Beloved Return of the Living Dead star Don Calfa passes away
A few weeks ago, I was catching up with a film I had never seen by a director I very much liked. That movie was Blake Edwards’ 10 and as much as I enjoyed the picture, my greatest thrill was to see the awesome Don Calfa hilariously bookend the movie as Dudley Moore’s perverted swinger neighbor. The man was an effortlessly-gifted comedian and the kind of actor whose briefest appearances in movies draw your focus and energy directly to him.
I say was in the past tense because we have just learned that Mr. Calfa has passed, just weeks shy of his 77th birthday.
Pop culture junkies will remember the New York-born Don Calfa from his many appearances in TV and film (including a memorable turn in TV’s Barney Miller and several roles in The Streets of San Francisco) and of course, who could forget his work in the morbid slap-stiff comedy Weekend at Bernies. But horror and cult film fans will of course love him best as Ernie Kaltenbrunner in Dan O’Bannon’s 1985 black comedy horror masterpiece The Return of the Living Dead. Calfa’s bug-eyed, pipe-smoking, vaguely fascist mortician is part of the film’s soul and comedy core, bouncing as it does so expertly off the energy of his co-stars Clu Gulager, James Karen and Thom Matthews. Don Calfa’s deadpan reactions to the unthinkable milk many laughs and then, when the tone of the film turns serious, his sense of defeat and terror are what anchor the picture in humanity.
Calfa loved his fans and was by all accounts as funny and charming in life as he was on screen. He will be missed and his art will live forever in his extensive and diverse body of work, ‘Night Ernie…