Photo courtesy of William Morris
Jack Carter, one of the last of the great multi-talented performers — a comedian, singer, dancer, and actor who performed in theater, movies, and especially television — has died. He was 93.
In his prime in the 1950s and ‘60s, Carter exuded confidence and a well-earned swagger; he took command of any stage he was on. He had a gravelly voice that made him seem like a tough guy, an image undercut nicely by his impish smile. Thin and loose-limbed, Carter gestured with long arms and big hands — you couldn’t help but notice the way he’d shoot his tuxedo cuffs and waggle his cuff-links.
Carter was an aggressive stand-up comic, releasing punchlines like bullets; he was a fixture on variety shows hosted by Ed Sullivan, Judy Garland, Jackie Gleason, and Perry Como. While he never got the big break of overseeing a TV variety show for any significant length of time — the kind of showcase that made other comics of his generation like Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, and Gleason stars — Carter was a superb guest everywhere he appeared. Check out his stand-up act on The Judy Garland Show:
Carter began his career in the theater, appearing mostly in musicals. He had a lengthy career in Las Vegas as both an opening act for singers such as Frank Sinatra, and was a headliner himself. He appeared in scores of TV shows and movies, but never caught that one role that would establish him as a bigger star. (One TV history footnote: Carter appeared as Arthur Spooner in the King of Queens pilot, but was replaced by Jerry Stiller, with Carter’s scenes re-shot.)
Carter was a great guest, on game shows as well as talk shows. Watch the way he charms the hell out of an audience in 1962, with Jerry Lewis hosting The Tonight Show:
If you want to get a good idea of the whole arc of Carter’s career, you can’t do better than listen to Norm Macdonald’s recent hour-long podcast with Carter; check it out here. With Carter’s death, another link to a vanishing era of show biz disappears as well.