Sissy Spacek, Carl Malden, Nashville and Hollywood — people and places in the world of creative arts. How could the little boy fingering the slide rule at his father’s business ever envision this realm of musicians and actors as his true destiny?
“I was about 11-years old and my father decided to go into business — Kahlenberg-Globe Equipment,” Tri-Citian Charles Kahlenberg remembers about his father’s decision in the early 1950s. “He taught me the fundamentals about the band saw and by the time I was in high school I was working on all the equipment.”
But even though Charles spent many hours working in a technical field with his dad, he found time to play side-by-side with neighborhood friends in Sarasota, Fla.
“I used to play with the Wallenda kids just down the street,” the baby boomer says about his early exposure to life with celebrity families, a normal part of everyday life.
Yet while the Walenda children went off to the Big Top, Charles’ career path led to the front door of his father’s business. Even so, it seemed that Hollywood kept finding him.
At one point in his youth, Paramount Pictures was filming Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Greatest Show on Earth” in his hometown. That also brought Warner Bros. to film a documentary about the Sarasota Sailor Circus at the local high school. Charles and his brother played the part of the clowns — and it put Charles in the right place at the right time.
“They needed a kid and they did some close-ups of me,” the deep-voiced senior recalls. “But I didn’t have ambitions to be an actor.”
So while college and marriage kept him on track in the mechanical engineering field — even to the point of designing equipment for the company — Charles’ hidden heart’s desire continued to nudge.
“The arts kept calling my name, but I was trying to work,” Charles reflects on how he satisfied his creative side with his trombone, one he started playing professionally at age 14.
In his free time away from the job, the musical talent performed with a big band, jazz groups and Ringling Brothers Winter Quarter Shows.
But then life took an unfortunate twist. Charles’ marriage failed in spite of his eventually leaving the business in an effort to salvage it. Nevertheless, it was a downward spiral and the discouraged man left the wreckage behind regretfully.
Still, unknown to Charles, hope was straight ahead.
“I came out to California in 1973 and that’s when I had my ‘Damascus Road’ experience,” Charles recalls with emotion, an experience he says changed him.
Standing side by side with a musician friend in an old converted movie theater, Charles had listened to the Pentecostal minister.
“It was bizarre to me, but the folks were very basic,” Charles recalls the moment of decision as if it were yesterday. “I don’t remember the service, but the minister said, ‘Let it go from your head to your heart.’ It was a spiritual experience.”
Little did Charles’ realize how a life hand-in-hand with God would ultimately bring him to his true purpose.
After later meeting and marrying a lovely young widow with two small children, Susan encouraged her new husband to follow his dreams. Believing together that God had a plan, the little family moved with a “mustard-seed” of faith to the heart of Nashville, Tenn.
“We were blessed and made contacts right away,” says Charles about writing for the Oakridge Boys’ publishing company. “I was doing voice work and session music and I wrote the song ‘Jesus Knew,’ sang it and played the piano. Gary Paxton took the demo to Bill Gaither’s studio in Indianapolis and they added strings and recorded it. I had no interest in being a recording artist.”
Still there were more blessings to come.
Charles’ again found himself in the right place at the right time — a coincidence that gave him a big break. While sitting in his agent’s office to update some promotional photos, a call came in to the agency that required immediate attention.
“I’m sitting in the ante room and the agent leans around the corner, ‘You need to go right now to this location and ask for the casting director.’”
Rushing toward opportunity, Charles arrived and was hurriedly met with instructions to read over the script. He was told, “Michael is coming to see you right now.”
“Let me hear you say the line,” the famous director, Michael Apted, had commanded Charles who looks back on the moment as frightening.
“I was terrified and squeaked it out, but then he said, ‘When you say the line, be more obsequious.’ My mind went blank on what that meant, but I said it again and he loved it. “
From there it was frenzy as Susan rushed home to retrieve Charles’ suits that he would use in the filming that day.
“I played Loretta Lynn’s manager,” Charles reminisces about his good fortune to be cast with Sissy Spacek. “The movie was ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ and that got me into the Screen Actors Guild.”
Since then, Charles Kahlenberg is a recognized name by people in the arts. He has worked as a character actor in numerous movies such as “Wedding Crashers” where he played the priest, the TV series “Cold Case” and opposite Jason Alexander in “Seinfeld.” His credits besides film and television appearances include voice work nationally and internationally for countless commercials — many for Fortune 500 companies — industrial videos and audio books. His latest audio book just released is “Stinger” by Diana Chambers.
And yet Charles, who is recently from Studio City, Calif., remains as humble as the day he came home from filming with Vanessa Redgrave.
“I remember sitting at the head of the table and I looked at my family and said, ‘I’m an actor!’ I was incredulous.”
But there’s no doubt that Charles isn’t acting when he tells how God opened doors to get him to his destiny.