Character actor and funny man Jack Carson was born John Elmer Carson 106 years ago today in Carman, Manitoba, Canada. Here are 10 JC Did-You-Knows:
Though born in Canada, Carson’s family moved when he was four to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which he considered his hometown. Carson’s father worked in the insurance industry.
Carson became interested in acting while attending Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. An imposing figure at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, his first collegiate role was Hercules. An inadvertent pratfall so amused a pal that he convinced Carson to pair with him in a vaudeville act—Willock and Carson.
As vaudeville began to lose its lustre, Carson turned his eyes to Hollywood, quickly finding success playing small roles in RKO pictures (he appeared in 14 films in 1937 alone). Beginning in 1938, he also frequently found work in radio, which led, in 1943, to Carson getting his own program, The Jack Carson Show.
Carson specialized in comedic roles, but he proved more than capable of handling dramatic parts, too, in such pictures as Mildred Pierce (1945) and Roughly Speaking (1945).
In the 1940s, while on occasional hiatuses from pictures, Carson disappeared for weeks at a time, and only his wife at the time, Kay St. Germain Wells, knew his whereabouts. It was eventually revealed that Carson had been touring as a clown with the Clyde Beatty Circus. “[Audiences] loved me and my routines,” Carson later said.
Carson appeared in seven RKO pictures with Ginger Rogers, with his character losing Rogers’ character to a rival in each of the first six. In the seventh, Lucky Partners (1940), his character finally got the girl.
From 1942-49, Carson appeared in 13 feature pictures with actor Dennis Morgan.
Carson was a trained pilot and tried to volunteer for the U.S. Army Air Corps and the Army during World War II. He was rejected by the former because of his height and by the latter because he had flat feet. Instead, he entertained the troops in the South Pacific.