Jack Carson was born in Carman, Manitoba to Elmer and Elsa Carson. In 1914, the family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which he always thought of as his home town. He attended high school at Hartford School, Milwaukee and St. John’s Military Academy, Delafield, but it was at Carleton College that he acquired a taste for acting. Carson became a U.S. citizen in California in 1949. Because of his size — 6 ft 2 in (1.9 m) and 220 lb (100 kg), his first stage appearance (in a collegiate production) was as Hercules. In the midst of a performance, he tripped and took half the set with him. A college friend, Dave Willock, thought it was so funny he persuaded Carson to team with him in a vaudeville act — Willock and Carson — and a new career was born. This piece of unplanned business would be typical of the sorts of things that tended to happen to Carson in many of his film roles. During the 1930s, as vaudeville declined from increased competition from radio and the movies, Willock and Carson sought work in Hollywood. Carson initially landed bit roles at RKO Radio Pictures in films such as Bringing Up Baby (1938), starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. Radio was another source of employment for the team, starting with a 1938 appearance on the Kraft Music Hall when Bing Crosby hosted the show. This led to a number of other appearances culminating in Carson’s own radio show in 1943. From 1950-51, Jack Carson was one of four alternating weekly hosts of the Wednesday evening NBC Television comedy-variety show Four Star Revue. (The others were veterans Jimmy Durante and Ed Wynn, and up-and-coming young Danny Thomas.) The second season was his last with the show, when it was renamed All Star Revue.
His success in radio led to the start of a lucrative film career. An early standout role for Jack Carson was as a mock-drunk undercover G-Man opposite Richard Cromwell in Universal Pictures’s anti-Nazi action drama entitled Enemy Agent. This led to contract-player status with Warner Brothers shortly thereafter. While there, he was teamed with Dennis Morgan in a number of films, supposedly to compete with the popular Bing Crosby – Bob Hope “Road to …” pictures. Most of his work at Warner Brothers was limited to light comedy work with Morgan, and later Doris Day (who in her autobiography would credit Carson as one of her early Hollywood mentors). Critics generally agree that Carson’s best work was in Mildred Pierce (1945), where he played the perpetually scheming Wally Fay opposite Joan Crawford in the title role. Also in 1945, he played the role of Harold Pierson, the second husband of Louise Randall, played by Rosalind Russell, in Roughly Speaking. Another role which won accolades for him was as publicist Matt Libby in A Star is Born (1954). One of his last film roles was as the older brother “Gooper” in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). His TV appearances, extending into the early 1960s, included The Martha Raye Show, The Guy Mitchell Show, and The Polly Bergen Show in 1957; Alcoa Theatre and Bonanza (Season 1, Ep.9: “Mr. Henry Comstock”) in 1959; Thriller (“The Big Blackout”) in 1960; and The Twilight Zone (Season 2, Ep. 14: “The Whole Truth”) in 1961.
His TV pilot, Kentucky Kid, was under consideration as a potential series for NBC, but was not picked up by the network. The proposed series would have had Carson playing a veterinarian widower who raises horses and has an adopted Chinese child. His far-less-famous brother Robert (Bob) was also a character actor. In 1983, after his death, Jack Carson was inducted into the Wisconsin Performing Artists Hall of Fame along with his film pal, Dennis Morgan, who was also from Wisconsin. In 1962, while rehearsing the Broadway play Critic’s Choice, he collapsed and was subsequently diagnosed with stomach cancer. Jack Carson died in Encino in 1963 at 52 years of age. The early death of the burly Carson, whose screen image was one of energy and vitality, made front page news, along with the death of fellow actor Dick Powell, who died on the same day. Carson was entombed in Glendale’s Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in The Great Mausoleum, Columbarium of Memory, 3rd Bay, niche 19676 with his parents, brother, Robert Carson (actor), and sisters.
- October, 27, 1910
- Carman, Manitoba
- January, 02, 1963
- Encino, California
Cause of Death
- stomach cancer
- Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale)
- Glendale, California