John Karlen

Born: May 28, 1933;

Died: January 22, 2020.

JOHN Karlen, who has died of heart failure, aged 86, was a jobbing actor who found fame as Harvey Lacey, the supportive husband of Tyne Daly’s detective Mary Beth, in the hit American television drama Cagney & Lacey.

The show, launched with a pilot in 1981, was innovative in featuring not just females as detectives, as in Police Woman, starring Angie Dickinson, but a pair of them – and their characters were chalk and cheese. While Mary Beth was chasing criminals on the streets of New York with Christine Cagney (played by Sharon Gless from the second series, following Loretta Swit and Meg Foster), Karlen was seen as her sensitive, understanding husband, taking care of their two sons, Harvey Jr and Michael.

“Harv” lost his job as a construction worker after an ear infection caused him to lose his balance, so he was around to feed his children and help with homework while Mary Beth juggled her job with family commitments. When she gave birth to their third child, Alice, he set up his own firm and went back to work.

“The secret of Harvey Lacey is that he’s liked,” said Karlen, who won an Emmy Award as Outstanding Supporting Actor in 1986.

For Karlen, it was a role that initially brought some stability to his life. “My wife and I were used to living month to month,” he added. “We were still looking for the rent when this series came along.” However, while he appeared to have the perfect marriage on screen, Karlen blamed the stresses of working on Cagney & Lacey for splitting up with his real-life wife.

The series ended in 1988, but the actor returned for four feature-length specials the following decade (1994-96).

He was born John Adam Francis Karlewicz in Brooklyn, New York, in 1933 to Polish immigrants, Helen-Agnes (née Balondowicz) and Adam Karlewicz, a shipyard worker. After serving with the US Army in the Korean War, he trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, in New York.

Taking the professional name Karlen, he made his Broadway début as Tom Junior, replacing Rip Torn, in the original production of the Tennessee Williams play Sweet Bird of Youth (Martin Beck Theatre, 1959-60). He achieved nationwide attention on television when he joined the Gothic daytime soap, Dark Shadows, in 1967, a year after it began, as Willie Loomis.

The character was a con artist who set supernatural happenings in motion by inadvertently releasing vampire Barnabas Collins from his coffin. Over four years (1967-71), Karlen played three other characters, too. He also appeared in the film spin-offs House of Dark Shadows (1970), as Loomis, and Night of the Dark Shadows (1971), as a fourth character, Alex Jenkins.

This led to a role as one half of a newlywed couple in the stylish Belgian vampire film, Daughters of Darkness (1971). Karlen had one-off parts on TV in series such as The Magician (1973), The Waltons (1976), The Streets of San Francisco (1975-76) and Starsky and Hutch (1979) before joining Cagney & Lacey.

He appeared on the big screen again as a detective in the 1981 film version of Pennies from Heaven. Later, he took three different roles in Murder, She Wrote between 1989 and 1995.

Karlen’s 1963 marriage to actress Betty Silicato ended in divorce after 35 years. He is survived by their son, Adam.