About Don Calfa
Donald George Calfa (December 3, 1939 – December 1, 2016) was a versatile American character actor renowned for his work in both film and television across a span of over 40 years, seamlessly transitioning between comedic and dramatic roles. While his presence was felt in numerous well-known films and TV series, he gained particular prominence for his portrayal of the quirky mortician Ernie Kaltenbrunner in the 1985 cult horror-comedy “The Return of the Living Dead,” as well as his memorable performance as the hapless hitman in “Weekend at Bernie’s.”
Early Years and Education
Born on December 3, 1939, in Brooklyn, New York, Don Calfa was raised in Ozone Park, Queens, and later moved to West Hempstead, Long Island. His early aspiration for a career in the fine arts took a turn towards acting after he was captivated by “Rebel Without a Cause.” This led him to leave high school and join a theater workshop, later completing his education through night school. He became a member of both the Actors’ Equity Association and the Screen Actors Guild.
Before his foray into film, Calfa dedicated himself to the theater, participating in numerous Off-Off-Broadway productions. He also graced the Broadway stage in 1965 in “Mating Dance” and in 1971 in “Lenny.”
Over the course of more than four decades, Calfa made a consistent mark in the realms of both film and television. He had the privilege of working alongside esteemed figures like Warren Beatty, Michael Douglas, Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg. While he adeptly handled dramatic roles, Calfa’s comedic talents shone brightly in various cult classics such as “Weekend at Bernie’s” (as Paulie), “Foul Play” (as Scarface), “Treasure of the Moon Goddess” (as Harold Grand), and “Chopper Chicks in Zombietown” (as mad scientist Ralph Willum).
However, Calfa’s most iconic role was likely his portrayal of the eccentric mortician Ernie Kaltenbrunner in the 1985 horror-comedy hit “The Return of the Living Dead.” He even auditioned for a part in the film’s 1988 sequel, but the role ultimately went to another actor. Despite this, Calfa maintained strong ties with the cast and crew, participating in horror conventions and screenings of the film, and contributing to the 2012 documentary “More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead.”
Calfa’s television career was equally impressive, with appearances in popular shows including “Kojak,” “Baretta,” “The Streets of San Francisco,” “The Bionic Woman,” “Benson,” “Night Court,” “Simon & Simon,” “Hill Street Blues,” “Matlock,” “Twin Peaks,” “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” “Murder She Wrote,” and “Beverly Hills 90210.” Notably, he portrayed seven distinct characters across seven episodes of “Barney Miller.”
Personal Life and Passing
A member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Calfa shared a deep friendship with fellow actor Richard Lynch, collaborating on multiple projects. He was previously married to Trixie Flynn from September 10, 1977, until their divorce on August 26, 1981.
Sadly, Don Calfa passed away on December 1, 2016, at his residence in Yucca Valley, California, just two days before his 77th birthday. His legacy continues to live on through his enduring contributions to the world of entertainment.