About Jack Carter
Born Jack Chakrin in the Brighton Beach neighborhood of New York City on June 24, 1923, Jack Carter became acquainted with the entertainment world through his father's candy store. The Brighton Beach Theater was a regular destination for touring vaudeville acts, and such celebrities of the day as Al Jolson and George Jessel would frequently visit his family's store. As a student at New Utrecht High School, Carter gained a reputation as a natural mimic of famous voices and mannerisms, but actually aspired to become a dramatic actor. He went on to earn a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Art. While performing with a stock company in Long Island, he was introduced to Dinah Shore's manager, who helped him hone his knack for imitations into a stand-up act. At 19, he appeared on and twice won the talent competition on radio's popular Major Bowes' Amateur Hour, which earned him a spot on its roadshow alongside Frank Sinatra, ventriloquist Paul Winchell and singer Robert Merrill. He briefly halted his career to serve in the Army, but returned to touring the country after completing his service. Carter's act soon grew to include more jokes and observations, often delivered in a highly energized and acerbic tone, and frequently penned by veteran comic Morey Amsterdam, who became Carter's mentor and friend for decades.
His tireless performing schedule made him a nightclub and radio veteran while still in his twenties, but it was the relatively new medium of television that proved to be Carter's greatest showcase. As early as 1949, he was hosting a variety series, "Cavalcade of Stars" (DuMont, 1949-1951), which essentially transposed the vaudeville circuit to television. He left the series in 1950, which was hosted briefly by Jerry Lester before Jackie Gleason assumed the mantle, ushering in what would eventually become "The Jackie Gleason Show" (CBS, 1952-1970). Carter then moved to NBC to host "The Saturday Night Revue," a four-and-a-half hour block of variety programming that consisted of his own eponymous, hour-long show, followed by the legendary "Your Show of Shows." According to Carter, "Shows" producer Max Liebman disliked Carter's program, which he felt was too similar to his series, and lobbied to have it dropped from the network. Carter refused to change his format, which allegedly led to his dismissal.
Despite the setback, Carter remained an in-demand performer throughout the 1950s and 1960s. He appeared in countless live dramatic series as an actor, including "Tales of Tomorrow" (ABC, 1951-53) and "Studio One in Hollywood" (CBS, 1948-1958), as well as numerous quiz shows and variety shows, most notably "The Ed Sullivan Show" (CBS, 1948-1971), where he logged over 40 appearances. A capable singer and dancer, he made his Broadway debut opposite Sammy Davis, Jr. in 1956's "Mr. Wonderful," and even recorded his own album of musical numbers, called Broadway a la Jack Carter. And he was a top draw in Las Vegas lounges, where he offered a furious blend of comedy, imitations and songs.
The only medium that seemed to elude Carter was motion pictures. He made his feature debut in the harmless romantic comedy "The Horizontal Lieutenant" (1962), but would mark only sporadic appearances on screen over the next decade. Most notable among these was an uncredited turn as himself in the Elvis Presley-Ann-Margret vehicle "Viva Las Vegas" (1964), which preceded a five-year absence from features until the disastrous 1969 comedy "The Extraordinary Seaman," with David Niven and Mickey Rooney. Television offered him a broader canvas for his talents, and he balanced comic roles with more serious fare that revealed a talent for gritty, streetwise roles like the 1969 thriller "The Lonely Profession" (NBC).
Carter was a ubiquitous presence on television throughout the 1970s, where he divided his time between sitcoms, dramatic series, game shows and the few surviving variety programs. In 1978, he played George Jessel in "Rainbow" (NBC), a biopic of Judy Garland, with whom Carter had performed on numerous occasions. There were also occasional feature turns, again as morally ambiguous figures on the periphery of the crime world in Burt Reynolds' "Hustle" (1975) and Lewis Teague's outrageous monster movie, "Alligator" (1980). The 1990s saw him in numerous low-budget features, often of dubious quality, like 1990's "Satan's Princess" and "Caged Fury." But Carter persevered, and soon found himself an in-demand voiceover actor for animated projects, most notably on "Ren and Stimpy" (Nickelodeon, 1991-96) as the aged cartoon producer, Wilbur Cobb. He was also cast as Arthur Spooner in the pilot for "The King of Queens" (CBS, 1998-2007) after Jerry Stiller initially refused the part. However, Stiller later accepted the role, which eliminated Carter from the popular show.
To the astonishment of many, Carter continued to log numerous television and film appearances in the new millennium, including such top-rated shows as "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" (CBS, 2000- ), "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009) and "Desperate Housewives." He also found a second home as a guest star on various teen-oriented programs, including recurring appearances on "iCarly" (Nickelodeon, 2007- ) as the blind grandfather to Noah Munck's eccentric, often shirtless Gibby. In 2009, Carter was seriously injured in a car accident that killed his companion, Toni Murray, the widow of fellow comic Jan Murray. Despite having to rely on a walker, the incident appeared to have little impact on his TV appearances.