Today, I'm writing about the life and career of actor Jack Carson.
Today Jack Carson is remembered as a talented character actor who appeared in films like Mildred Pierce (1945) and A Star Is Born (1954), but, during his lifetime, this Manitoba-born actor was a popular star of vaudeville, radio, film, and TV. In this article, I'll recommend five Carson films and one TV show you should watch, but first here's a little background.
John Elmer Carson was born Oct. 27, 1910, in Carman, Manitoba, to insurance salesman Elmer Carson and his wife, Elsa. When Carson was just 3 years old, his father accepted a promotion, and the family packed up and moved to Milwaukee. He and his brother, Robert, who also became an actor, grew up there, and Carson planned to follow his father into the insurance business until he started attending Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.
Carson's massive frame -- he was 6 foot 2 inches tall and 220 pounds -- got him the role of Hercules in a school production. Carson had a blast in the play, but he never saw acting as a future career until one evening when he tripped and crashed through the scenery to great laughter from the audience. This unintended pratfall gave Carson and his buddy Dave Willock the idea for a vaudeville act, and for a few years in the early 1930s they toured the country as the team of Willock and Carson.
Eventually, the duo decided to head for more lucrative employment opportunities in Hollywood. At first, Carson only landed bit parts at RKO Pictures, but several radio appearances eventually led Carson to get his own CBS radio show, The New Jack Carson Show, in 1943. Radio significantly boosted Carson's profile and he was able to get a lucrative contract with Warner Bros. where he started getting excellent supporting parts opposite big-name stars like James Cagney (The Strawberry Blonde), Errol Flynn (Gentleman Jim), and Joan Crawford (Mildred Pierce).
Carson's genial demeanor and work ethic made him one of Warner's top stars of the Postwar period. He was teamed in popular comedies with both Jane Wyman and his pal, Dennis Morgan, and he and Doris Day became a popular screen team. In fact, Day always considered Carson her first mentor in Hollywood and they were good friends until the end of Carson's life.
Carson continued to have a successful film career in the 1950s in movies like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and A Star Is Born, but he became an even bigger star on TV, where he hosted the wildly popular variety shows Four-Star Revue and The Colgate Comedy Hour and appeared as a guest star on Bonanza and The Twilight Zone. Sadly, Carson was working on a pilot for a drama series when he passed away on Jan. 2, 1963 from stomach cancer (ironically, he died the same day as another old Hollywood favorite, Dick Powell). He was only 52 years old. Carson is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, Calif.
Here's four of Carson's best film roles and one TV role and where you can watch them.
Wally Fay in Mildred Pierce (1945), dir Michael Curtiz
|Butterfly McQueen, Joan Crawford, and Jack Carson in a production still from Mildred Pierce (1945).|
Buzz Williams in Two Guys from Milwaukee (1946), dir. David Butler
To compete with the success of the Bing Crosby-Bob Hope Road movies, Warner's decided to pair Carson with his fellow Wisconsite Dennis Morgan for a buddy comedy about a prince from the Balkans (Morgan) who decides to take an incognito tour of New York City with a friendly cab driver (Carson). The movie is somewhat silly -- at no point is Morgan even remotely convincing as European royalty --but it's still a lot of fun, especially the many in-jokes about Milwaukee and S.Z. Sakall's performance as a flustered member of the Prince's entourage. This movie spawned a semi-sequel, Two Guys from Texas (1948). video on demand.
Peter Virgil in Romance on the High Seas (1948), dir. Michael Curtiz
|Doris Day and Jack Carson on the set of Romance on the High Seas (1948).|
Matt Libby in A Star Is Born (1954), dir. George Cukor
|Charles Bickford, Judy Garland, James Mason, and Jack Carson in A Star Is Born (1954).|
Harvey Hunnicut in "The Whole Truth" episode of The Twilight Zone
|Jack Carson as used car salesman Harvey Hunnicut|
I'll leave you with a fun scene of Carson performing a calypso number in Romance on the High Seas with the help of Sir Lancelot.