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Art Carney 1918-2003
 


Country : Mount Vernon, NY
Profession : Actor
Date of birth : 1918-11-04
Date of death : 2003-11-09
Cause of Death : Unspecified

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Arthur William Matthew “Art” Carney (November 4, 1918 – November 9, 2003) was an American actor in film, stage, television and radio. Carney portrayed the upstairs neighbor and sewer worker Ed Norton, opposite Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden in the situation comedy The Honeymooners.

Personal life

Carney, youngest of six sons (Fred, Jack, Ned, Phil, Robert), was born in Mount Vernon, New York, the son of Helen and Edward Michael Carney, who was a newspaper man and publicist. His family was Irish American and Catholic. He attended A B Davis High School. Carney was drafted as an infantryman during World War II. During the Battle of Normandy, he was wounded in the leg by shrapnel and walked with a limp for the rest of his life.

Carney was married three times to two women: Jean Myers, from 1940 to 1965, and again from 1980 to his death; and Barbara Isaac from December 21, 1966 to 1977. He had three children with Jean Myers: Brian [1946], Eileen [1946] & Paul [1952].

Radio

Carney was a comic singer with the Horace Heidt orchestra, which was heard often on radio during the 1930s, notably on the hugely successful Pot o' Gold, the first big-money giveaway show in 1939-41. Carney's film career began with an uncredited role in Pot o' Gold (1941), the radio program's spin-off feature film, playing a member of Heidt's band. Carney, a gifted mimic, worked steadily in radio during the 1940s, playing character roles and impersonating celebrities. In 1941 he was the house comic on the big band remote series, Matinee at Meadowbrook. One of his radio roles during the 1940s was the fish Red Lantern on Land of the Lost. In 1943 he played Billy Oldham on Joe and Ethel Turp, based on Damon Runyon stories. He appeared on The Henry Morgan Show in 1946-47. He impersonated FDR on The March of Time and Dwight D. Eisenhower on Living 1948. In 1950-51 he played Montague's father on The Magnificent Montague. He was a supporting player on Casey, Crime Photographer and Gang Busters.

Television

On the radio and television shows of the The Morey Amsterdam Show from 1948 to 1950, Carney's character Charlie the doorman became known for his catchphrase, "Ya know what I mean?", a phrase so deeply embedded that it continues to have widespread usage more than half a century later.

In 1950 Jackie Gleason was starring in a New York-based comedy-variety series, Cavalcade of Stars, and played many different characters. One regular character was Charlie Bratten, a lunchroom loudmouth who insisted on spoiling a neighboring patron's meal. Carney, established in New York as a reliable actor, played Bratten's mild-mannered victim, Clem Finch. Gleason and Carney developed a good working chemistry, and Gleason recruited Carney to appear in other sketches, including the domestic-comedy skits featuring The Honeymooners. Carney gained lifelong fame for his portrayal of upstairs neighbor and sewer worker Ed Norton, opposite Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden. The success of these skits resulted in the famous filmed situation comedy The Honeymooners and the Honeymooners revivals that followed.

Beyond The Honeymooners, Carney served as Gleason's sidekick and troupe member during many of the Gleason's years on television, which included several CBS runs of the Gleason variety show and some Honeymooners specials on ABC. Gleason picked Carney to play Norton because he realized that Carney was so funny that Gleason would have to work twice as hard to get laughs. This "competition" between the two was likely a factor in the program's consistently high level of humor. In fact, at one point during the 1950s, Carney was getting more media attention than Gleason, prompting Gleason to scale back Carney's participation for a few episodes. Popular demand restored Carney to prominence in the Gleason shows.

Carney's good-naturedly goofy portrayal of Norton continues to influence pop culture, particularly by inspiring the Hanna-Barbera characters, Yogi Bear and Barney Rubble.

He was nominated for seven Emmy Awards and won six.

In 1958, he starred in an ABC children's television special Art Carney Meets Peter and the Wolf, which also featured the Bil Baird Marionettes. It combined an original storyline with a marionette presentation of Serge Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. Some of Prokofiev's other music was given lyrics written by Ogden Nash. The special was a success and was subsequently repeated twice.

Carney was also in an episode of The Twilight Zone "Night of the Meek". In 1964, he guest-starred in the episode "Smelling Like a Rose" along with Hal March and Tina Louise in the CBS drama Mr. Broadway, starring Craig Stevens. He also starred as the title character in the short-lived television drama, Lannigan's Rabbi, which aired in 1977.

Recordings

Carney recorded prolifically in the 1950s for Columbia Records. Two of his hits were "The Song of the Sewer," sung in character as Norton, and "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," a spoken-word record in which Carney, accompanied only by a jazz drummer, recited the famous Yuletide poem in syncopation. Some of Carney's recordings were comedy-novelty songs, but most were silly songs intended especially for children. Unlike some entertainers who exaggerated their speech patterns for young listeners, Carney respected his juvenile audience and did not talk down to it.

Between his stints with Jackie Gleason, Carney worked steadily as a character actor. In the season two opening episode of the Batman television series, titled "Shoot a Crooked Arrow" (1966), Carney gave a memorable performance as the newly introduced villain "The Archer". In 1978, Carney appeared in The Star Wars Holiday Special, a spin-off film to the Star Wars series. In it, he played Trader Saun Dann, a member of the Rebel Alliance who was a close friend of Chewbacca and his family.

Films

In 1974 he won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as Harry Coombes, an elderly man going on the road with his pet cat, in Harry and Tonto. He also appeared in such films as W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings, The Late Show (as an aging detective), House Calls, Movie Movie and Going in Style (as a bored senior citizen who joins in bank robberies). Later movies included The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984) and the thriller Firestarter.

In 1981, he portrayed Harry Truman, an 84-year-old lodge owner in the half-fictional/half-real account of events leading to the eruption of Mount St. Helens, in the movie titled St. Helens. Although he retired in the late 1980s, he returned in 1993 to make a small cameo in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Last Action Hero.

In 1984, he portrayed Santa Claus in the holiday classic The Night They Saved Christmas with Jaclyn Smith. Mrs. Claus was played by June Lockhart of Lassie and Lost In Space fame.

Broadway

Carney's work on stage included the portrayal on Broadway in 1965-67 of Felix Ungar in The Odd Couple (opposite Walter Matthau and then Jack Klugman as Oscar). In 1969 he was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance in Brian Friel's Lovers.

Death and legacy

Carney died November 9, 2003 of natural causes at a rest home near his home in Westbrook, Connecticut, five days after his 85th birthday; he was survived by his widow and children. Carney is interred at Riverside Cemetery in Old Saybrook, Connecticut.

Carney was succeeded in show business by his grandson, Devin Richardson Carney, star of Old Saybrook theatre productions, including a stint as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music and a commanding performance as Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls. During his undergraduate experience at Brandeis University, the younger Carney starred in many shows at the Renfield Basement Theatre, including "Comin Into My Lane" and "Hayataaan." Today, Devin Richardson Carney limits his theatrical work to performing in the Ardmore Road Rock Band in West Hartford, Connecticut, where he plays backup guitar for Nick Bombace.

Filmography

Year

Film

Role

Notes

1941

Pot o’ Gold

Band member/radio announcer

uncredited

1950

PM Picnic

Narrator

1964

The Yellow Rolls-Royce

Joey Friedlander

1967

A Guide for the Married Man

Technical Adviser (Joe X)

1974

Harry and Tonto

Harry Coombes

Academy Award for Best Actor
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy

1975

W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings

Deacon John Wesley Gore

1976

Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood

J.J. Fromberg

1977

The Late Show

Ira Wells

National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor

Scott Joplin

John Stark

1978

Movie Movie

Doctor Blaine/Doctor Bowers

House Calls

Dr. Amos Willoughby

1979

Going in Style

Al

Pasinetti Award

Steel

Pignose Moran

Sunburn

Marcus

Ravagers

Sergeant

1980

Roadie

Corpus C. Redfish

Defiance

Abe

1981

St. Helens

Harry Truman

Take This Job and Shove It

Charlie Pickett

1982

Better Late Than Never

Charley Dunbar

1983

The Last Leaf

Mr. Behrman

1984

Firestarter

Irv Manders

The Muppets Take Manhattan

Bernard Crawford

The Naked Face

Morgens

The Night They Saved Christmas

Santa Claus

1987

Night Friend

Monsignor O’Brien

1993

Last Action Hero

Frank

Awards and tributes

  • Carney has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6627 Hollywood Blvd.
  • While starring in The Odd Couple on Broadway, Carney's caricature was drawn for walls of Sardi's Restaurant.
  • In 1994, the music group The Swirling Eddies named a song after Carney on their album Zoom Daddy entitled "Art Carney's Dream."

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