Funny-faced co­me­dian mouthed his own sound ef­fects

The Washington Post Sunday - - OBITUARIES - BY DEN­NIS MCLEL­LAN

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 Big­Mouth” 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 costme 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.


Char­lie Cal­las, with Johnny Car­son in 1979, ap­peared on “ The Tonight Show” more than 50 times. His last ap­pear­ance was in 1982.

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