Tuesday, January 06, 2009

façade: Jack Carson

Now is the time to praise Jack Carson. Yes, Jack Carson - supreme character actor, companionable sidekick, likable screen presence.

I mention him because Carson (1910-1963) pops up on Turner Classics during its Star of the Month tribute to Jack Lemmon.

The two Jacks appear together in Mark Robson's "Phffft!," airing tomorrow, Wednesday, 7 January at 8 p.m., est., on TCM.

Carson arrived in Hollywood in 1937, found work at RKO as an extra and proved to be an adjustible wrench, an actor who could do anything - Sing. Dance. Do Comedy. Handle heavy drama. And support the star without upstaging the star. Which is very important in terms of career longevity.

Carson made something like a hundred movies, plus innumerable TV appearances, and he was especially effective in the 1950s when he provided titanic support in such films as George Marshall's 'Red Garters" (1954), Robson's "Phffft!" (1954), George Cukor's "A Star Is Born" (1954), Edward Buzzell's "Ain't Misbehavin'" (1955), Jack Arnold's "The Tattered Dress" (1957), Douglas Sirk's "The Tarnished Angels" (1958), Leo McCarey's "Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys" (1958) and Richard Brooks' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958), the latter two with Paul Newman.

My own favorite Carson performance was opposite Rosalind Russell in Michael Curtiz's "Roughly Speaking" (1945), whose story (based on a novel by Louise Randall Pierson) was ahead of its time in its observations of an independent-minded woman trying to cope and excel in a man's world and the husband who elects to back her up and support her even though he doesn't fully endorse - or even understand - her views.

Carson was a playful co-star in two 1948 musicals - opposite Doris Day in her first film, Michael Curtiz's "Romance on the High Seas," and Ann Sothern in James V. Kern's "April Showers." And there were good roles in such diverse films as Alfred Hitchcock's "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" (1941), Raoul Walsh's "The Strawberry Blonde" (1951), Elliott Nugent's "The Male Animal" (1942), Frank Capra's "Arsenic and Old Lace" (1945) and, of course, Curtiz's "Mildred Pierce" (1945).

I always found Jack Carson to be pleasingly human, ever-reliable and affable, someone to anticipate in a film. His final movie was Daniel Petrie's "The Bramble Bush," a Warner soap opera starring Richard Burton, Barbara Rush and Angie Dickinson made in 1960. He died three years later, at age 53, of stomach cancer.

(Artwork: Affable Jack Carson, much missed)

11 comments:

Frances said...

I have a website dedicated to Jack Carson and his films. He was actually in two more films after the Bramble Bush - details are on the site. He definitely deserves more recognition.

The site address is:
jackcarson.atspace.com

Kirk Jusko said...

In "Roughly Speaking" Rosalind Russel starts out as a cockeyed optimist, but is considerably more sober following a divorce. Then she meets Jack Carson. This guy is such a cockeyed optimist I'm surprised his pupils don't crash into each other! Nothing upsets this guy! Look at the scene revolving around the 1929 stock market crash. Rosalind sits on the front porch and reads about it in the paper. Jack walks out of the house, smiling. She's about to tell him the bad news, and he cuts her off, saying "I know. I just got off the phone with my broker" Again, I emphasize, he's smiling. "It's not just us," he tells her. "Millions of peoples savings have been wiped out" Is that supposed to make her feel better? Yet it's a convincing performance, in that you belive that he believes, which is all I really ask of an actor. I love how that movie ends. Their both sitting in that train station, having seen two of their sons off to World War Two. Rosalind's depressed. Then Jack starts babbling about some get-rich-quick scheme. Rosalind's reluctant at first, but then her resistance breaks down (as it has all throughout this movie) and soon she's babbling right along with him, all to the strains of "We're in the Money" Two other movies he's seen to good affect (well, he's seen to good effect in everything he's in, but these two come to mind) are "Larceny, Inc" and "The Male Animal". Don't blink and you can also catch him in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"

Anonymous said...

Carson was awesome, and I share your enthusiasm for "Roughly Speaking," an underseen gem. Anything with him is probably worth a look

jennifer said...

I've been seeing Caron a lot lately on Turner and have also come to appreciate him. It seemes that he definitely could do anything. I personally think he's great in "Cat in a Hot Tin Roof" and he gives real backbone to "A Star Is Born."

Bob said...

Thanks for the beautiful post. I'm a longtime Jack Carson fan. I've always thought that the moment in "Roughly Speaking" when Russell and Carson (in his top hat decorated with lighted candles), danced to "It Had to Be You," was one of the most romantic scenes ever put on film.

michael boyle said...

Jack Carson had a magnetic personality.hero,villan,comedian,song and dance man,actor.Jack did it all in a short life span.His last appearance was as a guest host on Saturday Night At The Movies on the NBC Network. He was 52 and looked 40 at the most.I did not know that i would be seeing his last appearance that so long ago Saturday night.He truly deserves a ranking as one of the greatest stars of all time. michael boyle

wwolfe said...

He's terrific in "Strawberry Blonde," one of my favorite movies. The way he struts in his ridiculous wardrobe helps the audience understand not only his character, but the era that could produce such a character. It's Cagney's movie, but it wouldn't work nearly as well without Carson.

jbryant said...

Carson was awesome, and I share your enthusiasm for "Roughly Speaking," an underseen gem. Anything with him is probably worth a look.

jbryant said...

I think the last Carson film I "discovered" was "Blues in the Night." Not a great movie, but well worth seeing for Carson and Lloyd Nolan, and of course the brilliant Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer title tune. Also some wild hallucinatory montages cut by Don Siegel, and an over-the-top performance by Elia Kazan that further proves his choice to move behind the camera was a wise one.

A.N. said...


I grew up seeing him on tv when i was very young. It is a wonder, when you have only a crush on his looks, you find someone like that can be very easy going and nice....

Ann said...

Great blog with interesting comments, too.It's good to see Mr. Carson appreciated.