Friday, January 24, 2020



John Karlen died this week. He was a friend of mine, albeit an estranged one. He died a not-so-happy man who had managed to alienate not only me, but even closer friends that he once held dear.

John was in his 40’s when we met. I had cast him in a nice (but small) part opposite Stephen Macht in my ABC pilot film, American Dream. A year or so later, when the Canadian actor we had hired to play the blue collared husband of Tyne Daly in Cagney & Lacey wanted too much money to move to Hollywood and continue the role, we surprised the guy with the (he thought) “hot hand,” replacing him with Johnnie. Does the phrase “hitting it out of the park” resonate? That is precisely what John Karlen did. There is no one in the civilized world who can imagine anyone else EVER playing Harvey Lacey.

Years before we met, he had achieved a sort of cult following in the daytime saga, Dark Shadows. And long before that, when he was younger, thinner, and prettier, it was predicted he would give his then New York pal, Robert Redford, a run for the big money. That didn’t happen, but I am not so sure that was the thing that ate at Johnnie. Booze was part of it, the horses at various racetracks were a real curse, but there was something else… something deep down that John Karlen began to let loose long after our working time together. He went out of his way to blow off friends, including Macht, a totally sane actor who (for a while) brought some stability into John’s life. I was out… even Tyne Daly, who stood by him longer than almost anyone, ultimately invited him out of his unhappy world less and less.

He was just too much for any of us to deal with for any amount of time. And so, he died. 86 years of age. Not a bad run, except for the fact his 80’s were not kind to him.

Hey, I get it. At the age of 82 I cannot count how many times I sigh… “Oh, to be 75 again.” Some have said “life begins at forty.” There was a movie with that title-- made before I was born. A couple of books as well… one, believe it or not, by Carl Jung, and there were at least two songs, one by John Lennon no less, and the other by… get ready… Dave and the Dominos.

It’s not true about life and being 40. Life begins a whole lot later than that, long after the kids are grown and out on their own, after the job is put in proper perspective and stored away with college year books and other accomplishments, other times, other memories. Life begins, and quickly hits its stride in the mid-to-late 60’s and sort of soars into the 70’s. Before all that is preparation: flossing, taking it easy on hooch, not blowing your wad at the racetrack, not putting stuff in your body that is going to make things too tough, too early. Oh yes, and lubrication… just like any other engine… you’ve gotta keep it lubed.

Life begins later than you think, and it is short. The 80’s are a bitch. Rest in peace, John Karlen. And to his son, Adam, our most sincere condolences.

Barney Rosenzweig

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