Carleton Carpenter, MGM and Broadway Actor Who Starred Alongside Debbie Reynolds, Dies at 95

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Carleton Carpenter, who performed on stage and screen alongside stars such as Debbie Reynolds in “Two Weeks With Love” and Judy Garland in “Summer Stock,” died Monday in Warwick, N.Y., according to his reps. He was 95.

Carpenter was a multi-hyphenate artist whose career spanned eight decades. His 1950 duet with Debbie Reynolds covering the song “Aba Daba Honeymoon” sold more than a million copies. He performed in countless radio, television and film productions and on stages on- and off-Broadway. He even went on to write a number of books, including his 2017 memoir, “The Absolute Joy of Work.”

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Born Carleton Upham Carpenter Jr. on July 10, 1926 in Bennington, Vt., Carpenter attended Bennington High School and served as a Seabee in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He attended the National High School Institute for Theatre Arts at Northwestern University and began his performance career as a clown and magician at carnivals.

In 1944, Carpenter moved to New York City and was quickly cast in David Merrick’s short-lived Broadway play “Bright Boy.” His biography in the show’s program said he “got this part twenty-four hours after his arrival in New York.”

That show was followed by “Three to Make Ready” with Ray Bolger, “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac” with Hermione Gingold and the 1957 premiere of “Hotel Paradiso” with Bert Lahr and Angela Lansbury, which marked Lansbury’s Broadway debut.

Carleton performed on numerous radio and TV shows beginning as early as 1946, when he was a regular on the early NBC show “Campus Hoopla.” He made his film debut in Louis de Rochemont’s controversial 1949 picture “Lost Boundaries” about a Black family that passes as white.

In 1950, he was signed to a contract with MGM, starting with the film “Summer Stock” alongside Gene Kelly and Judy Garland. He also appeared in “Father of the Bride” with Elizabeth Taylor and “Three Little Worlds,” his first collaboration with Debbie Reynolds.

In “Two Weeks With Love,” Reynolds and Carpenter made history when they covered an old vaudeville song, “Aba Daba Honeymoon.” The song was released as a single, the first time that had ever been done, and it shot to the top of the charts. The two organized a vaudeville act and toured the Loew’s theater circuit around the country.

Carpenter also toured as Cornelius with the Mary Martin company of “Hello Dolly,” including a stint entertaining troops in Vietnam at the height of the war. His final Broadway credit was the 1992 production of “Crazy For You,” which he also toured across the country. His last New York performance was in the 2006 City Center Encores revival of “70 Girls 70.”

Carpenter was also a songwriter, with credits including “Christmas Eve,” recorded by Billy Eckstine, and “Cabin in the Woods” and “Ev’ry Other Day,” which he recorded for MGM Records. He also wrote the musical “Northern Boulevard,” which was staged in New York and Vermont. Carpenter was also the author of mystery novels, including “Games Murderers Play” and “Deadhead,” and had his writing published in Alfred Hitchcock Magazine.

He is survived by his nieces Lesley Phelps and Mrs. Michael Hall Axt, a close cousin Barbara Gallett, several other cousins and his longtime friend Alan Eichler. Services are pending and a memorial will be held at a later date.

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