Obituary: Charlie Callas, 83; funny-faced comedian mouthed his own sound effects

By Dennis McLellan
Saturday, January 29, 2011; 10:34 PM

Charlie Callas, a veteran comedian who punctuated his zany, character-oriented comedy routines with a bizarre array of facial expressions and sound effects, died Jan. 27 at a hospice in Las Vegas. The cause of death was not disclosed. His family said he was 83.

A former drummer for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and other big bands who switched to comedy in the mid-1960s, Mr. Callas once described himself as being "like a little kid running loose in the living room."

A 1982 article in the Los Angeles Times said Mr. 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,' " he 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 Mr. 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 "The Tonight Show" and the "Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts."

Comedian Jack Carter, who appeared on a couple of the Martin "roasts" with Mr. Callas, recalled Friday that "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."

Mr. Callas often toured with Frank Sinatra. Asked by a Times reporter how he felt working with Sinatra, Mr. Callas quipped: "Who? Is that the guy who goes on after me?"

On television, Mr. Callas played Malcolm Argos, a reformed small-time thief and con man who helped with cases on "Switch," the detective drama starring Robert Wagner and Eddie Albert that ran from 1975 to 1978.

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."

Mr. Callas, who provided the voice of Elliott in the 1977 movie "Pete's Dragon," appeared in a number of films, including Jerry Lewis's "The Big Mouth" and Mel Brooks's "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. "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."

Charlie Callias - he later dropped the "i" - was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. His family said he was born on Dec. 20, 1927, but most reference sources give the year of his birth as 1924.

Mr. 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."

Mr. Callas made more than 50 appearances on the "Tonight Show," but after Carson interrupted him in the middle of a joke with the sound of a falling bomb in 1982, Mr. Callas gave Carson a shove. He was never on Carson's show again.

Mr. Callas's wife, Eve, died last year.

Survivors include two sons and two grandsons.

- Los Angeles Times

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