While the name John Karlen may not register with today’s television viewers, there are a couple of generations of them that will surely remember him for two very distinct roles: Willie Loomis on the Classic TV daytime soap opera Dark Shadows (currently airing on the Decades TV network) and Harvey Lacey, the epitome of the perfect husband, on the cop series Cagney & Lacey. Sadly, John passed away on January 22 at the age of 86 from congestive heart failure.
John literally played an integral part in turning Dark Shadows from a daily soap opera struggling in the ratings to a genuine pop culture phenomenon, as he — or rather his character, Willie — unchained the coffin that was designed to serve as an eternal prison to vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid), thus inadvertently unleashing him on the modern-day world and becoming his servant. “You could say I got the whole thing started,” he related to Closer Weekly with a laugh in a previously unpublished exclusive interview. “No Willie, no Barnabas.”
At the time we spoke to John, he was in a particularly good mood, listening to an oldies radio station focusing on music from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. “I just heard my favorite song ever, ever, ever,” he said. “Carly Simon singing ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well.’ There’s a great line in there about kidding the moon — just a great song. Let’s face it: You could change your whole day with a good song.”
This led to a fascinating reflection: “I got to meet Frank Sinatra, luckily enough, and stayed at his house for a week while I was doing a play with Maureen O’Sullivan,” he related. “Her daughter, Mia Farrow, at that time just happened to be married to Mr. Sinatra. Eight months of marriage, but I caught it right in the middle. When we came to Los Angeles to do the play — The Subject Was Roses, a three-character play — Chester Morris was my dad. We got there and Mia Farrow picked us up at the airport. She said, ‘Where are you staying?’ and I said, ‘With this hotel’ and she said, ‘No, no, no, you’re staying at our house.’ Not only did I stay at their house, Sinatra was playing at the Sands at the time, so he wasn’t there, she wasn’t there — she went back to Vegas after she picked us up — and I got to sleep in the main bedroom in their bed, with the pictures of the Kennedys all around. Just an impossible thing to imagine. I come from an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn, but I started calling up my buddies and telling them where I was. They all told me I was full of s–t.”
He viewed that situation as a perk of the job, which got even better when Sinatra flew him to Vegas to see him perform. “That’s when I got to meet him,” John said. “As nice a man as you’re ever going to meet in your life. Just a great time.”
To read more of our conversation with John Karlen, please scroll down.
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