I am saddened by the death of the most excellent Art Carney at 85:
- Art Carney, the Academy Award-winning comic actor who first gained fame as the guffawing, slightly off-center sewer worker Ed Norton in the early 1950’s television series “The Honeymooners,” died on Sunday at a convalescent home in Chester, Conn. He was 85.
Mr. Carney’s talents were by no means confined to “The Honeymooners.” He won an Oscar for his performance in the 1974 film “Harry and Tonto,” in which he portrays a widower who is evicted from his New York City apartment and who embarks on a cross-country odyssey with his pet cat. Over the course of his career he repeatedly won critical acclaim for the depth and breadth of his talent, even when he appeared in movies that critics did not like.
But it is as Ed Norton that he will be remembered by the many fans who have kept “The Honeymooners” in reruns for decades. Norton was no ordinary sewer worker. He called himself an “underground sanitation expert.” Every chance he got, he raided the refrigerator of his downstairs neighbor and friend Ralph Kramden, the irascible Brooklyn bus driver played by Jackie Gleason, and his appetite knew no bounds. Norton always wore a vest over his grungy T-shirt, wore a battered fedora indoors and out and always said the wrong thing at the wrong time.
….Arthur William Matthew Carney was born on Nov. 4, 1918, in Mount Vernon, N.Y., the youngest of six sons of Edward Michael and Helen Farrell Carney. He loved doing impersonations as a boy, won a talent contest in elementary school and another at A. B. Davis High School, in Mount Vernon, from which he graduated in 1936. He sought no further formal education and never took an acting course. Instead, he talked his way into a job with the popular Horace Heidt Orchestra and went on the road for more than three years, doing impersonations and novelty songs. He also did some announcing for Heidt’s “Pot O’ Gold” radio show. In 1941, when the orchestra was asked to make a movie called “Pot O’ Gold,” Mr. Carney had a bit part.
Mr. Carney then left Heidt and tried nightclubs and vaudeville, but he was not very good at them and did not do well. He did succeed in getting bit parts on radio, specializing in roles that required dialects. One show, “Man Behind the Gun,” won a Peabody Award in 1942.
At one point a CBS executive who was looking for someone who could imitate the voice of Franklin D. Roosevelt was struck by Mr. Carney’s ability and hired him. His career was interrupted by World War II. He was sent to France as an infantryman, but was wounded in the leg by shrapnel almost immediately and was hospitalized for nine months. He walked with a limp for the rest of his life. [NY Times]
And don’t forget Carney’s totally swinging beat poetry version of “The Night Before Christmas.”
- With his turned-up porkpie hat and unbuttoned vest over a white T-shirt, Carney’s Ed Norton with his exuberant “Hey, Ralphie boy!” became an ideal foil for Gleason’s blustery, bullying Kramden. Carney won three Emmys for his role and his first taste of fame.
“The first time I saw the guy act,” Gleason once said, “I knew I would have to work twice as hard for my laughs. He was funny as hell.”
In one episode, Norton and Ralph learn to golf from an instruction book. Told to “address the ball,” Norton gives a wave of the hand and says, “Hellooooo, ball!” In another episode, Norton inadvertently wins the award for best costume at a Raccoon Lodge party by showing up in his sewer worker’s gear. Another time, the loose-limbed Norton teaches Ralph a finger-popping new dance called the Hucklebuck.
“I loved Art Carney,” said actor Billy Bob Thornton. “I was a huge fan of `The Honeymooners’ and I loved Jackie Gleason, who was a genius. But I was probably more struck by Art Carney than Gleason. You just couldn’t wait for him to come through the door again.”
….”Art was, and is one of the most endearing men I have ever met,” the late actress Audrey Meadows (the caustic Alice Kramden on “The Honeymooners”) wrote in her 1994 memoir “Love, Alice.” She called him a “witty and delightful companion who went out of his way to help each new actor find his niche” on the show.