Jack Carter, one of television’s first stars and a presence on the silver screen until last year, could do it all: Act, sing, dance, and tell a mean joke. After a career that spanned seven decades, the legendary comic has died.
Carter died on Sunday at age 93 of respiratory failure at his home in Beverly Hills, California. He leaves behind him a barrage of one-liners, delivered on countless stages in his signature “motor-mouthed” style, the New York Times reported.
In Jack’s day, he did impressions of movie stars from Cary Grant to Humphrey Bogart, and world leaders like Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was cocky, fearless, and often caustic, attacking the audience with his sharp-tongued barbs if they dared heckle him during his act.
“This guy was the machine gun of comedy — rat-a-tat-tat. And not just onstage. He’d go into the bank and say, ‘If I’m giving you $10,000, you should wait on line for me,’ ” said friend and fellow comedian Pat Cooper.
A fixture on late-night talk shows — and briefly hosting his own for one season — Carter traded in crass jokes at a time the word belly-button was censored from The Ed Sullivan Show, the Associated Press added. In a 1963 interview, he hinted that he was so funny because he refused to hold anything back.
“I’m one of the last entertainers who really works when he’s on. I work to win the audience. I see these other guys, and they just recite. The less you do, the less you offend, of course, and that’s what they want on TV.”
Jack was a man meant for the stage and screen. A Brooklyn native and son of Russian Jewish immigrants, a 3-year-old Jack danced on the tables at his father’s candy shop in Coney Island and by his teen years, studied the vaudeville comedians who plied their trade on the boardwalk. He tried to be a serious actor, but fooled around in rehearsals so much someone suggested he get into comedy. Soon, he was performing in nightclubs and theaters, and ended up an entertainer with Irving Berlin’s “This is the Army” after being drafted during World War II.
When he got home, his career began, first on Broadway. But he wasn’t content to stick with one medium. Though a talented comic, Jack Carter was also a serious actor, and his film, theater, and television credits are prolific and continued almost right up until he died.
Variety names nearly all his credits: On Broadway, he had roles in Mr. Wonderful, Guys and Dolls, The Odd Couple, and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. On TV, he was in Dr. Kildare, The Rockford Files, and more recently, tons of sitcoms, such as 3rd Rock From the Sun, King of The Hill, Coach, Monk, and Family Guy. Last year, he had several appearances on Shameless. If that wasn’t enough, he made three dozen movies, was a staple on variety shows and musicals, and was a popular face on Match Game and The $10,000 Pyramid. This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg.
Jack Carter died surrounded by his family. His third wife, Roxanne, survives him, along with sons Michael and Chase, daughter Wendy Carter, and two grandkids. His former wives are named Paula Stewart and Joan Mann.
[Photo Courtesy David Livingston / Getty Images]