for his rubbery face, trademark nervous chattering, and dark comedy. His first television appearance was in 1963 on The Hollywood Palace, and he soon was opening for Frank Sinatra in nightclubs around the country. In 1965 he played Lefty in a gambling parlor/laundry in The Munsters, season 2, episode 16, "Herman Picks a Winner." He made nearly 50 appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Appearing on an episode of The Merv Griffin Show in 1965, one of the guests, Jerry Lewis, practically fell off his chair in hysterics as Callas performed his hunting routine. Lewis turned to Griffin and said he had to use Callas in his current project. That one appearance on the Griffin show landed Callas a role in the 1967 Lewis film The Big Mouth. Lewis recalled the story on his short-lived 1984 talk show, in which Callas served as his sidekick and performed the hunting routine.
He was a regular guest on the Dean Martin Show roasts where he was called on to poke fun at celebrities, including Frank Sinatra and Don Rickles,. He also appeared on The Andy Williams Show at various times as "Captain Weird", a parody of superheroes. Callas's only known dramatic role was that of a restaurant owner, Malcolm Argos, in the 1970s show, Switch. He was also a regular performer on The ABC Comedy Hour in 1972. He was a semiregular on The Flip Wilson Show and co-host of The Joey Bishop Show. His last television appearances were on Larry The Cable Guy's Christmas Spectacular (2007) and Larry The Cable Guy's Star-Studded Christmas Extravaganza (2008).
On January 27, 2011, Callas died of natural causes at age 83, in his home in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is survived by his sons, Mark and Larry. His wife, Evelyn, died six months earlier, age 88.
Tony Belmont, executive director of the National Comedy Hall of Fame in St. Petersburg, Florida, said of Callas upon his death: "There were two things he did that made his career. He could think very fast on his feet, and he had an unbelievable number of sounds that he made with his voice. He would tell a joke about two guys hunting. If you or I told it, the joke wasn't so funny. But Charlie made it hysterical by sticking in these sounds; so you would hear the gun cocking, the duck flying overhead, the explosion of the shotgun and then the duck falling and screaming all the way to the ground."
- The Big Mouth (1967) — Rex
- Switch (TV) (1975–1978) — Malcolm Argos
- Silent Movie (1976) — Blindman
- Pete's Dragon (1977) (voice) — Elliott the Dragon
- High Anxiety (1977) — Cocker Spaniel
- The Carpenters...Space Encounters (1978) — Charlie
- Legends of the Superheroes (1979) — Sinestro
- History of the World, Part I (1981) — Soothsayer
- Rooster (1982) — Francis A. Melville
- Hysterical (1983) — Count Dracula
- Gallavants (1984) (voice) — Azor
- The Dom DeLuise Show (TV) (1987) — Charlie
- Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) — himself
- Silk Stalkings (TV) (1993) — El Cid
- Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995) — Man in Straitjacket
- Horrorween (2010)
- Lentz, Haris M. Obituaries in the Performing Arts, 2011, McFarland (2012) p. 51
- Walker, Leo (1989). The Big Band Almanac. Da Capo Press. p. 92. ISBN 978-0-306-80345-1.
- Hevesi, Dennis (January 28, 2011). "Charlie Callas, Zany Comedian, Dies". The New York Times.
- "Charlie Callas Roasts Frank Sinatra", fair use clip
- "Charlie Callas Roasts Don Rickles", fair use clip
- The New York Times obituary, January 29, 2011, p. D8.