Roscoe Karns
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. 1920⁠–⁠1970)
Children2; including Roscoe Todd

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 and Mary Karns in 1954

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 was admitted to St. Vincent's Hospital, in Los Angeles, on December 18, 1969[5] and died at the hospital on February 6, 1970.[2]



  1. ^ a b The Actor Hollywood Forgot: Roscoe Karns Has Outlasted All Other TV Detectives, TV Guide, July 31, 1953, pages 20 to 22.
  2. ^ a b 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
  5. ^ Veteran Actor Roscoe Karns Dies At 76, The Sacramento Bee, February 8, 1970, page 6