Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
2003-11-12 18:40
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to

My father used to work in Televison Production for years, and I know he was a big fan of Art Carney's. I wanted to share an e-mail I received from Pop this morning:

Iíll try to give you some more in a day or two, but I put the death of Art Carney in the same category as the death of Zero Mostel; an important person has left my life.

Although thereís no arguing that for an extended period, Jackie Gleason was akin to a force of nature, he was never, in my mind, the kind of talent or funny man or actor that was Art Carney. Carney wasnít just schtick although his schtick was about as godd as it gets; Carney was a commentator, and a damned funny one at that. My first memory of him (I knew his work in radio but didnít know who he was) was playing a waiter in the nightclub that was Jackie Gleasonís stage in Cavalcade of Stars for DuMont Televisionís Channel 5 in New York. He was intrusive, clumsy and hysterically funny. Itís to Gleasonís credit that he saw in Carney a second banana of remarkable skill. And he was a second banana; for reasons of his shyness, I guess, he was clearly not at home in the starring role, certainly not as a working comic, and why he didnít get more leading roles considering his successes in The Odd Couple and Harry & Tonto is beyond me. Why he did a couple of films with Gleason when the latter was well past his heyday, again playing the second role when it was no longer fittiní and proper, is also beyond me.

One quick story.

Before Channel 13 became a PBS channel, it was owned by a fella named Ely Landau, a genuine entrepreneurial type who will always have a place in my heart because he kept trying things with Henry Morgan. Now Morgan was a radio man and like Fred Allen, never really figured out how to sell his successful brand of cerebral radio humor on television except as a game show panelist. But, for a brief while, he did some things on Channel 13 and on one show in particular, he had Carney visit. At one point, while they were both sitting behind a desk, they played a three or four minute recording from an old radio broadcast with Art in the role of ďSailor CarneyĒ, a not-so-hot prize fighter. If Iíd ever heard the routine, I didnít remember it. They obviously had. Nevertheless, all three of us were is stitches Ö and it was because of Carney. Apparently, it was Morganís policy with Carney, to set a premise and let him go so when they went on the air, they were both hearing his material for the first time. This was before the days of planned improvisational entertainment, but I assure you, Carney could have played with the best of them.

Some people shouldnít grow old and they certainly shouldnít die and Carney is one of them people.

One more note on Carney. I neglected to mention the crime caper he starred in with Lily Tomlin, "The Late Show," which was the first feature Robert Benton directed. Both Carney and Tomlin are in fine form, and I actually enjoyed it even more than I liked "Harry and Tonto." The two movies would make for a great double feature on a cold night this winter.

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