John Elmer "Jack" Carson (October 27, 1910 – January 2, 1963) was a Canadian-born American-based film actor.
Carson was one of the most popular character actors during the 'golden age of Hollywood', with a film career spanning the 1930s, '40s & '50s. Primarily used in supporting roles for comic relief, his work in films such as Mildred Pierce (1945) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) displayed his mastery of "straight" dramatic actor roles as well. He worked for RKO, MGM (cast opposite Myrna Loyand William Powell in Love Crazy), but most of his memorable work was for Warner Brothers. His trademark character was thewisecracking know it all typically and inevitably undone by his own smug cockiness.
He was born in Carman, Manitoba, to Elmer and Elsa Carson. Shortly afterwards, the family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which he always thought of as his home town even though there is no known evidence that he ever became a U.S. citizen. He attended high school at Hartford School, Milwaukee, and St. John's Military Academy, Delafield, but it was at Carleton College that he acquired a taste for acting.
Because of his size — 6 ft 2 in (1.9 m) and 220 lb (100 kg), his first stage appearance (in a collegiate production) was as Hercules. In the midst of 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 was born. This piece of unplanned business would be typical of the sorts of things that tended to happen to Carson in many of his film roles.
During the 1930s, as vaudeville declined from increased competition from radio and the movies, Willock and Carson sought work in Hollywood. Carson initially landed bit roles at RKO Radio Pictures in films such as Bringing Up Baby (1938), starring Cary Grantand Katharine Hepburn. Radio was another source of employment for the team, starting with a 1938 appearance on the Kraft Music Hall when Bing Crosby hosted the show. This led to a number of other appearances culminating in Carson's own radio show in 1943.
From 1950-51, Jack was one of four alternating weekly hosts of the Wednesday evening NBC Television comedy-variety show Four-Star Revue. (The others were veterans Jimmy Durante and Ed Wynn, and up-and-coming young Danny Thomas.) The second season was his last with the show, when it was renamed All-Star Revue.
His success in radio led to the start of a lucrative film career. An early standout role for Carson was as a mock-drunk undercover G-Man opposite Richard Cromwell in Universal Pictures's anti-Nazi action drama entitled Enemy Agent. This led to contract-player status with Warner Brothers shortly thereafter. While there, he was teamed with Dennis Morganin a number of films, supposedly to compete with the popular Bing Crosby - Bob Hope "The Road to --- " pictures.
But despite this auspicious beginning, most of his work at Warner Brothers was limited to light comedy work with Morgan, and later 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. Also in 1945 he played the role of Harold Pierson, the second husband of Louise Randall, played by Rosalind Russell, in Roughly Speaking. Another role which won accolades for him was as publicist Matt Libby in A Star is Born (1954).
His TV appearances, extending into the early 1960s, included The Martha Raye Show, The Guy Mitchell Show and The Polly Bergen Show (both 1957), Alcoa Theatre (1959),Bonanza (Season 1, Ep.9: "Mr. Henry Comstock", 1959), and The Twilight Zone (Season 2, Ep. 14: "The Whole Truth", 1961).
His far-less-famous brother Robert (Bob) was also a character actor.
In 1962, while rehearsing the Broadway play Critic's Choice, he collapsed and was subsequently diagnosed with stomach cancer. He died in Encino in 1963, at only 52 years of age. 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, who died on the same day. Carson 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) and 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, in 1950–51, but she left him for Marty Melcher, who would become her third husband.