It's December, so it's time for another heartwarming Christmas episode of NBC's ER (Thursdays at 10 pm/ET). This year's yuletide guest star is Jack Carter, whom you undoubtedly recognize from his myriad film, TV and stage roles. TVGuide.com was more than happy to talk up the veteran actor about his ER visit, his feud with Woody Allen and those exaggerated rumors of his death.
TVGuide.com: I take it you're this year's "a very special ER Christmas" guest star?
Jack Carter: It's funny, I was talking to [screenwriter] Larry Gelbart the other day. I said, "I just did ER and a couple of weeks ago I did CSI." He said, "Oh, you only do initials?" [Laughs] He's so fast, you know. But yeah, I've got a really great role — a guy who doesn't want to go home for Christmas because he's all alone, his wife has died, so he fakes all these illnesses. They have a string of doctors who test him for everything. Finally, John Leguizamo, who plays my doctor, lets me stay in the hospital. He says "Keep the bed," which has a nice heartwarming effect.
TVGuide.com: Aw, you get to spend Christmas with the ER family....
Carter: Yeah, Christmas with the ER family. The set's really decorated gorgeously, it'd better be Christmas! It certainly isn't Hanukkah.
TVGuide.com: How do you go about choosing your guest-star roles?
Carter: I passed on one last week, it just didn't seem right for me. It was a military general who just wasn't me. And then there was a Joey that I went up for but when I got there, there wasn't a guy under 100 years old there! My big line was, "Hey, that's my wheelchair!" I didn't do that one. But most of the ones that come along, I'll gladly take. There's such competition, every guy in town over 80 is there!
TVGuide.com: You're one of the many familiar faces who can be spotted making cameos in Mel Brooks' History of the World: Part I.
Carter: Yeah, I play the Rat Peddler. "Fresh dead rats for sale! Rats for stew, for soup and ratatouille." Oh, I love that line.
TVGuide.com: Were you like, "Mel, are you sure there isn't more I can do?"
Carter: I was hoping to do the big Roman soldier role, but he gave that to Shecky Greene, who didn't last long with it — his legs gave out.
TVGuide.com: You played one of the senators in 1977's The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington, a very hot-button film franchise for the time.
Carter: Yeah, at the time it was red-hot, very controversial. Joey Heatherton was in that. We filmed that in downtown L.A., where the city council meets. [The councilmen would] peep in all the time to see what was going on, because we had a lot of wild ladies around the set half-dressed. All kinds of hookers and prostitutes walking around!
TVGuide.com: Paul Michael Glasser's The Great Houdini was one of my favorite TV-movies as a kid. Who did you play in that?
Carter: I played his brother; Herman Weiss was his real name. I remember that Sally Struthers went and dressed for the role of the mother and got it. She wanted it and she got it, she made herself up old. They didn't believe she could do it.
TVGuide.com: You were a kid during Houdini's final years — was he someone who caught your interest?
Carter: Houdini and his dog used to come into my father's candy store in Brighton Beach — and the dog bit my sister! He nearly had a lawsuit there; it was a big German shepherd. He was a strange-looking guy. Brighton Beach was a good breeding ground for a lot of people — Woody Allen, Buddy Rich, Abe Burroughs....
TVGuide.com: Who would you like to work with but haven't had the chance?
Carter: Oh, I guess Woody Allen would have been a goodie — but we became enemies way back.
TVGuide.com: Oh, really? Why?
Carter: He was one of the top writers on The Gary Moore Show, where I was a regular. One day I was on a panel with Mickey Rooney and some other people, and Woody was picking on Mickey unmercifully. I came to Mickey's defense and attacked Woody Allen, and when we got back to Gary Moore he wrote me out of it quickly. We've been enemies ever since. He's never thought of me for a role in any picture.
TVGuide.com: Who did you always want to work with and did get the chance?
Carter: That's a good question. Abe Burroughs: I got to do a version of Guys & Dolls with him in New Jersey. The New York Times review said, "The best Guys & Dolls is 45 minutes from Broadway at the Paper Mill Playhouse." Beverly Sills cast it and put all opera people in, and I have a big operatic voice, so she was thrilled to have me. She didn't even know I could sing! But I knew Abe way back, because when I used to rehearse my NBC show, he was rehearsing Guys & Dolls next door. There was a camaraderie there.
TVGuide.com: [Singing] "I've got the horse right here.... "
Carter: That song was put in last, they needed a show opener. I've done every Broadway musical except the one I wanted to do, [Fiddler on the Roof's] Tevye. And now they've got a gay Tevye and a lesbian Golda! [Laughs] [Fiddler author] Isaac Bashevis Singer would be rolling over in his grave!
TVGuide.com: How would you like to be remembered?
Carter: As being alive, still. Alive and kicking! A lot of people think I've passed on.
TVGuide.com: Yikes, that's Abe Vigoda territory!