In its heyday, Hollywood showcased dozens upon dozens of wonderful character actresses. As with their male counterparts, most of them fell into “types,” roles for which they were well suited and extremely competent and reliable. Looking for a ditzy dame? Call upon Joyce Compton (The Awful Truth , Christmas in Connecticut ) or Barbara Nichols (Sweet Smell of Success , Pal Joey ). Need a high-toned, fussy society woman? Get in touch with Florence Bates (Heaven Can Wait , The Devil and Miss Jones ) or Edna May Oliver (Ann Vickers , Pride and Prejudice ). Want the ultimate kind, gentle, and understanding mother? Look no further then Fay Bainter (Young Tom Edison, The Human Comedy ) or, if the child in question is Jimmy Stewart, Beulah Bondi (Stewart’s onscreen mother in a record four films: Vivacious Lady, Of Human Hearts , Mr. Smith Goes to Washington , and It’s a Wonderful Life ).
And that’s fine. It’s the way it should be. As an audience, we look to these women to fulfill a specific role with great competence and gentle dignity (yes, even the ditzy dames).
What we don’t often see is the onscreen growth from one type of character into another. And another. But that’s exactly the sort of metamorphosis that character actress Lee Patrick achieved throughout the course of her long tenure as a bona fide character actress in Tinsel Town.
The great character actors of Hollywood’s “Golden Era” (a time I’d place from the 1930’s to the 1950’s, give or take a few years on either side) filled an important niche in the films cranked out by the major studios. They were a dependable group of “types”: ditzy blondes, bombastic fatheads, loopy old maids, smart-aleck loudmouths; once their image was imprinted on the celluloid and projected on the screen, you knew what you were getting. Moreover, you could be assured that what you were getting would be good. The plot might be weak, the leading actors sub par, the direction lackadaisical, but the great character actors always delivered. Were they often typecast? Well, of course. But they portrayed, and portrayed excellently, a type that filmgoers then and today grew to love and respect.
Carson was born in Manitoba, Canada in 1910. His family soon moved to Milwaukee, and it was during his college years there that he developed a taste for performing. It was also in college that Jack met fellow character actor Dave Willock. The two of them eventually hit the vaudeville circuit, and in the late thirties, the team of Willock and Carson ended up in Hollywood, finding work in radio and in film.
Carson snagged a contract with RKO and worked there steadily throughout the rest of the decade, mostly in bit parts like “Policeman” (Everybody’s Doing It and Condemned Woman, both in 1938), “Truck Driver” (It Could Happen to You, 1937), and even “Roller Coaster Ride Attendant” (Maid’s Night Out, 1938).