By Stan Martin
“My dear friend Carleton Carpenter has been in my life for more than 65 years. We met at the MGM studios when we were both starry-eyed kids who were fortunate enough to have front-row seats in the Golden Age of Hollywood.”
Those words from legendary actress Debbie Reynolds brought tears to the eyes of Carpenter on Wed., Feb. 15 after he spoke at the meeting of the Warwick Valley Rotary Club. They were written last year as part of the “Foreword” to the Warwick resident’s autobiography, “The Absolute JOY of Work.”
“While still a teenager, Debbie Reynolds co-starred in two movies with Carleton Carpenter, singing and dancing together in “Three Little Words” and “Two Weeks in Love.” They recorded two gold records, “Aba Daba Honeymoon” and “Row, Row, Row,” and toured the nation together performing on the Loew’s Theater circuit.
Now 90 years old, Carpenter has been a resident of Warwick since the 1970s. He appeared in about two dozen movies. Some are available at local libraries. His favorite is “Sky Full of Moon (over Las Vegas).” His co-stars were Jan Sterling and Keenan Wynn.
One of his least favorites is “Fearless Fagan,” the (Hollywoodized) true story of a G.I. who took his pet lion along when he joined the army. This film, which co-stars Janet Leigh, is sometimes shown on Turner Movie Classics (TCM) as are “Father of the Bride” and “Up Periscope.”
Despite his film credits, Carp, as his friends call him, always preferred performing on stage. At 17 he landed his first Broadway play and got his union card. He went on to appear in some 20 New York productions and “a lifetime of road show and tours.” His acting career was put on hold during World War II while he served as a seabee on Tinian, an island of the Marianas.
He estimates he was in thousands of radio and TV shows, including almost daily “radio dramas.” He laughs off not being better known saying, “No one could see me on radio and there weren’t many people who owned television sets in those days.”
In his spare time, Carleton Carpenter has played piano and sang at pubs for the enjoyment of his friends, fans and himself. And, he wrote seven popular novels, mostly murder mysteries.