A stocky, serious-looking character, Carl William Demarest started off in vaudeville in 1905 along with two older brothers. At one time he also performed in a stage act with his wife Estelle Collette (billed as 'Demarest and Collette') and then moved on to Broadway. He entered movies in 1926 and first appeared in Vitaphone one-reelers and in films for Warner Brothers, which included the first sound picture, The Jazz Singer (1927). In his later years, he became a household name on TV as retired sea captain Uncle Charley, replacing a seriously ill William Frawley in My Three Sons (1960). However, Demarest was truly at his best during the 1940s as a member of Preston Sturges's unofficial stock company of players, noted for his trademark deadpan or exasperated expressions. He made his reputation in eccentric comic supporting roles, invariably seen as pushy, wary or droll cops, business guys or wisecracking, jaundiced friends of the hero with names like Mugsy, Kockenlocker or Heffelfinger.

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