The Milwaukee Journal – Jun 20, 1943
A Star Who Mows His Own Lawn!
By J. D. Spiro
IT IS plainly written in the established Hollywood tradition that an actor cannot be a genuine 19 carat star unless he can list among his assets—or perhaps it’s his liabilities—at least one swimming pool and a butler who answer to the name of Jeeves. By these standards it would appear that Jack Carson, who still calls Milwaukee home, is unable to qualify, for Jack is not only without the pool and Jeeves but he actually admits, even boasts, that he mows his own lawn and gets the baby’s breakfast.
Nonetheless, in the heartbreak town of Hollywood, where hundreds fail for every one who succeeds, this former Milwaukee boy, whose parents, Mr. and Mrs. E. L. Carson, live at 2009 N. Prospect av., Milwaukee, has at last definitely arrived at stardom both on the air and on the screen. Almost at the same moment several weeks ago, when he got his biggest break in radio as the top attraction on a network show, the film studio to which he has been under contract for many months decided to make him a star in his next picture.
Carson has just gone from tobacco to victuals, retiring from a cigarette company’s “Comedy Caravan” on CBS to become the principal attraction on program sponsored by a soup manufacturer Wednesdays on the same network. He replaced Milton Berle in the scheme of things.
This latest development in Carson’s activities comes five years after the former Milwaukee young man made his first bid for radio attention as a guest on several Bing Crosby programs. A short time later he was unexpectedly offered the job of emcee on an air show for an oil company on a western hookup covering 14 states.
Carson had to be coaxed into accepting this offer because the oil company show was not a national one and he doubted at first that it would amount to much or get him anywhere. Actually, however, it became a prolonged engagement which finally led to bigger things. One of these was the “Comedy Caravan” show.
Before going into the “Comedy Caravan,” moreover, Carson attracted the notice of the agency handling the cigarette account, which had him make an audition. Subsequently a recording of this audition came to the attention of executives of the soup firm and it won such favorable interest that the soup makers took an option on his services for possible future engagements. The terms of this option provided that had to be picked up not later than May 6 last.
Subsequent development made this provision especially important, for when the soup firm decided to exercise the option, Carson had already been put under contract to emcee the “Comedy Caravan” show, which had been transferred from New York to Hollywood. Thus the actor, through no fault of his own, found himself bound by presumably exclusive agreements to two different sponsors at the same time.
This embarrassing conflict led to weeks of negotiations behind the radio scenes, as result of which Music Corporation of America, the booking agency which made the conflicting contracts, had to line up five big guest shows for the Caravan at an estimated cost to the agency of $100,000! That was as a sort of consolation to the Caravan for losing Carson.
Carson regards his new show as the biggest gamble of his radio career because in it he is going to try something he has never attempted before on the air.
“I’m sure people think I’m just a wise guy, a smarty pants,” he laments. “Now personally I don’t like to hear wise guys on the air and I don’t want to be regarded as one. I want to be a friendly, likable fellow, a sort of Mr. Average Man. This new show is going to give me the opportunity. We’re going to try to get our comedy out of familiar situations instead of wise cracking, taking the foibles, the frailties all of us humans have and high lighting them.”
As for his screen work, Carson has been pushing ahead rapidly in the movies ever since he got a term contract with Warner Brothers following his appearance in “Strawberry Blond.” Previously he had been under contract to RKO-Radio, where he got his first film break with Ginger Roger in “Vivacious Lady.” After that, for a time, he made a veritable career of losing Miss Rogers to the hero in a succession of photoplays, the last of which was “Lucky Partners.”
Lately the actor has been before the cameras in “Animal Kingdom,” playing the role in which William Gargan appeared when “Animal Kingdom” was first made into film 10 years ago. After Warner got this new version under way several weeks ago, difficulties began to develop both with the script and with the Hays office, as a result of which all shooting suddenly was halted.
Carson’s most recent film to reach the screen was “The Hard Way,” in which for the first time in pictures he got a chance to do a serious dramatic role, that of the defeated and disappointed “hoofer” who finally commits suicide. In this characterization many critics thought he stole the show. At any rate he so deeply impressed the brothers Warner, his bosses, that several weeks ago they called him into the front office and told him they were going to make him their star comedian.
As now planned, Carson will get his first star billing in “The Widow Wouldn’t Weep,” in which it was originally expected that Jack Benny would play the top role.
“I must say I’ve been flattered by the reaction to my work in ‘The Hard Way,’” Carson admitted. “To tell the truth it’s the only thing I ever acted in that I myself thought was pretty good. I particularly felt that way because Mrs. Carson liked it, too. I think a lot of her judgment.”
Mrs. Carson is the former Kay St. Germane of Portland, Ore., who used to sing with Anson Weeks in Chicago, was on Eddie carnival, where she met jack. The two were married in August, 1940, and now have a 20 month old John Elmer, jr., the pride of the household.
“He’s 3 feet tall,” says Jack happily, “and weighs 32 pounds. I’m slightly nuts about him. I get up every morning and cook his breakfast because that’s the best time for me really to be with him. He’s likely to be asleep when I get home from work.”
Next to his family and his work Carson seems to esteem golf. When you cannot find him elsewhere, you’re likely to do so on any one of the numerous southern California courses, frequently with that other Milwaukee film actor, Dennis Morgan, who also is a Warner Brothers contract player. The Carsons and the Morgans are often seen together.
At golf Carson shoots an expert 78 or 80.