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Art Carney biography – best known as Ed Norton on The Honeymooners

cover of Art Carney - A Biography by Michael Seth StarrArt Carney biography (November 4, 1918 – November 9, 2003)

“A sewer worker is like a brain surgeon. We’re both specialists.” – Ed Norton, sewer connoisseur, played by Art Carney. Art Carney first became world famous playing the part of Ed Norton, sewer worker and best friend (and comic foil) to  Jackie Gleason‘s Ralph Kramden on the 1950’s TV sitcom “The Honeymooners” — but his story began much earlier.

Born Arthur William Matthew Carney on November 4th, 1918 in Mt. Vernon, New York, Art Carney had an early interest in the theater. The young Art Carney won a talent contest in elementary school and another at A. B. Davis High School, in Mount Vernon, from which he graduated in 1936. As an entertainer, Art Carney was self-taught; he had only a high school education, no formal training and never took an acting class. He had started off as an entertainer at the local Elks Club and performed locally as an impressionist and tap dancer. After graduating from high school he traveled for three years with Horace Heidt, who had a popular orchestra and radio quiz show in the late 1930s.

Art Carney in Hollywood

While with Heidt’s group, he landed a bit part in his first movie, Pot o’Gold, which starred James Stewart and Paulette Goddard. He displayed a remarkable range of dramatic talents over the radio in the 1940s on daytime serials, mysteries, spot recordings, and children’s shows, essentially in character and dialect parts. Later he won a job at $225 a week imitating Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and other world leaders on a radio show, “Report to the Nation.”

Art Carney was drafted into the Army in 1944 and took part in the D-Day landing at Normandy. A piece of shrapnel shattered his right leg, leaving him with a leg three-quarters of an inch shorter than the other and a lifelong limp.

Art Carney returned to radio as second banana on comedy shows, then ventured into television on “The Morey Amsterdam Show” in 1947. That brought him to the attention of Jackie Gleason. Art Carney played the part of neighbor, friend, bowling buddy and clown prince of the sewer workers from 1951 to 1956.”The first time I saw the guy act,” Gleason once said, “I knew I would have to work twice as hard for my laughs.” “Art was, and is one of the most endearing men I have ever met,” the late actress Audrey Meadows (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.

Art Carney Biography – Ed Norton, the sewer connoisseur (November 4, 1918 – November 9, 2003)

Art Carney earned seven Emmy Awards, five of them as the lovable sewer worker Ed Norton on The Honeymooners. His first lead role in a feature film, Harry and Tonto, won him an Oscar, and a few weeks before his death Art Carney was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Hall of Fame. Art Carney passed away on November 9th, 2003 at the age of 85, after a long illness.

Quotations from Ed Norton, Art Carney’s character in “The Honeymooners.”

  • A sewer worker is like a brain surgeon. We’re both specialists.
  • Like we say in the sewer, time and tide wait for no man.
  • As we say in the sewer, here’s mud in your eye.
  • If pizzas were manhole covers, the sewer would be paradise.
  • Ralph: It’s rush hour. We’ll never be able to get across town in this traffic.
    Ed: Trust me. We’ll go by sewer.
  • Ralph: I hope that you realize that water always seeks its level.
    Ed: Yes, we’ve heard rumors to that effect down in the sewer.
  • Ralph: I promise you this, Norton. I’m gonna learn. I’m gonna learn from here on in how to swallow my pride.
    Ed: That ought not to be too hard. You’ve learned how to swallow everything else.

(Source: “The Honeymooners’ Companion: The Kramdens and the Nortons Revisited,” by Donna McCrohan)

Notable roles by Art Carney

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