Roscoe Karns: Screwball Stalwart

Roscoe Karns (1891-1971) is generally remembered for several beloved supporting turns he did in the 1930s and ’40s, though his screen career stretched nearly a half century, from 1915 through 1964.

As a youth Karns had performed with the Marjorie Rambeau Stock Company and trod the boards of the Morosco Theatre. He was educated at USC. In 1915 he played supporting parts in several dramatic shorts for Lubin, starring Romaine Fielding and Vinnie Burns. In 1918 he supported Harry Depp in one independently produced comedy short called Beans for Two. This led to a few Al Christie shorts, where he got to cut up with the likes of Dorothy Devore and Fay Tincher. Poor Relations (1919) with Florence Vidor and Zasu Pitts, was his first feature. His numerous other silent features throughout the ’20s include The Life of the Party (1920) with Fatty Arbuckle, The Ten Commandments (1923), and Wings (1927).

Karns had a role in The Jazz Singer (1927) and from then on, talkies would be very good to him, at least for a while. His notable ones from this exciting time include New York Nights (1929), The Gorilla (1930), Dirigible (1931), Night after Night (1932), If I Had a Million (1932), Alice in Wonderland (1933), It Happened One Night (1934), Twentieth Century (1934), Alibi Ike (1935), Thanks for the Memory (1938), His Girl Friday (1940), They Drive By Night (1940), Woman of the Year (1942), Yokel Boy (1942), and Riding High (1943). He normally played fast talking reporters, cab drivers, and the like, and the occasional obnoxious drunk. In 1937 he was tried briedly in a comedy team with Lynne Overman in the B movie comedy-mysteries Murder Goes to College and Partners in Crime. In 1941 he was in a couple of comedy shorts for Columbia, Black Eyes and Blues with Elsie Ames, and Half Shot at Sunrise. The movie phase of his career ends with the all-star Texas, Brooklyn and Heaven in 1948.

Karns worked mostly in TV thereafter. He starred in Rocky King, Detective (195-54) for the Dumont Network, and then was a regular on Jackie Cooper’s naval-themed series Hennesey (1959-62). His last screen credit was the Howard Hawks comedy Man’s Favorite Sport? with Rock Hudson and Paula Prentiss.

For more on classic comedy film please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.