Alexander Carr (Alexander Krechevsky, 1878-1946) clambered into the arena of popular attention by playing Morris Perlmutter in the stage and screen hit Potash and Perlmutter and all its sequels. Each time I encounter his stage name, I am tempted to consider him the love child of Fatty Alexander and “Fat” Karr, two members of the plus-sized comedy team “Tons o’ Fun”, but that is a mere trick of the mind
Born in Russia, this Carr was the son of a rabbi. The family immigrated to North America when he was 7, settling in Winnipeg. At 12 he ran away from home, gradually making his way south to St. Paul, where he got a job performing at the Bodega Music Hall. According to a 1907 article in Theatre Magazine, Carr’s youthful repertoire included singing a song called “The Passing Policeman” and playing the front end of an elephant. By 1897 he had made his way down to Nashville, where the Centennial Exposition was underway, earning his keep there as a singer and dancer. In Louisville he went into burlesque and learned the ropes as a comedian. His work with various burlesque and vaudeville companies took him next to Buffalo, and finally Chicago. This is where he first saw David Warfield performing with the Weber and Fields company, and was so enthralled that he worked up a top notch imitation of the actor.
Audiences and critics lauded Carr’s Warfield impersonation. leading to his first Broadway engagement, in the revue The Great White Way (1907) with Blanche Ring. The smash hit Potash and Perlmutter with Barney Bernard ran 1913-1915. Carr and Bernard played a couple of middle-aged Jewish businessmen. The impression he made in the roles was so indelible that just about all of Carr’s parts after this would be along similar lines (i.e. Jewish immigrant characters). First came the Broadway Potash and Perlmutter sequels, Business Before Pleasure (1917-18) and Partners Again (1922). Next came the film version of Potash and Perlmutter (1923). Bernard died in 1924 and was replaced in the two screen sequels by George Sidney; the films were In Hollywood with Potash and Perlmutter (1924) and Partners Again (1926).
The end of the popular franchise was far from the end for Carr. In 1926 his play April Fool was adapted for the screen, with himself as the star. That same year he played one Albert Goldringer in The Beautiful Cheat (1926) with Laura La Plante. He also co-wrote the short The End of the World (1929) in which he starred. This may be his first talkie. At the end of the decade he returned to Broadway for a couple of years, starring The Guinea Pig (1929), Mendel Inc (1929-30), and The Wooden Soldier (1931), which he also wrote.
From 1932 through 1934, Carr worked heavily in films, in a wide variety of genres, although always in the ethnic character parts that were his specialty, with character names like Cohen, Silver, Shapiro, Grossmith and Ginsberg. You can seen him in No Greater Love (1932) with Dickie Moore, Uptown New York (1932) with Jack Oakie, The Death Kiss (1932) with Bela Lugosi, Hypnotized (1932) with Moran and Mack, Her Splendid Folly (1933) with Lilian Bond, The Constant Woman (1933) with Leila Hyams and Conrad Nagel, Out All NIght (1933) with Slim Summerville and Zasu Pitts, and I Hate Women (1934) with Wallace Ford. In Hide-Out (1934) he was just as uncredited extra. He seems to have retired after this, although he did return to take an ensemble role in Preston Sturges’s Christmas in July (1940).
Alexander’s younger brother Nat Carr was also a notable stage and screen actor. Look for a post on him here soon!
To find out more about the history of vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on silent film, read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,
For more on silent film and classic comedy, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube,