Monday 20 March 2017

Carrying On Across the Pond


I've always wondered what the Americans think of our very British Carry On films. I now several of the films were released in the United States and have since been shown on television, but do they really get that particular brand of humour? The Carry Ons have become a cult around the world and have been translated into many different languages. I guess at their heart they are really just good old fashioned pantomime slapstick. 

I know Carry On Nurse was a surprisingly huge hit over in America in 1959, playing to packed houses for over a year. So big a success in fact that both director Gerald Thomas and star Shirley Eaton even flew out to New York to help promote it even further. Years later, the Rank Organisation, which had taken over distribution of the Carry Ons from Anglo Amalgamated, attempted to spread the Carry On appeal to America once again by bringing in big name guest star Phil Silvers for Follow That Camel. That decision didn't quite pay off in the end.

Despite this, many actors involved in the Carry On story have worked successfully over on the other side of the Atlantic for many years. Let's take a look at some of them:

Probably the most successful of all has been Jim Dale. Jim has lived in New York since 1980 and has firmly established himself as a star on Broadway. Playing in Barnum to great acclaim, Jim has gone on to make countless theatrical appearances over the years and even tackled parts in Disney films. Most recently, he has been the critically acclaimed voice of the Harry Potter audio books in the United States.

The man once touted as Jim's Carry On replacement, Julian Holloway, also lives in the States, albeit on the West Coast. Julian has resided in Los Angeles since the early 1990s and has forged a highly successful career as a voice actor in many films and animations. 


Someone who was not quite as fortunate was the late actress Carol White. Carol rose to prominence in the excellent 1966 television film Cathy Come Home. Before that of course she had played one of the rebellious pupils in Carry On Teacher. Carol was one of the biggest, most promising stars of British cinema in the 1960s and moved to Hollywood in 1968 appearing in several films with among others, Dean Martin. However personal problems and some high profile failed relationships made White unreliable and her career sadly came to a halt. She died in 1991 at the age of 48, in Miami, Florida.

That very English of actors Wilfrid Hyde White, who famously guest starred in 1959's Carry On Nurse, worked a great deal in the United States, appearing regularly on Broadway and even receiving two Tony nominations. Wilfrid was based in California for many years and acted regularly on American television in shows such as Columbo, Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica. Hyde White passed away six days before his 88th birthday in May 1991.

That wonderful comedienne Carole Shelley started her acting career with cameos in two black and white Carry Ons - Regardless in 1960 as Helen Delling and three years later, the role of a Glam Cab driver with Amanda Barrie in Carry On Cabby. Carole then moved from London to New York and her first role on Broadway was as Gwendolyn Pigeon in the original, 1965 production of The Odd Couple, starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Carole reprised her role for the 1968 film and also appeared in a later television version. Shelley has gone on to appear in a huge number of stage roles in the United States and even played an overbearing Jewish mother in a classic episode of Frasier in 1999.

Another actor who appeared in Frasier was that lovely Irish character player Milo O'Shea. Milo played Len, one of the newly hired cab drivers in the 1963 film Carry On Cabby. From the mid 1960s onwards most of O'Shea's work was in the United States, with a landmark role opposite Eli Wallach in the Broadway play Staircase coming in 1967. In 1968 Milo starred in two classic films - Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet and Roger Vadim's Barbarella, starring Jane Fonda. Milo even popped up in an episode of The Golden Girls in the late 1980s. He continued to act until 2005, passing away in New York at the age of 86 in 2013.

The international guest star of Carry On Behind, Elke Sommer, has been based in Los Angeles for many years. Rising to prominence in the 1964 comedy A Shot in the Dark opposite Peter Sellers, Sommer has starred in many Hollywood films and stage productions. For the past two decades she has focussed on her work as an artist. Another one-time Carry On actor who has spent many years in America is Judy Geeson. Sally's sister left London for California in 1984 and has lived there ever since.  


Although Kenneth Williams famously said he had no desire at all to work in or indeed see America, several of his co-stars did indeed venture stateside for work during their careers. Dilys Laye grabbed a very early starring role in the 1954 Broadway production of The Boyfriend opposite Julie Andrews. In 1966, Kenneth's friend Sheila Hancock made her Broadway debut in a production of Joe Orton's Entertaining Mr Sloane. And in 1978, Frankie Howerd travelled to Hollywood to play "Mean Mr Mustard" in the big budget musical film Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which co-starred the likes of the Bee Gees, Peter Frampton, George Burns and Steve Martin.

That most English of all Englishmen, Leslie Phillips had a taste of Hollywood success when he made the George Cukor directed Cole Porter musical film Les Girls in 1957. The cast included Kay Kendall, Taina Elg, Mitzi Gaynor, Patrick Macnee and a certain Gene Kelly. Phillips' next role on returning to the UK was none other than Jack Bell (Ding Dong! You're not wrong!) in Carry On Nurse. And in 1964 Carry On favourite Liz Fraser played Sheila in the Hollywood comedy drama The Americanization of Emily, a film which starred the likes of James Garner, Julie Andrews and Joyce Grenfell. 


This is by no means an exhaustive list, so do please feel free to chip in with any other trans-atlantic Carry On stars!

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and also on Facebook

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