James Callahan, 76; actor on ‘Charles in Charge’

Times Staff Writer

James T. “Jimmy” Callahan, an actor best known for playing the cranky grandfather on television’s “Charles in Charge,” has died. He was 76.

Callahan, who was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in February, died Friday at his Fallbrook home, said his wife, Peggy Cannon-Callahan.

“As an actor, he was just an absolute pleasure. He wanted what was best for the team, and that’s very rare,” Scott Baio, who starred in “Charles in Charge,” told The Times on Tuesday.

On the show, Callahan played Walter Powell, a retired Navy man he referred to as the “blustery old grandfather” in a 2000 People magazine interview. When CBS canceled “Charles in Charge” after one season, Callahan joined the cast for the syndicated version, which ran from 1987 to 1990. The role was a favorite that brought him wide recognition.

“He loved hanging out with us,” Baio said, “and he loved, loved, loved working.”


The youngest of three children, Callahan was born Oct. 4, 1930, in Grand Rapids, Mich., to William and Elenora Callahan. His father worked in sales.

After serving in the Army in West Germany from 1951 to 1953, Callahan returned home to work at the post office.

He discovered acting while attending school in the Midwest. On the advice of a teacher, he enrolled in the University of Washington to study drama and graduated in the late 1950s.

Between 1959 and 2007, Callahan appeared in more than 120 films and television shows.

He was featured in several episodes of “Dr. Kildare” on NBC in the early 1960s and played a press secretary on “The Governor & J.J.,” which aired on CBS from 1969 to 1972. More recently, Callahan had appeared on several episodes of the medical drama “Body & Soul” on the Pax TV network.

One of his favorite film roles was as the band leader in “Lady Sings the Blues” (1972), his wife said. He also portrayed a country-western singer in “Outlaw Blues” (1977) with Peter Fonda. Callahan’s final film, a horror movie called “Born,” has not been released.

In 1994, at 63, he married for the first time. His wife survives him.