Like other kids’ fathers, Brian Carney’s dad left for work everyday from their Yonkers’ home in the 50s. On the other hand, the then elementary school kid soon noticed that his father’s profession had the attention of almost everyone. “It seemed everybody talked about what he did,” says Carney of his father Art of Honeymooner’s fame. But the son has attained a measure of celebrity of his own, living a pretty good life himself in Purdys, New York.
“I played opposite the Geiko Gecko as the CEO from 2008-2011,” says Carney.
While enjoying the very lucrative run, the creative interplay between him and lizard also appealed. The chance to be an actual celebrity wasn’t so bad either. “I really enjoyed being recognized by people,” says the 67 year old.
The experience also gave him a sense of what his father went through and shed light on why the elder rejected the spotlight. “It could become wearing on you,” Carney revealed.
Still, that doesn’t mean the long time voice over and commercial actor had any reservations about doing the spots. “I was hoping they’d go for 15 or 20 years,” he says.
But despite the success of the ads, he knew ultimately they would end. “You get a letter saying your services are no longer needed,” he says.
The impetus turned out to be a change in ad agencies, but it certainly hasn’t left him a lack of work. “I’ve gotten into elderly medications. My latest was for Advair,” he says.
Acting, though, was not something his father pushed him toward. “I wanted to be a vet, but I found out I had to become a doctor first and then go to more school. I didn’t want to do that,” he remembers.
His other interest was music, singing in the Glee Club and the church choir. He eventually learned guitar, and after high school, took to playing a college circuit of coffee shops for almost ten years. “It was very rewarding, I learned a lot about life and saw much of the country,” he says.
The time also had Carney serving in the National Guard, and the long 60’s hair he then wore actually survived much of his stint. Stuffing my locks under a short hair wig, he says, “I got away with it for three years.”
The grind did finally catch up with him, and he landed his first commercial almost 40 years ago for Chase Bank. “You don’t make nearly as much money in TV commercials as people think,” he says.
Still, he’s not complaining and prefers this to the occasional TV roles because of all the free time it leaves to do things like fishing and riding his Harley. “No crashes but I have dropped the bike a couple of times in gas stations moving from one pump to another,” he says.
Ed Norton couldn’t have scripted it better himself, but the son admits any attempts to imitate his father usually fell short. “One thing he did have was impeccable timing. I would hear things he would do and try to recreate them, and in that split second, it wasn’t as funny,” says Carney.
As for instances in which fatherly discipline had to be handed down, the younger never experienced any confusion in the wake of the goofy character the rest of us knew. “When he got mad, he’d scare the hell out of you. He didn’t have to lay a hand on you. He’d walk in my room, bang the door with the flat of his hand, and I’d just about go in my pants,” he remembers.
Even so, he affectionately remembers him as a good father and is proud of the seven Emmys and Oscar received for Harry and Tonto in 1974.
An honor nearly equaled by his co-star in The Hustler but their relationship was mostly a professional one. “They didn’t socialize much,” says Carney of his father and Jackie Gleason
Brian’s own interaction was also limited. In the few times they met, his Dad would usually say, “do you remember my son” and the larger than life star typically greeted him in passing. “Hi-yaah pal, how’s school going,” Gleason would bellow, according to Carney.
At the same time, Carney is mum on any untold stories, which have passed down to him from some of the old timers. “My father took the 5th on them so if he didn’t admit to them, I’m not going to start talking about them. But nothing that would have been any real trouble,” he says.
These days, Carney still loves to tee up the Honeymooner marathons when they run. “Hello Ball,” he revels the most famous of his father’s lines, but any revenue generated today never gets near his bank account. “My father took $100,000 buyout in 1955 because he needed the money,” says Carney.
No problem, this Carney is going to keep doing what he’s doing and playing parts that maybe don’t get as many laughs as his father but keeps him rolling nonetheless.
Rich Monetti interview of Brian Carney