What the hell, I'm going to presumptuously nominate myself to be president of the Frank Sutton Appreciation Society. In his role as the bombastic Sgt. Carter on the CBS program Gomer Pyle - USMC, Sutton produced a richly hilarious body of work that deserves to be remembered.
I know the reference books all list Jim Nabors as the star of the show, but I'm going to have to disagree and assert that Sutton was main reason to tune in. I don't want to slam Nabors, who did a fine job with his role as an irritating moron with a good heart, but I think Sutton's contributions to the program cannot be overestimated. Without Sutton's blustery and explosive reactions to Pyle's relentless stupidity, the show would have been lifeless and dull. But Sutton was nothing if not versatile within the limited confines of the Sgt. Carter role. Witness one of his trademark slow burn double-takes in the clip below.
And since Friday will mark the 85th anniversary of Sutton's birth I figured that this would be a fine time to salute him by sharing a bunch of magazine and newspaper clippings about him that I acquired via eBay. Seems that some guy was auctioning off his dad's archives and his father just happened to have been in the publicity business in the 1960s and 70s, so he was making room for what I can only imagine was clutter of a far lower caliber.
Sutton was born in Clarkesville, Tennessee in 1923 and grew up in various towns in Tennessee and Kentucky. After completing his studies at East Nashville High School he joined the Army in 1943 (after being rejected by the other branches of the military due to colorblindness). Sutton was sent to the Pacific theater where he participated in 14 landings, including Luzon, Battan and Corregidor.
After returning from the war, he briefly attended Peabody College in Nashville before heading to NYC where he enrolled in Columbia University, eventually earning a degree in drama. Following college, Sutton worked in theater productions and live television, and broke into feature films with a notable role in Marty (1955) which won four Oscars, including the award for Best Picture.
His TV work continued with appearances on Gunsmoke, Naked City, Route 66, Combat! and The Untouchables, among others. Finally in 1964, he landed the role of Sgt. Carter, a job that lasted until 1969 when CBS pulled the plug on the show (despite good ratings) in an effort to make their lineup less hick-centric. Following Gomer Pyle, Sutton was seen frequently on the Jim Nabors Hour, a variety show, and Love American Style.
On June 28, 1974 he died of a heart attack just before going onstage at the Beverly Barn Dinner Playhouse in Shreveport, Louisiana.
UPDATE 1025/09: Thanks to a comment below from Mike In Nashville (aka "I Should Be At The Fair") I have now updated the post to include Tone Set's musical tribute to Sgt. Carter. This is a definite high water mark for the field of techno pop music.
Tone Set - Out Out (4:00)