The Measure of Jack Carter

For some reason (his personality, I guess, sort of aggressive, sort of macho), I remember Jack Carter (Jack Chakrin, 1922-2015) as a TALL man. I would have said 6’4″. However, I did a little refresher this morning and looked it up: he was 5’5″. That’s what personality can do for you: make a short man tall.

Born and raised in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, in addition to being a grade A joke teller/gag writer, Carter was a killer impressionist. When still in high school, he did an impersonation of Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom that slayed ’em at Leon and Eddie’s Supper Club. He studied dramatics (including acting for radio) at The Lucy Fagan School. Then he went on Major Bowes Amatuer Hour (and won) several times. This led to real stuff — getting booked at Rudy Vallee’s resort in Poland Spring, Maine, and on The Fred Allen Show, and finally the big presentation houses like Loew’s State and the Paramount Theatre, where big bands, comics and dancers preceded first run movies. In the late ’40s he went in as a replacement in the Broadway show Call Me Mister.

From 1949 he was one of the hosts of the variety show Cavalcade of Stars. The following year he got his own show The Saturday Night Revue, which was the weekly lead-in for Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows. In 1950 he also hosted the first televised Tony awards. Even more impressively, he replaced Phil Silvers in Top Banana in 1952 — big shoes to fill. He was the emcee of a short-lived tv program called Stage Show from 1954 through 1956, And he was in the original cast of Sammy Davis Jr’s Broadway hit Mr. Wonderful, 1956-57.

The ’50s were the sort of the peak of Carter’s stint as a star of his own thing. Don’t get me wrong — he has something like 350 film and tv credits over a period of a half century, on top of constant live performance in night clubs, resort hotels, and the like. But he wasn’t getting his own movie and tv vehicles, just guest shots. It would be silly of me to list all those screen credits, just look at them here. (Don’t forget to click both “actor” and “self”: in addition to 180 acting credits, he has about 140 appearances doing stand-up on variety shows.) Carter popped up on TV constantly when I was a kid (feel free to make the sort of joke Carter would make in response to that). If we’re keeping score (we’re definitely keeping score), he was way funnier than Alan King or Jan Murray. At any rate, there is an AMAZING eight part interview with Jack Carter on Kliph Nesteroff’s web site here. That’s where you can learn much more about the man than this paltry handful of facts.

To learn more about variety entertainment, including television variety, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.