On the Relevance of Nat Carr

As I write this, it is at once the birthday of “Hebrew” comedian Nat Carr (1886-1944), and the fourth anniversary of Trump’s Nazi rally in Charlottesville. If you’re one of the “why must you politicize?” people, this will never be the blog for you. There remains a dangerous movement roiling throughout the land, of violent white supremicists who want to dominate, oppress, expel or harm the glorious, diverse people who make up the fabric of America. If you are a Jew and you are reading this, and you are okay with thugs chanting “Jews will not replace us”, I cannot imagine what is going through your head. If you’re a Gentile and you’re okay with it, I CAN imagine what’s going through your head, and I don’t want any part of you. Why? Today is also the anniversary of the last day of the Wola Massacre (1944). One leads to the other. It’s not rocket science.

What’s it’s it got to do with Nat Carr or vaudeville? EVERYTHING. It has to do with the culture of this country. Immigrants made vaudeville. And they’re not there just to dance for you like marionettes. They have voices. “VOICE of the city”. (Voix de ville). Some theorize that that’s where the word came from. Those who would silence and vanquish all voices but their own have no place in a forum on vaudeville or American entertainment. (Do I sermonize? Yes, that is MY voice. I am descended from New England Puritans and Southern Preachers). I hope the ghost of Mr. Carr will forgive me monopolizing the stage like this as he waits in the wings. I wouldn’t replace him for the world… so over to him now.

Nat was the younger brother of Alexander Carr of Potash and Perlmutter. He was only a few months old when his family moved from the Ukraine to the States. Ten years younger than his brother, he followed his famous sibling into burlesque and vaudeville, and was in the Broadway revue The Pasing Show of 1917.

Like his brother before him, Carr was closely associated with Jewish themes and roles that drew from both nature and stereotype. His first verified film performance was in the Universal melodrama His People (1925), a story about a Lower East Side pushcart peddlar starring the great German-Jewish actor Rudolph Schildkraut, and featuring Kate Price, Arthur Lubin, Edgar Kennedy, and others. The next year he was in eight movies, starting with the first The Cohens and the Kellys picture. His screen character was often named Moses, Moishe or Moe Ginzberg or Ginzburg. He played this character in supporting parts in features such as Private Izzy Murphy (1926) starring George Jessel, and even starred in his own series of self-penned comedy shorts with that character from 1929 to 1932, although he played other characters as well.

Carr’s first talkie was THE first talkie, The Jazz Singer (1927) in which he played Levi. Another important early sound picture for him was his starring feature The Talk of Hollywood (1929), which he also co-wrote and is currently available on Youtube. Carr continued to have big parts in comedy shorts through 1935 (he’s even in an early Three Stooges short!) In sound features, he mostly had bit parts. Some of them include 50 Million Frenchmen (1931) with Olsen and Johnson, Hips Hips Hooray! (1934) with Wheeler and Woolsey, the 1935 version of The Red Badge of Courage, several films in the Torchy and Nancy Drew series, Dodge City (1939), Dark Victory (1939), and Sergeant York (1941). His last appearance was in the Roy Rogers picture Jesse James at Bay (1941). All told, he was in over 100 films over a period of about 15 years.

You wanna honor him today? Check this out.

For more on vaudeville history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on the history of silent and classic comedy film please see Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube