Before anyone else could claim to be “the pit bull of comedy,” before anyone else turned anger directly into laughs, Jack Carter stood tall amongst all comers in the comedy game, ever ready with a bitter supply of hilarious one-liners and bits. Carter died over the weekend at his home in Beverly Hills from respiratory failure. He had just turned 93.
Here Carter was talking about a 1989 Friars Club Roast and a beef he had with the Roastmaster, Milton Berle.
Nobody did angry quite so funny as Carter. Comedy historian Kliph Nesteroff circulated several quotes from Carter’s reminisces into a Tumbler tag, “SHITJACKCARTERSAYS.” Things like this: “William Morris sent Reggie Rose the screenwriter, you know. He came to one of our first meetings and said, ‘A sketch has got to have a beginning, a middle and an end.’ Larry Gelbart said, ‘So does a piece of shit!’ And that was the end of Reggie Rose.”
Born June 24, 1922, to Russian Jew immigrants in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, Jack Chakrin was soaking up not just the sun and the ocean at an early age, but also the Vaudeville comedians along the boardwalk. By the time he enlisted in the Army for WWII, Chakrin was more entertainer than solider, and when he returned to the States, he hit Broadway in 1947 as Jack Carter in his first musical, “Call Me Mister.” He’d also star in “Top Banana” in 1952, and “Mr. Wonderful” in 1956 with star Sammy Davis Jr. — that same year, Carter hosted the first televised Tony Awards ceremony.
In 1960, he also co-starred with Lucille Ball in Lucy’s only Broadway musical, Wildcat. (Pictured here: Paula Stewart (Carter’s first wife and co-star), Carter and Ball)
TV benefitted from Jack Carter and vice versa. He hosted multiple shows in television’s earliest years of the late 1940s and early 1950s, including Cavalcade of Stars, Saturday Night Review and The Jack Carter Show. He co-starred in several Colgate Comedy Hours, and guest-hosted for Milton Berle as well as for Jack Paar on The Tonight Show. His gifts for song, dance and impersonation to go along with his jokes also made him a frequent guest on The Ed Sullivan Show — and later, in the 1970s, Dean Martin’s celebrity roasts.
On an episode of The Judy Garland Show, Carter starts off by joking with Garland about The Wizard of Oz, working with a very young Liza Minnelli, and then seguing into song and dance with more jokes sandwiched in between about “What’s the Matter With Kids Today?”
That was December 1963. Carter was 41 then, and if you think he looks older than that, just remember that everyone carried their age differently 50 years ago.
But Carter could still carry his own, playing himself opposite Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret on the big screen in Viva Las Vegas — or a generation later, still playing himself in an episode of TV’s Caroline in the City. He’d pop up now and again through each decade, whether it was as a panelist on Match Game, a dreamer on Fantasy Island, a member of Hollywood Squares, voices on The Ren & Stimpy Show, or a special guest star in more recent fare as iCarly, Family Guy, Parks and Recreation, New Girl or Shameless.
At a 1992 event for The Friars Club honoring Martin Landau in Brooklyn, Jack Carter took several minutes to wax nostalgic about growing up in Brighton Beach in the 1920s and 1930s.