Art Carney

Active - 1941 - 2001  |   Born - Nov 4, 1918 in Mount Vernon, New York, United States  |   Died - Nov 9, 2003   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Though Art Carney would grow up to become a shy, retiring, self-effacing man, he was quite the class clown in school. HIs grades never rising above mediocre, Carney excelled in mimicry, performing astonishingly accurate imitations of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Fred Allen, Ned Sparks, and other 1930s luminaries. This skill enabled him to win a number of New York-based amateur contests, and in 1938 landed him a spot as musician/comedian with the Horace Heidt orchestra. Extensive radio work followed, notably Heidt's weekly quiz show Pot of Gold, which when made into a film in 1941 featured Carney in an uncredited role. While serving in WWII, Carney endured a serious leg wound which left him with a permanent limp. Fortunately this infliction did not impede his postwar radio work; he acted on such dramatic programs as Gangbusters and Dimension X, and appeared as a comedy foil for such major stars as Bert Lahr and Henry Morgan. He moved into television in 1948, playing a comic waiter on The Morey Amsterdam Show. Full-fledged stardom came his way in 1951 when he was hired as supporting player for a roly-poly comedian named Jackie Gleason on the Dumont TV Network's Cavalcade of Stars. Though they were never any more than fast friends off-stage, Gleason and Carney immediately developed a warm on-camera rapport that was to remain intact until Gleason's death in 1987. When Gleason moved from Dumont to CBS in 1952, Carney joined him, playing a remarkable array of sharply defined characters on The Jackie Gleason Show, the most famous of which was goofy, gesticulating sewer worker Ed Norton in the series' classic Honeymooners sketches. Ultimately, Carney was to win six Emmy awards, not only for his work on the Gleason show but also for his dramatic performances in such projects as the 1984 TV movie Terrible Joe Moran. He made a successful transition to the Broadway stage in 1959's The Rope Dancers, subsequently appearing in such stage hits as Take Her She's Mine, The Odd Couple (originating the role of Felix Unger), and Lovers. He returned to films in 1965, and nine years later won an Academy Award for his portrayal of an irascible senior citizen in Harry and Tonto. Even at the height of his popularity and activity, Carney suffered from profound emotional problems; a quiet, introspective sort not given to venting anger or displeasure, he assuaged his rage and insecurities with liquor. His alcoholic intake eventually impaired his ability to perform, forcing him to periodically dry out and take stock in himself in various sanitariums and clinics. Though Art Carney was eventually able to overcome his difficulties, he became more reclusive and less active as the years rolled on. The 1980s proved Carney's final active decade in front of the camera, and following roles in St. Helens, The Muppets Take Manhattan, and Firestarted (not to mention numerous small-screen appearances) Carney called it quits following an appearance in the 1993 action flop The Last Action Hero.

His subsequent retirement proving a restful departure from the high energy entertainment industry, the beloved Honeymooners star died of natural causes in November of 2003.

Movie Highlights

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  • Did myriad impersonations as a child, including Jimmy Durante, Edward G. Robinson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and won talent contests in elementary school and high school.
  • Entered the U.S. Army in the early 1940s and endured a serious leg wound at Normandy, which left him with a permanent limp.
  • Never took an acting course.
  • Before landing the role of Ed Norton on The Honeymooners, played second banana on radio to Fred Allen, Edgar Bergen and Bert Lahr in the late '40s.
  • Created the role of Felix Unger (opposite Walter Matthau) in the original 1965 Broadway production of The Odd Couple.
  • Made his final big-screen appearance in the 1993 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle Last Action Hero.
  • Son Brian plays the GEICO gecko's boss in a series of commercials for the insurance company.
  • Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at 6627 Hollywood Boulevard.