James Karen

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

James Karen
Karen in 2014
Jacob Karnofsky

(1923-11-28)November 28, 1923
DiedOctober 23, 2018(2018-10-23) (aged 94)
Other namesMr. Pathmark
Alma materNeighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre
Years active1948–2018
  • (m. 1958; div. 1967)
  • Alba Francesca
    (m. 1986)

James Karen (born Jacob Karnofsky; November 28, 1923 – October 23, 2018) was an American character actor of Broadway, film and television. Karen is known for his roles in Poltergeist, The China Syndrome, Wall Street, The Return of the Living Dead, Invaders from Mars and The Pursuit of Happyness,[1] but was perhaps best known as the signature pitchman for Pathmark, famously appearing in commercials for the now-defunct East Coast-based supermarket chain from the late 1970s to the early 1990s which earned his nickname "Mr. Pathmark".[2]

Karen is also known for his recurring television role as Tom Bradford's boss, Eliot Randolph, in Eight Is Enough. He was nominated for a Saturn Award for his 1985 role in The Return of the Living Dead.[citation needed] He also appeared in an episode of Cheers as Frasier's mentor and the father of Carla's sixth child.

Early life[edit]

Karen was born Jacob Karnofsky in Wilkes-Barre, in northeastern Pennsylvania, the son of Russian-born Jewish immigrants Mae (née Freed) and Joseph H. Karnofsky, a produce dealer. His uncle was Morris Carnovsky, a prominent actor and co-founder of the Group Theatre.[citation needed]

As a young man, Karen was encouraged to be an actor by U.S. Democratic Congressman Daniel J. Flood, who was an amateur thespian himself, recruiting him into a production at the Little Theatre of Wilkes-Barre.[3] He attended the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York.[4] Karen also served in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II.[5]


Karen's big break came when he was asked to understudy Karl Malden in the original Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire.[citation needed]

On television, he played Dr. Burke on As the World Turns and was the original Lincoln Tyler on All My Children. He was perhaps best known for his recurring role on the television series Eight Is Enough. He is also well-known on the East Coast for his 20 years as television and radio spokesman for the Pathmark supermarket chain.[6] On the streets of New York, Karen was known as "Mr. Pathmark".[2]

Karen appeared in an episode of the 1977 NBC situation comedy The Kallikaks,[1] and played Earl Silbert in the 1979 miniseries Blind Ambition, and M*A*S*H season 11, episode 12 on 1/23/83. A decade later, he appeared in an episode of The Golden Girls as a prospective love interest for Dorothy. He is also known for having played Herbert Purcell, a businessman and leader of a local Ku Klux Klan chapter, in a 1981 episode of The Jeffersons; and the evil tycoon Nathan Lassiter, who killed the town of Walnut Grove in the final TV movie of Little House on the Prairie.[7] Karen was a lifelong member of The Actors Studio.[8] Karen's other notable film credits include The China Syndrome and Oliver Stone's Wall Street.[6]

Perhaps his best known roles were in the low-budget horror comedy The Return of the Living Dead, where Karen starred as the manager of a medical warehouse who inadvertently releases a gas that re-animates the dead,[9] and in Poltergeist where he played the real-estate developer who built the California planned community of Cuesta Verde on top of a former cemetery.[9] In a 2006 interview about his role in The Return of the Living Dead, Karen noted that he helped write most scenes for his character: “It was the deal where he figures out he’s becoming a zombie and decides to incinerate himself in the crematorium...He kisses his wedding ring as he goes in. It was a very emotional scene, but it also got me out of being one of the rain-drenched zombies milling around outside the place at the end of the film. I didn't really want to do all that muddy stuff".[9]

Karen was set to appear in Superman Returns (2006) as Ben Hubbard, but his scenes were ultimately cut.[10] Later in his career, Karen was recognized for his role as Martin Frohm in the 2006 film The Pursuit of Happyness.[1] His final film roles were in the low-budget films Bender (2016) and Cynthia (2018).[9]

Personal life[edit]

He was married to Susan Reed, the actress and folk singer,[11] with whom he had one son, Reed. Reed's godfather was Buster Keaton,[9] Karen's good friend.[9][12] Karen and Reed divorced in 1967. He married Alba Francesca in 1986.[9]

Karen died on October 23, 2018, at his home in Los Angeles, at the age of 94.[13][14]

Selected filmography[edit]


Karen was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Actor for his role in The Return of the Living Dead in 1985. For his contributions to the horror film industry, Karen received an honorary Saturn Award in 1998. He was nominated for a Fangoria Chainsaw Awards for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Unborn in 1991.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c "A Memorable Evening with Unforgettable Actor James Karen". NYFA.edu. November 13, 2014. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  2. ^ a b "Mr. Pathmark and Life Lessons". Nicholas Nigro.com. February 27, 2012. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  3. ^ Gaydos, Kristen. "Hollywood actor's career began at Little Theatre". Citizen Voice. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  4. ^ "James Karen Biography – Yahoo! Movies". Yahoo. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  5. ^ James Karen, Actor in 'Poltergeist' and So Much More, Dies at 94. The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 29, 2020.
  6. ^ a b "James Karen at Film Forum". UnPaidFilmCritic.com. May 21, 2013. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  7. ^ "James Karen by Gilbert Gottfried". SoundCloud.com. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  8. ^ Garfield, David (1980). "Appendix: Life Members of The Actors Studio as of January 1980". A Player's Place: The Story of The Actors Studio. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. p. 278. ISBN 0-02-542650-8.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h "James Karen, Actor in 'Poltergeist' and So Much More, Dies at 94". MSN. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  10. ^ "Superman Returns". Cinema Review. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  11. ^ Thedeadrockstarsclub.com – accessed April 2010
  12. ^ "James Karen". Lake Magazine.com. Archived from the original on October 8, 2007. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  13. ^ Barnes, Mike. "James Karen, Actor in 'Poltergeist' and So Much More, Dies at 94". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  14. ^ a b Genzlinger, Neil (October 24, 2018). "James Karen, Veteran Actor and "Pathmark Man", Dies at 94". The New York Times. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  15. ^ "James Karen". TV Guide. Retrieved October 24, 2018.
  16. ^ "James Karen Filmography". Fandango. Retrieved October 24, 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Voisin, Scott, Character Kings: Hollywood's Familiar Faces Discuss the Art & Business of Acting. BearManor Media, 2009. ISBN 978-1-59393-342-5.

External links[edit]