Charlie Callas dies at 83; zany, character-oriented comedian
Charlie Callas, the veteran comedian who punctuated his zany, character-oriented comedy routines with a bizarre array of facial expressions and sound effects, has died. He was 83.
Callas, a resident of Las Vegas, died Thursday evening of natural causes in a hospice, said his son Mark.
A former drummer for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and other big bands who switched to comedy in the mid-1960s, Callas once described himself as being “like a little kid running loose in the living room.”
A 1982 article in The Times said Callas “will strut, stroll, fall down or drape himself over anything handy to get laughs during his routines.”
“Somebody once told me, ‘You look like a cartoon that somebody just drew,’ ” Callas recalled in a 1991 interview with New York’s Newsday. “And that’s what I am, a cartoon come to wreak havoc, like a wild kid. I’m silly.”
The whippet-thin Callas, whose visually oriented brand of humor included celebrity impressions, was a regular guest on TV variety and talk shows in the 1960s and ‘70s, including “The Merv Griffin Show,” Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” and the “Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts.”
Comedian Jack Carter, who appeared on a couple of the Martin “Roasts” with Callas, recalled Friday that “he always came as a character. He dressed as a fireman or a maid or stuff like that. Dean liked him to do costume stuff.”
Added Carter: “He did great sounds and noises, like water spouting. And he did great double talk. He was really a character comedian more than anything. But he was a cute guy, totally without malice, and he was fun to be around. He was always working, always trying things.”
Callas often toured with Frank Sinatra, including a nine-day appearance at the Universal Amphitheatre in 1982. Asked by a Times reporter how he felt working with Sinatra, Callas quipped: “Who? Is that the guy who goes on after me?”
On television, Callas played Malcolm Argos, a reformed small-time thief and con man who helped with cases on “Switch,” the 1975-78 detective drama starring Robert Wagner and Eddie Albert.
He also was a regular on the short-lived 1972 comedy-variety show “ABC Comedy Hour” and made occasional guest appearances on TV series such as “The Munsters,” “The Monkees,” “The Love Boat” and “L.A. Law.”
Callas, who provided the voice of Elliott in the 1977 movie “Pete’s Dragon,” appeared in a number of films, including Jerry Lewis’ “The Big Mouth” and Mel Brooks’ “Silent Movie,” “High Anxiety” and “History of the World: Part I.”
“Charlie Callas was a cast of thousands all by himself,” Brooks said in a statement to The Times. “He could do a thousand faces, a thousand voices and a thousand sound effects. In ‘High Anxiety,’ he played a cocker spaniel. He cost me a lot of money — it was almost impossible to finish a scene without the whole crew collapsing in laughter.
“The world of comedy will miss him very much.”
Born in Brooklyn on Dec. 20, 1927, Callas served in the Army during World War II before playing drums in bands with Dorsey, Claude Thornhill and Buddy Rich.
“I was always clowning around when I was a musician and driving the guys on the band bus crazy,” he told The Times in 1982. “They said I played ‘funny drums’ and should become a comedian.”
He semi-retired about eight years ago, his son said.
Callas’ wife, Eve, died last year. In addition to his son Mark, he is survived by another son, Larry; and two grandsons.
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