Art Carney, radio star, Oscar and Emmy-winning actor, Ed Norton
If Art Carney will be remembered for just one thing, it will be his portrayal of Ed Norton on the landmark television series "The Honeymooners." Yet Carney had been a star of radio for nearly 20 years before that role, and continued to be a star of stage and screen long after the show went off the air.
Arthur William Matthew Carney was born in Mount Vernon, New York, on November 4, 1918. At a young age, Art enjoyed acting, and began appearing on stages as early as 8 years old. By the time he was 19, he had gotten a traveling gig with Horace Heidt doing impressiong and singing novelty songs. At an early age, Art was introduced to liquor, and he spent the rest of his life battling his addiction to alcohol.
After leaving Heidt, he joined up with the radio show "Report to the Nation" in which he impersonated Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and other political luminaries of the day while delivering the news. He was also a regular on the radio show "Gangbusters", a precursor to today's "America's Most Wanted" where Art announced descriptions of various criminals in hopes people would identify them on the streets. In 1944, he was drafted into the Army, and within three months he and his platoon were rushing out onto the beaches of Normandy as part of the D-Day campaign. On the second day of fighting, Art took a piece of shrapnel in his right leg, giving him a permanent limp.
Art's first venture into television was "The Morey Amsterdam Show" in 1947, where he met the young entertainer Jackie Gleason. The two got along well, and in 1948 they appeared together on "Cavalcade of Stars." It was there that the two invented the pair of lovable louts that would make them internationally famous: Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton. With his "Gee, Ralph" and "Va-Va-VOOM" antics, Art became an instant star as the foil to Ralph's short fused temper.
Frmo 1950 to 1955, Art was a regular on "The Jackie Gleason Show", and won two Emmys in 1954 and 1955 for his performance. Finally, Jackie was given the full opportunity to do the unthinkable: a live broadcast situational comedy. He immediately thought of his Ralph Kramden bit, and talked Art into playing as Ed Norton. On October 1, 1955, "The Honeymooners" came to life.
For 39 episodes, Jackie and Art hammed it up as the slow-burning Kramden and the slow-witted Norton. Art continued to shine, winning his third Emmy for the show. While Ralph would conjure up get rich quick schemes, Ed would put him in his place with his occasional blasts of reality. The show ended its run in 1956, but Art's character has resonated throughout the years, from providing the inspiration for Yogi Bear and Barney Rubble to modern sitcom neighbors like Stanley Roper, Steve Urkel, and Cosmo Kramer.
After the end of "The Honeymooners", Art began taking roles in a number of Broadway plays. One of his first appearances as in Thornton Wilder's Our Town as the Stage Manager, a role he reprised for the 1959 film. But Art's alcoholism again affected his success, as he was fired despite universal acclaim for his originating role as the tidy Felix in Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple." Art took on bit parts on television, playing The Archer on TV's "Batman" in 1966. That year he rejoined his old friend Jackie Gleason for his CBS variety show, and like clockwork won three more Emmys, all especially created for his spectacular performances.
In 1974, Art received his most prestigious role, that of the aging retiree Harry Coombes in the film harry and Tonto (Tonto was his cat.) For his soul-baring performance he won the Best Actor Oscar, one of the few truly inspired choices by the Academy.
Despite his celebrated role, Art still couldn't find suitable roles, and he often resorted to playing the somewhat stodgy manager, director, or other know-nothing executive in a number of flops, including famously Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood. in 1976 he took on the role of Chief Paul Lanigan in the short-lived NBC series "Lanigan's Rabbi", and continued to play in TV movies to make ends meet. In 1978 he was a guest on the ill-fated Star Wars Holiday Special.
Throughout the 1980s Art played a number of bit parts in below-average movies, the most notable being 1984's Stephen King adaptation Firestarter. That same year he starred as Santa Claus in the beloved TV movie The Night They Saved Christmas, and in 1986 he got a recurring role on the short-lived but much-loved sitcom "The Cavanaughs", about an Irish family down on its luck.
Art's last major appearance was in the 1993 Arnold Scwharzenegger flop Last Action Hero. The great Art Carney passed away November 9, 2003
in Chester, Connecticut, five days after his 85th birthday.