This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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ART CARNEY'S SHOW-BIZ CAREER BEGAN ON NETWORK RADIO
(From Radio Recall, June 2003)
Most of the public recall Art Carney from his Emmy role as Ed Norton on TV’s “The Honeymooners” with Jackie Gleason. This talented actor also starred in Broadway’s “The Odd Couple” as Felix Unger and won an Academy Award for his film, “Harry and Tonto.” But few of us, even in the OTR community, remember that Carney first supported himself as an entertainer on network radio.
Art, whose full name is Arthur William Matthew Carney, was born in 1918 in Mount Vernon, NY, less than 10 miles from downtown Manhattan. He was such a poor student he almost flunked out of high school there. Art, who spent most of his spare time practicing impressions, became skilled enough to land a job with Horace Heidt’s band. His older brother, Jack, had arranged the audition, knowing Heidt liked to use impressionists.
This job led to Art’s radio career when Heidt took to the airwaves with Pot of Gold, one of radio’s first giveaway shows. By 1941, Carney’s superb impressions of FDR, Al Smith, and Lionel Barrymore, landed him a job on radio’s Report to the Nation and later The March of Time.
Within a few years, he was a regular on many dramatic, comedy, and variety shows. Art was “Red Lantern”, a talking fish on ABC’s Land of the Lost, a popular kids’ series. He played the supporting role of “Angus” on Lorenzo Jones as well as “Billy Oldham” in Joe and Ethel. He played adult roles on Let’s Pretend, including FDR, and portrayed both cops and crooks on The Adventures of the Thin Man.
Art also got regular work on other series, including: Jack Pepper Show, Gang Busters, Casey, Crime Photographer, Escape, as well as Casebook of Gregory Hood. He was a member of the cast of The Man Behind the Gun, and this wartime series went on to win a Peabody Award.
He was drafted into the US Army in 1944 and that fall, near Normandy, his leg was shattered by a German mortar shell. Although he received excellent medical care in both England, and later in a US military hospital, he would carry a limp for the rest of his life.
After the war, he returned to radio and had even more success. He had roles in Gang Busters, This is Your FBI, and David Harding, Counterspy. Art played many roles on The Aldrich Family, The Mysterious Traveler, Aunt Jenny’s Kitchen, The Big Story, as well as portraying the father of Monty Woolley on The Magnificent Montague.
Finally in 1948, he made the transition from success in radio to success in television. He was playing a regular role on radio’s The Morey Amsterdam Show, as “Charlie the Doorman” when CBS moved it to television. When the DuMont TV network lured Amsterdam away from CBS, his show remained somewhat the same. Carney became “Newton the Waiter” and while still doing this TV show, Art increased his popularity as a regular comedian on radio’s Henry Morgan Show.
Carney first appeared with Jackie Gleason on TV on July 5, 1950 on a comedy series called Cavalcade of Stars on the Dumont network, and the rest, as they say, was history!
Editor’s Note: Above material adapted from Michael Seth Starr’s 1997 biography of Art Carney, Fromm Intern. Publishing Company, NY.