Today is the birthday of Jack Carson (1910-1963). (Not to be confused with Jack Carter!)
I was already predisposed to post about Carson on account of his appearing in so many classic show biz pics like Gentleman Jim (1942), Shine on, Harvest Moon (1944), April Showers (1948), and A Star is Born (1954). But the deal was sealed when I learned he actually had a vaudeville background.
Carson and boyhood friend Dave Willock had a comedy and song and dance act (“Willock and Carson”) in vaudeville’s waning days, from 1931, through the mid ’30s. In the late ’30s both of them began to break into films, with Carson’s career faring much better than Willock’s, although the two would always remain friends, and Carson would later cast him on his radio show in the ’40s. Initially cast in bit parts, Carson immediately established the worth of his personality – a big, garrulous lummox, perfect for playing best friends, salesmen and agents. By the 40s, his characters in films began to have names. Usually cast in comedies, he also proved he could handle drama — his performances in films like Mildred Pierce (1945) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) are stand-outs. Unfortunately, he was taken early by stomach cancer at age 53, cutting short a career that undoubtedly had many additional fine performances in store.
For more on vaudeville history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. To learn more about early film history don’t miss my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc