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

Movies like they oughts to be

It’s exciting any time that film buffs are given access to rarely seen pictures from days gone by, and it’s even more exciting when those films are made available to one and all, free of charge.

Fifty-six films made by the Thanhouser Company, originally released between 1910 and 1917, are now available via online stream, free of charge.

The Thanhouser Company was founded in 1910 by Edwin Thanhouser, who had made a nice living serving as the manager of the Academy of Music Theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Thanhouser decided he wanted to get into the motion picture business, and given that the film industry was then centered in the New York City area, he made his way to the Big Apple with every intention of opening a production studio in Manhattan.

Because so many producers and performers of note then lived in New Rochelle, a Westchester County suburb of NYC, Thanhouser took the train to that burg, hoping to make some connections. Instead, he met a real estate broker there who convinced him that New Rochelle was the perfect place to locate his studio. Thanhouser was convinced to buy a shuttered rolling skate rink as headquarters for his new endeavor.

Thanhouser’s theatrical experience served him well as a film maker, and New Rochelle, situated between urban and rural settings, allowed him to film on location to great effect. The municipal authorities in New Rochelle were very cooperative as well, allowing Thanhouser to shoot freely in and around town, and it showed in the pictures Thanhouser put out.

In 1912, Thanhouser sold the studio at a healthy profit to the Mutual Picture Corporation, and by 1915, they realized how key he had been to the quality of pictures the studio churned out. That spring, they brought Thanhouser back to manage studio operations, and the company’s fortunes again were on the upswing.

The year 1917 was a rough one for the movie business, with many studios laying off employees and actors. Though his studio was still operating at a profit, Thanhouser opted to get out of the movie business and build a dream home on Long Island in which to spend his golden years. The studio was leased to another production company, the Clara Kimball Young Film Corporation, and the Thanhouser Film Corporation ceased to operate.

But the films live on, and now you, Cladrite reader, can travel back in time, via the wonders of the internet, to enjoy quality cinema as it existed a century ago. We’ve included the earliest film in the collection below, just to give you a taste of the experience, but you can view all 56 pictures at Thanhouser.org. And while you’re there, you can purchase the films on DVD or show your gratitude by following the link on the web site to donate to Thanhouser Company Film Preservation, Inc., “a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization involved in the research, acquisition, preservation and publication of educational materials related to the early silent motion picture era, with a specific focus on the Thanhouser film enterprise.”

The Actor’s Children (1910) from Ned Thanhouser on Vimeo.

Fun facts to know and tell

Did you know? In order to remain afloat during Prohibition, the Blatz Brewing Co. — then one of the Big Four Milwaukee breweries, along with Miller, Pabst, and Schlitz — marketed juice, near beer and even chewing gum. The gum, sold under the brand name “Val,” was grape-flavored.

Blatz was also the first Milwaukee brewery to distribute its beer nationwide.

Also, it was on this day in 1959 that Raymond Chandler, the greatest of of all hardboiled mystery writers and creator of the immortal shamus Philip Marlowe, died at age 71.