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James Karen, a veteran character actor who acted in more than 200 movies and TV shows, has passed away. He was 94.

The thing is, even if you don’t know Karen’s name, you know his face and his voice. He started his career understudying Karl Malden in “A Streetcar Named Desire” on Broadway. In the original Poltergeist, he played the real estate developer who moves the headstones but not the bodies. (Bad move.) In The China Syndrome he played the television station new director for whom Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas work. He also was in Wall Street, Any Given Sunday, Nixon, All The President’s Men, I Never Sang for My Father, Capricorn One, Thirteen Days, Return of the Living Dead, and, amusingly, Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster. He also played the bad guy in the series finale of “Little House on the Prairie,” in which his character (another real estate developer) buys up the town of Walnut Grove, which prompts the residents who he wishes to displace to simply blow the place up.

But here’s the business tie-in. For people who grew up in the New York metropolitan area, Karen was the face and voice of Pathmark supermarkets, appearing for years in thousands of the retailer’s commercials, usually saying, at some point, “Why pay more?”

The irony was that the “Little House” gig almost lost him the Pathmark job, people were so outraged by what his character did to Walnut Grove. Karen apparently was so concerned that he took it upon himself to respond personally to many of the letters and phone calls that Pathmark got urging it to fire him; he was able to persuade them that he actually was a nice guy, and that his exploitive real estate developer was just a character.
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