Former coffee shop owner became an actor in Wes Anderson movies
Kumar Pallana, an unlikely character actor who gained fame in a series of Wes Anderson movies, has died. He was 94.
His son Dipak announced the news Thursday on Facebook with the message, “Dear Papa, you will be missed.”
Pallana is best known for his nearly wordless performances as a bumbling safe cracker in “Bottle Rocket,” a delivery man in “Rushmore,” an elderly train passenger in “The Darjeeling Limited” and Gene Hackman’s sounding board and accomplice in “The Royal Tennenbaums.”
The quirky names of these characters — Mr. Littlejeans, Pagoda — and his naturalistic and understated presence made him a favorite of fans of the director and helped launch a Hollywood career for the Indian yoga teacher and coffee shop owner at a time when most people are winding down their professional lives.
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It was Anderson who discovered Pallana when he was running the Cosmic Cup in Dallas and hosting chess and open mic nights for musicians and storytellers that attracted the director and his future collaborators Owen and Luke Wilson.
“We play cards and all the bridge and poker and everything,” Pallana remembered in a 2003 interview with The Believer. “We became very good friends, and they told me, they said, ‘We are writing.’ They wanted to shoot the movie, the ‘Bottle Rocket.’ And I didn’t pay much attention to what kind of movie it was. They go to Los Angeles and finally they come and they say, “Yeah, we are shooting the movie. And here is your part.” And that’s where it started.”
It was a career that extended beyond Anderson’s off-beat fantasies. Pallana went on to enjoy supporting roles in films from other directors like Steven Spielberg’s “The Terminal” and Danny DeVito’s “Duplex.”
Pallana may have been largely unknown to audiences when Anderson first discovered him, but he had deep roots in show business. After immigrating to the United States in 1946, he was an entertainer, scoring juggling and singing gigs on “The Mickey Mouse Show” and “Captain Kangaroo.”
As he told the Dallas Morning News in 2004, ““Each of us has our own destiny. Mine is to be an actor.”