Brash comic and TV pi­o­neer

Jack Carter was known for his snappy, ir­rev­er­ent style.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Dennis McLel­lan McLel­lan is a for­mer Times staff writer.

Jack Carter, the brash standup comic who was con­sid­ered one of Amer­ica’s “ris­ing young co­me­di­ans” dur­ing tele­vi­sion’s pi­o­neer days in the late 1940s and be­came a fa­mil­iar face on TV va­ri­ety shows in the ’ 50s and ’ 60s, has died. He was 93.

Carter, whose stand- up com­edy ca­reer con­tin­ued well into his 80s, died Sun­day at his Bev­erly Hills home of res­pi­ra­tory fail­ure, his pub­li­cist Jeff San­der­son said.

In show busi­ness cir­cles, the gruff- voiced Carter was known as a co­me­dian’s co­me­dian. He had an ag­gres­sive, keep- them- laugh­ing stage per­sona that seemed not to di­min­ish with age.

While tour­ing in the com­edy show­case “Le­gends of the Catskills” with fel­low comics Fred­die Ro­man and Gabe Ka­plan in 2000, Carter warmed up the crowd by belt­ing out “Just in Time.” Then he launched into a se­ries of celebrity im­per­son­ations and riffs on such top­ics as com­pet­i­tive Jewish moth­ers and deal­ing with old age (“I told her to act her age, so she died.”)

In the 1986 book “The Stars of Stand- up Com­edy: A Bi­o­graph­i­cal En­cy­clo­pe­dia,” au­thor Ron­ald Lande Smith de­scribed the ver­sa­tile Carter’s style as “slick, fast and fu­ri­ous.”

“A sim­ple gag is boosted by mimicry and em­pha­sized with one of a dozen fa­cial or phys­i­cal takes.... The style came from bur­lesque and marched to Ve­gas to a rim shot drum beat,” Smith wrote.

Carter’s rou­tine was snappy, ir­rev­er­ent and of­ten veered into sex­ism.

“Eighty per­cent of the money is spent by women,” Carter ob­served on stage in the 1950s. “The other 20% is spent by men — on women!”

“If you like to spend your va­ca­tion in out- of- the- way places where few peo­ple go, let your wife read the map,” he said in the 1970s.

“Canada ran out of sil­i­cone and the girls up there are us­ing Ham­burger Helper,” he said in the 1980s.

No mat­ter what the joke, Smith wrote, “Carter can sell it with all the skill and savvy of a pro boxer mak­ing the most of ev­ery jab.”

Dur­ing his long ca­reer, how­ever, Carter was more than just a standup comic.

As an ac­tor, he had small parts in sev­eral dozen ( mostly for­get­table) movies. But he fared bet­ter with guest spots on tele­vi­sion se­ries in­clud­ing “Al­fred Hitch­cock Presents” and “Caro­line in the City.”

Carter, who made his Broad­way de­but in 1947 as the re­place­ment for Jules Mun­shin in the mu­si­cal re­vue “Call Me Mis­ter,” con­tin­ued to per­form on stage.

That in­cluded a stint re­plac­ing Phil Sil­vers dur­ing the 1951- 52 Broad­way run of the mu­si­cal com­edy “Top Banana” and ap­pear­ing in the 1956- 57 Broad­way mu­si­cal com­edy “Mr. Won­der­ful,” star­ring Sammy Davis Jr.

Over the years, he also ap­peared in re­gional pro­duc­tions of “Guys and Dolls,” “Sugar” and “Mr. Won­der­ful,” as well as play­ing Fa­gin in a tour­ing com­pany pro­duc­tion of “Oliver.”

But it was as a stand- up co­me­dian that Carter was best known.

In his 1981 book “Funny Peo­ple,” co­me­dian Steve Allen wrote that Carter “pos­sesses a wildly in­ven­tive cre­ativ­ity, whether on- or off­stage.”

Whether it was a shouted in­sult, a woman with an un­usual dress or a slow re­sponse by a light­ing tech­ni­cian, Allen wrote, “Jack Carter can take it, add a whiff of magic dust to it, and make au­di­ences laugh.”

The vast ma­jor­ity of co­me­di­ans are thrown by the un­ex­pected, Allen added, but “Carter makes cap­i­tal of the un­ex­pected, par­tic­u­larly if it seems to put him at a dis­ad­van- tage. He is a mag­nif­i­cent grouser, a bril­liant com­plainer, a wiz­ard of ‘ Why me?’ ”

The grous­ing ex­tended off­stage as well.

“Had I done a one- man show I’d have main­tained my great­ness,” Carter com­plained in a 1992 in­ter­view with The Times. “I can sing and dance — ev­ery­thing. But they only see you as brash.”

No one, he said, “is more bit­ter than I am. I get it be­fore I even show up. ‘ He’s not an ac­tor’ or ‘ He’s vi­cious.’ ‘ Cheap’ is the big one. When they wanna get you they say, ‘ He’s got the first dol­lar he ever made.’ ”

Later in the in­ter­view, Carter groused: “In the past 10 years I’ve ne­glected my life. I should have got­ten out of [ show busi­ness] long ago. I ap­pre­ci­ate suc­cess, but I’m not built to play the game. My wife tells me, ‘ You’re so an­gry! You’re like an an­i­mal.’ ”

Born Jack Chakrin in New York City on June 24, 1922, Carter grew up in Brook­lyn’s Brighton Beach, where he de­vel­oped a f lair for im­pres­sions and twice ap­peared on the ra­dio show “Ma­jor Bowes’ Am­a­teur Hour,” which he won both times.

He at­tended Brook­lyn Col­lege and Fea­gin School of Dra­matic Art. He served in the Army Air Forces en­ter­tain­ment di­vi­sion dur­ing World War II and later worked briefly as a com­mer­cial artist for advertising agen­cies.

He was act­ing at the Mill Pond Play­house on New York’s Long Is­land when he be­gan do­ing standup to sup­port him­self.

Carter’s bud­ding ca­reer as a co­me­dian co­in­cided with the rise of the f ledgling new medium of tele­vi­sion, then cen­tered in New York City.

He was one of the orig­i­nal ro­tat­ing hosts of the “Tex­aco Star Theater” on NBC in the sum­mer of 1948 be­fore Milton Berle took over as per­ma­nent host that Septem­ber.

The fol­low­ing year, Carter turned up on ABC as the host of spe­cials, in­clud­ing “Jack Carter and Com­pany” and “Amer­i­can Min­strels of 1949.”

He next hosted the “Cav­al­cade of Stars” com­edy- va­ri­ety show on the Du­Mont net­work and “The Jack Carter Show,” a va­ri­ety hour on NBC, from 1950 to ‘ 51.

Although Carter ap­peared fre­quently on “The Ed Sul­li­van Show” and other pop­u­lar va­ri­ety pro­grams over the next two decades, the top ech­e­lon of star­dom eluded him.

“I’m one of the last en­ter­tain­ers who re­ally works when he’s on. I work to win the au­di­ence, but maybe I’m wrong,” he told The Times in 1963. “I see these other guys and they just re­cite [ their acts]. The less you do, the less you of­fend, of course, and that’s what they want on TV. You can phone in your rou­tine.”

Carter con­tin­ued per­form­ing his com­edy act in clubs un­til 2009 when he and Toni Mur­ray, widow of comic Jan Mur­ray, were hit by a car in Hol­ly­wood. Mur­ray died of her in­juries two months later.

De­spite hav­ing to rely on a cane and a walker, Carter con­tin­ued to act oc­ca­sion­ally.

His sur­vivors in­clude his wife, Rox­anne, whom he mar­ried in 1971; sons Michael Carter and Chase Carter; daugh­ter Wendy Carter; and two grand­chil­dren.

‘ I’m one of the last en­ter­tain­ers who re­ally works when he’s on. I work to win the au­di­ence.’

— Jack Carter, in a 1963 Times in­ter­view

As­so­ci­ated Press

A CO­ME­DIAN’S CO­ME­DIAN Jack Carter, shown in 2011, left, and 1960, had an ag­gres­sive, keep- them- laugh­ing stage per­sona that seemed not to di­min­ish with

age. He was also an ac­com­plished ac­tor who made his f irst ap­pear­ance on Broad­way in 1947 and had nu­mer­ous TV cred­its.

Michael Robin­son Chavez Los An­ge­les Times

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