John Elmer Carson (1910 - 1963)

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Birthdate:
Birthplace: Carman, MB, Canada
Death: Died in Encino, CA, USA
Cause of death: Stomach Cancer
Managed by: Seth Webster
Last Updated:
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About John Elmer Carson

One of the most popular character actors during the 'golden age of Hollywood', Jack Carson's film career spanned the 1930s, '40s and '50s. Carson's trademark was the wisecracking know it all who eventually and typically was undone by his own excessive self-confidence.

He was born on October 27, 1910 in Carman, Manitoba to Elmer and Elsa Carson. Shortly afterwards the family moved to Milwaukee, which he always thought of as his home town, although there is no known evidence confirming that he took out United States citizenship. He attended high school at Hartford School, Milwaukee and St. John's Military Academy, Delafield, but it was while attending Carleton College that he developed a taste for acting.

Because of his size — 6 ft 2 in (1.9 m) and 220 lb (100 kg), he had his first stage appearance as Hercules in a college production. During 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 began. This piece of unplanned business would be typical of the sorts of things that tended to happen to Carson during some of his film roles.

During the 1930s, as vaudeville went into decline owing to increased competition from radio and the movies, Willock and Carson sought work in Hollywood, initially landing bit roles at RKO. The radio also proved to be a source of employment for the team following a 1938 appearance on the Kraft Music Hall during Bing Crosby's period as program host. This led to a number of other appearances which would culminate in Carson's own radio show in 1943.

From 1950-51, Carson was one of four alternating hosts of NBC's "4 Star Revue." Other hosts that season were Jimmy Durante, Ed Wynn. and Danny Thomas. The show aired Wednesday evenings. Carson's second season was his last with the comedy-variety program when its title was changed to "All Star Revue."

Carson's success on radio led to the start of a lucrative film career. An early stand-out role for Carson was as an undercover G-Man feigning drunkenness opposite Richard Cromwell in Universal Pictures's anti-Nazi action drama entitled, Enemy Agent. Carson shortly thereafter achieved contract-player status with Warner Brothers. While there, he was teamed with Dennis Morgan in a number of films, supposedly to compete with the popular Crosby and Hope road pictures. Like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, Morgan and Carson enjoyed a genuine off-screen friendship. Their first film together was a dark drama called The Hard Way, which was nothing like their subsequent pairings.

However, despite this auspicious beginning, most of his work at Warner Brothers was limited to light comedies with Morgan and later with 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. Another role which won accolades for Carson was publicist Matt Libby in A Star is Born (1954).

Carson's work during this period included a number of appearances on television including The Guy Mitchell Show and The Polly Bergen Show (both 1957), Alcoa Theatre (1959), Bonanza (1959) and The Twilight Zone (Season 2, Ep. 14: "The Whole Truth", 1961).

In 1962, while rehearsing the Broadway play Critic's Choice, he collapsed and was subsequently diagnosed with stomach cancer. Carson died in Encino in 1963, aged 52. 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. He was entombed in Glendale's Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery.

Carson married four times: Elizabeth Lindy (married 1938, divorced 1939), Kay St. Germain (m. 1941, div. 1950), Lola Albright (m. 1952, div. 1958), Sandra Jolley (1961–1963), former wife of Forrest Tucker and daughter of character actor I. Stanford Jolley. Carson had a romantic relationship between his second and third marriages with Doris Day from 1950–1951, but she left him for Marty Melcher, who would become her third husband.

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Jack Carson's Timeline

1910
October 27, 1910
Carman, MB, Canada
1938
1938
Age 27
1939
1939
Age 28
1940
August 22, 1940
Age 29
1950
April 3, 1950
Age 39
1952
August 1, 1952
Age 41
1958
November 10, 1958
Age 48
1961
January 29, 1961
Age 50
1963
January 3, 1963
Age 52
Encino, CA, USA