Happy 106th Birthday, Jack Carson!

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.
  • Carson became an American citizen in 1949.
  • In 1957, Carson recorded an album entitled, Jack Carson Sings Favorite College Songs (here’s one track from the album).

Happy birthday, Jack Carson, wherever you may be!

Jack Carson

Happy 112th Birthday, George Brent!

George Brent, born George Brendan Nolan 112 years today in Ballinasloe, County Galway, Ireland, enjoyed an odd sort of career. By any measure, he achieved great success, but outside movie-buff circles, he’s all but forgotten today. Odd, considering that when he arrived in Hollywood, he was touted as the next Clark Gable. The comparison seems almost laughable today, so low-key was Brent compared to the man once known as the King of Hollywood.

George Brent was a rebel during the Irish War of Independence, though how active he was is open to question; he acknowledged having served as a courier for IRA leader Michael Collins. In any case, the British government put a price on his head, at which point Brent (then Nolan) saw fit to hightail it to the United States.

Brent started his career in the theatre, touring in a production of Abie’s Irish Rose and acting in stock theatre around the country. In 1927, he debuted on Broadway in Love, Honor and Obey. Also in the cast? None other than Clark Gable.

Brent headed for Hollywood a couple of years later, appearing in minor roles for Universal and Fox before signing a contract with Warner Brothers in 1932. It was at Warners that Brent achieved his greatest success. Perhaps the greatest strength of his low-key (but hardly milquetoast) on-screen persona was that he was a perfect complement to strong leading women, holding his own but never overshadowing them.

George Brent

Given how little he’s remembered today, it’s remarkable to consider how often George Brent worked with some of the most iconic actresses of the Golden Age of Hollywood. He made eleven features with Bette Davis (enjoying an offscreen romance with her as well), six with Kay Francis, five with Barbara Stanwyck, four with Ruth Chatterton (to whom he was married from 1932–1934) and two with Myrna Loy. He also played opposite Ruby Keeler, Greta Garbo, Ginger Rogers, Madeleine Carroll, Jean Arthur, Merle Oberon, Ann Sheridan (to whom he was married from 1942–1943), Joan Fontaine, Claudette Colbert, Dorothy McGuire, Loretta Young, Lucille Ball and Yvonne De Carlo. That’s a line-up of costars that any leading man might envy.

By the late 1940s, Brent was appearing in mostly B pictures, and he retired from films in 1953, though he continued to act on television for another seven years. He was married five times, and if you read some of his early interviews, it’s not hard to see why most of those marriages didn’t work out. Brent clearly had no interest in being tied down and seemed to resent the responsibilities that relationships carried with them. “No woman will ever own me,” Brent once said. “I own myself.”

But he and his fifth wife, former model and dress designer Janet Michaels, were together for 27 years until she passed away in 1974.

George Brent, who suffered in later years from emphysema, died in 1979 in Solana Beach, California.

Happy birthday, Mr. Brent, wherever you may be!