SBHS Class of 1976 Alumnus Actress: Karen Kahn
Updated: Mar 7
By Adam Khan ('23)
This is the second article of a series covering SBHS alumnus actress Ms. Karen Kahn.
The previous article discussed Ms. Kahn’s time and experience in South Brunswick, and how she would eventually begin a career in the film industry.
Before staring at films and television shows, Ms. Kahn would start her career by appearing in small commercials.
After commercials, Ms. Kahn said, “My agency was expanding out to the West Coast to Los Angeles, and I was wanting to get out of New York. It was the 70s. Everything was crazy. New York was crazy. So I went out to Los Angeles, and that's where I did my first feature film, and that was in 1979.”
During Ms. Kahn’s time in Los Angeles, she auditioned for the 1981 Korean-war campaign movie, Inchon, filmed by the renowned Irish director, Terence Young. After initially being rejected for the role, because she had appeared too western for the role of a Korean woman, to her surprise, she received a call from an agent a month later. The agent announced to Ms. Kahn that she had been reconsidered for the movie and that in two weeks she would be flown to Korea for the part in her first significant role.
Ms. Kahn said, “I played the young love interest of the lead [named Lin], and I got there and I had only done a stage primarily. I did commercials, but commercials were different. I was just there, and the first scene was this huge big kiss-goodbye scene with Ben Gazzara, he’s going off to war or whatever. They (the filmmakers) go, Ben, this Karen, Karen this is Ben. I go, ‘Hello!’, and he looks at me and squeezes my arms and goes ‘fresh meat’, and I’m kinda just standing there going ‘oooookiee’. So we grab each other and he starts kissing me, and you know we’re kissing, and it’s yelled CUT. But he wouldn’t stop, and he kept kissing me and kissing me. Ben cut! Ben cut! Eventually, he released me…”
Admittedly the film did not receive as much success at the box office as anticipated, but Ms. Kahn still enjoyed her experience, being flown to locations back and forth for months of filming. However, this would be her last time auditioning in Los Angeles as she found the environment too harsh.
Ms. Kahn said, “I pretty much quit the business for seven years. It’s just LA, I hated LA, it's so competitive and you have to be tough, and I’m not tough. I’m just me, I don’t like playing games. I just didn’t like it.”
After Inchon, Ms. Kahn recalls appearing in another commercial until she decided to move. For years her parents had driven her back and forth to auditions. During this hiatus,
Ms. Karen’s father advocated for her to retain her Screen Actors Guild card.
Seven years later, Ms. Kahn re-entered the film industry in the San Francisco Bay area.
Ms. Kahn said, “It’s a small town compared to LA or New York. But everybody is nice to each other, and everybody helps each other, if I’m not available I’d say, ‘Check out this other actress, she’s great!’ That would never happen in LA. It's too competitive.”
Restarting her acting career in the Bay area, Ms. Kahn desired a more relaxed film community. Since her decision, she has enjoyed raising her family in the culture and lifestyle that the Bay area offers.
In the next article, we’ll cover part III continuing Ms. Kahn’s career in the San Francisco area, and her experiences in the film industry.