Roscoe Karns

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Roscoe Karns
Roscoe Karns Rocky King Mary Karns 1954.JPG
Karns with his wife Mary; still from Rocky King, Inside Detective (1954)
Born(1891-09-07)September 7, 1891
DiedFebruary 6, 1970(1970-02-06) (aged 78)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Years active1915-1964
Mary M. Fraso
(m. 19201970)
Children2; including Todd Karns

Roscoe Karns (September 7, 1891 February 6, 1970) was an American actor who appeared in nearly 150 films between 1915 and 1964. He specialized in cynical, wise-cracking (and often tipsy) characters, and his rapid-fire delivery enlivened many comedies and crime thrillers in the 1930s and 1940s.


Acting career

Karns began acting with a San Diego stock company when he was still in high school. “I’ve never earned a dime outside of show business. I can't even claim having a newspaper route as a kid,” he claimed. [1]

Though he appeared in numerous silent films, such as Wings and Beggars of Life , his career didn't really take off until sound arrived. Arguably his best-known film role was the annoying bus passenger Oscar Shapeley, who tries to pick up Claudette Colbert in the Oscar-winning comedy It Happened One Night , (1934) [2] quickly followed by one of his best performances as the boozy press agent Owen O'Malley in Howard Hawks' Twentieth Century . (Six years later, he co-starred as one of the reporters in another Hawks classic, His Girl Friday .) In 1937, Paramount teamed him with Lynne Overman as a pair of laconic private eyes in two B comedy-mysteries, Murder Goes to College and Partners in Crime .

By the late 1940s Karns was finding it difficult to obtain movie roles, and was considering retiring, but he contacted a friend who worked for the DuMont Television Network, and he was asked to consider coming to New York City to act on television. [1] From 1950 to 1954, Karns played the title role in the popular DuMont Television Network series Rocky King, Inside Detective . His son, character actor Todd Karns, also appeared in that series. [3]

From 1959 to 1962, Karns was cast as Captain (then Admiral) Walter Shafer in seventy-three of the ninety-five episodes of the CBS military sitcom/drama series, Hennesey , starring Jackie Cooper in the title role of a United States Navy physician, and Abby Dalton as nurse Martha Hale. [4]

His final film was another Hawks comedy, Man's Favorite Sport? , in 1964.

Personal life

Roscoe Karns was born September 7, 1891, in San Bernardino, California. He married Mary M. Frasco in 1920, and was the father of two children – Mary Karns Hart, and Roscoe Todd Karns, Jr. He died at St. Vincent's Hospital, in Los Angeles, on February 6, 1970, after more than a month of hospitalization. [2]


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  1. 1 2 The Actor Hollywood Forgot: Roscoe Karns Has Outlasted All Other TV Detectives, TV Guide, July 31, 1953, pages 20 to 22.
  2. 1 2 Roscoe Karns, Actor, Dies at 77; TV Navy Doctor in ‘Hennesey’, New York Times, February 8, 1970, page 8
  3. Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946 – Present, page 532, Ballantine Books, 1979
  4. Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946 – Present, pages 258 & 259, Ballantine Books, 1979