Comedian dies: Jack Carter Dies
Published: June 30, 2015
Comedian dies: Jack Carter Dies, Jack Carter, a motor-mouthed comedian who became one of television’s first stars in the late 1940s and continued working, as both a comic and an actor, well into the 21st century, died on Sunday at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 93.
A family spokesman, Jeff Sanderson, said the cause was respiratory failure.
With a rapid-fire delivery, a barrage of one-liners and impressions, a dancer’s light-footedness and a more than passable singing voice, Mr. Carter was a headliner, if never quite a superstar, for decades. His jokes were not subtle or even necessarily original. (“The nurse says, ‘There’s a man in the waiting room; says he’s invisible.’ Doctor says, ‘Tell him I can’t see him.’ “) But he sold them with gusto, and they generated enough laughter to carry him, early in his career, to big-time rooms like the Copacabana in New York and the Desert Inn in Las Vegas.
Among the many subjects of his mimicry were not just movie stars (Cary Grant, Peter Lorre, Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart) but also world leaders (Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill). His Ed Sullivan was good enough to bring a smile to the face of the normally dour Mr. Sullivan himself when Mr. Carter took part in a nationally televised roast of him in 1958. Mr. Carter was a frequent guest on Mr. Sullivan’s popular Sunday night variety show.
Mr. Carter was known for his fearlessness onstage. “This was not a man to heckle,” Tony Belmont, president of the National Comedy Hall of Fame in Largo, Fla., said in an interview. “He had a million retorts for anyone in the audience that was foolish enough to try and trade barbs with the master.” One example he offered: “I couldn’t warm up to you if we were cremated together.”
His friend and fellow comedian Pat Cooper said: “This guy was the machine gun of comedy – rat-a-tat-tat. And not just onstage. He’d go into the bank and say, ‘If I’m giving you $10,000, you should wait on line for me.’ ”
With his quickness, his cockiness and his versatility, Mr. Carter seemed like the quintessential Catskills comic. But he did not come to comedy by way of the Catskills resorts that were the training ground for so many other comedians of his generation; he came to it by way of the theater.
He was born Jack Chakrin in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, on June 24, 1922, one of three children of Harry Chakrin and the former Anna Borofsky, Jewish immigrants from Russia. His father owned a candy store and a restaurant on Coney Island, and by age 3 Jack was dancing on the tables there. As a teenager, he observed veteran vaudeville comedians in action as he poked into night spots along the boardwalk.
But he aspired to become a serious actor, and his portrayal of Cyrano de Bergerac at New Utrecht High School led to a summer stock role in Christopher Morley’s play “The Trojan Horse” at the Millpond Playhouse in Roslyn, N.Y., on Long Island. He horsed around so much during rehearsals, however, that Mr. Morley suggested he turn to comedy.
Mr. Carter (he took the stage name in 1941) won the Major Bowes radio talent contest with his impressions and was soon performing at nightclubs and theaters around the country. He joined the Army in World War II and spent much of his service with a unit that entertained at military bases.
After the war he returned to the nightclub circuit. In 1947 he was cast in the Broadway musical-comedy revue “Call Me Mister,” which was nearing the end of its run.
The infant medium of television soon beckoned. In 1949 Mr. Carter was the host of the ABC show “American Minstrels” and then of “Cavalcade of Stars” on the short-lived Dumont network. He had his own variety show on NBC, part of a Saturday-night package with Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows.”
He returned to Broadway in 1952, replacing Phil Silvers as the lead in “Top Banana,” the Johnny Mercer musical about a beleaguered television comedian. He would appear on Broadway just once more, in the original cast of the 1956 musical comedy “Mr. Wonderful,” which starred Sammy Davis Jr. But he remained active in regional theater for many years, appearing in plays like the Neil Simon comedies “The Last of the Red Hot Lovers,” “The Odd Couple” and “The Sunshine Boys” and even starring in a few musicals, including “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Mr. Carter made some movies as well, among them “Viva Las Vegas” (1964), with Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret, in which he played himself; “Hustle” (1975), with Burt Reynolds, in which he played a strip-club M.C.; and “The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington” (1977), in which he played a senator. He also directed episodes of “Here’s Lucy” and other television series.
Mr. Carter’s first two marriages, to Paula Stewart and Joan Mann, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife, the former Roxanne Stone; two sons, Michael and Chase; a daughter, Wendy Carter; and two grandchildren.
Early in his career Mr. Carter filled in for Milton Berle, television’s biggest star at the time, who was taking a three-week vacation from his hit show. Asked then about his ambitions as an entertainer, Mr. Carter simply said, “I’d like to last.”
He succeeded. Mr. Carter was appearing on television into his 90s, with roles on “Desperate Housewives,” “Parks and Recreation,” “New Girl” and other shows, most recently “Shameless.” Until late in life he was also still working the condo circuit in South Florida, as he had been since the 1980s, tailoring his jokes to an audience of his contemporaries.
One of his stock lines: “He’s so old, he ordered three-minute eggs and the waitress wanted money in advance.”
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