LOS ANGELES — Jack Carter, whose deft mimicry, rapid-fire wisecracks, and manic storytelling energies made him a comedy star in television’s infancy and helped sustain a show business career that extended through eight decades, died June 28 at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 93.
Jeff Sanderson, a family spokesman, told news media that the cause was respiratory failure.
Quick with a quip, whether scripted or ad lib, Carter was a significant figure in television during the medium’s earliest days, which were dominated by such comedians as Milton Berle and Sid Caesar. In the early 1950s, Carter starred in a show that carried his name.
At various stages of his career, he directed Lucille Ball, made a movie with Elvis Presley, played golf with Jack Benny, palled around with George Burns, toured with Bob Hope and acted on Broadway with Sammy Davis Jr.
Although he fell short of the top tier of entertainers, Carter had countless guest appearances on talk shows and on comedy series and was on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the long-running CBS variety program, more than 40 times.
He once described the notably stone-faced Sullivan as “imitating me imitating him.”
Carter had a fast-paced, irreverent delivery and was a gifted mimic. His brash, breezy, often acerbic style of humor frequently made targets of others and was often couched in terms that might be considered sexist today.
“If you like to spend your vacation in out-of-the-way places where few people go,” he said in one joke, “let your wife read the map.”
In joking about old age, he said, “I told her to act her age, so she died.”
When New York’s first run movie palaces featured stage shows before and after films, Carter played at the Paramount and at Loew’s State. In the late 1940s, he was a host of NBC’s “Texaco Star Theater,” which later featured Berle as the permanent host.
Speaking of Berle, hugely popular in his day, Carter joked, “Milton Berle adored me. I’ll never forget the first time I met him. I walked into Lindy’s (the New York restaurant) and Milton ran up to me, he took me aside … And he left me there.”
Carter was the host of specials and variety shows, including “Cavalacade of Stars,” before he the hour-long “Jack Carter Show” on NBC in 1950 and 1951.
On Broadway, Carter replaced Phil Silvers in the 1951-52 production “Top Banana” and appeared alongside Davis in “Mr. Wonderful” in 1956.
Carter was a guest host of the “Tonight” show before Johnny Carson took over from Jack Paar in the early 1960s, and he exchanged witty remarks on radio with Fred Allen. He often popped up on game shows and was a guest star on countless TV series, including “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “The Judy Garland Show,” “The Rockford Files” and “Sanford and Son.” His appearances on the 1960s NBC medical drama “Dr. Kildare” garnered two Emmy nominations.
He had an uncredited appearance as a nightclub performer in the 1964 Presley film “Viva Las Vegas.”
In 1971, Carter directed two episodes of “Here’s Lucy,” including one featuring Ball and comedienne Carol Burnett.
In recent years, Carter appeared on the Fox comedy “New Girl” and voiced various parts on “Family Guy,” the animated Fox comedy series. Last year, Carter showed up in an episode of “Shameless” on Showtime.
He continued to appear around the country as a stand-up comedian well into his 80s and proved adept as a scourge of hecklers, unleashing such putdowns as “I couldn’t warm up to you if we were being cremated together.”
Jack Chakrin was born June 24, 1922, in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. His parents, Jewish immigrants from Russia, owned a candy store.
In high school Carter was drawn toward the stage, and he soon began to appear in summer stock productions. He displayed his gifts at mimicry on the Major Bowes “Amateur Hour,” a popular radio show, and began working in nightclubs, adopting the stage name Jack Carter in the early 1940s.
After Army service in an entertainment unit during World War II, he first appeared on Broadway in 1947 in “Call Me Mister.”
His first two marriages, to Joan Mann and Paula Stewart, ended in divorce.
He and his third wife, Roxanne Wander, were married in 1971, divorced in 1977 and remarried in 1992.
In addition to his wife, survivors include two children from his first marriage; a son from his second marriage; and two grandchildren.
In his brash comedy, Carter often poked fun at himself.
“I’m not a has-been!” he would insist. And after precisely the proper pause, he would elaborate: “I’m a never-was!”