Frank Spencer Sutton was born October 23, 1923 in Clarksville, Tennessee. He is best known for his portrayal of Sgt. Carter on Gomer Pyle.
His father was a linotype operator for the Nashville Tennessean and died, when his son Frank was 14 years old.
Sutton tried to join the Marines, but was turned down for failing to pass the physical, because one arm was bent too far back at the elbow.
However, he was able to join the Army and participated in 14 assault landings, including those at Leyte, Luzon and Corregidor during World War II.
After the war he returned to work as an announcer on a Nashville radio station. However, that didn’t go so well, when his boss turned on the radio and heard silence, since Sutton had fallen asleep. That ended his radio career, but it helped launch his acting career, since he went to Columbia University and graduated cum laude in Dramatic Arts.
First Television Job
Sutton’s first television acting job was on Captain Video and His Video Rangers in 1949.
He appeared in his first movie The Glenn Miller Story in 1954, but it was an uncredited role. He had another uncredited role in 1955 in the movie Marty.
His next major role was in Town Without Pity in 1961, in which he portrayed Sgt. Chuck Snyder
First Big Break With Gomer Pyle USMC
Frank Sutton had acted in many movies and television shows from 1949-1964, but his big break came, when he was cast as Sgt. Vince Carter on Gomer Pyle USMC. He portrayed a tough guy sergeant, who encounters a green recruit in Gomer Pyle, who was portrayed by Jim Nabors. It was a classic match of a tough Marines sergeant, who was frustrated by a gentle Gomer time after time.
Both Sutton and Nabors were perfectly cast in their roles as Sgt. Carter and Gomer Pyle. Sgt. Carter is the sergeant, that most of us who served in the military encountered at some point, during our tour of duty, so was easy to identify with. We can all remember recruits like Gomer who didn’t have a clue, about what military life was all about. However, we also know that a recruit like Gomer would not have lasted through boot camp in real life.
Gomer infuriated Sgt. Carter by his actions, but Gomer never retaliated in kind. Gomer was a prime example of a soft answer turning away the wrath of Sgt. Carter.
The show was on television from 1964-1969. Sutton and Pyle both appeared in all 150 episodes of the show.
CBS originally rejected the show, since they were afraid the military theme would not go over well with their female viewers. However, when Danny Thomas the producer threatened to take the show to NBC, which caused CBS to rethink their decision and carry the show on the CBS network after all.
The show apparently used real Marines in some of the scenes, since Jim Nabors didn’t like watching the opening scene of the introduction to the show, which showed the Marines marching, since several of those soldiers had been killed in Vietnam later.
Gomer Pyle was never higher than private first class during the five-year run of the show.
Nabors decided to leave Gomer Pyle after five seasons, to star in the Jim Nabors Hour, which ran for 1969-1971. Sutton would appear on only 3 of the 51 episodes of the show.
The television of career for Sutton was over for the most part, after Gomer Pyle left the air. He appeared in five segments of Love American Style from 1970-1973. He acted in two TV movies Ernie, Madge and Artie (1973) and Hurricane (1974).
The role of Sgt. Carter not only made him a star, but it also ended his acting career, since he was too closely identified with the Sgt. Carter character.
Frank Sutton died of a heart attack at the age of 50, in Shreveport, Louisiana on June 28,1974 while rehearsing for a dinner theater production. Sutton had went from television stardom, to acting on the dinner theater circuit, which showed how fast his fame flamed out after being Sgt. Carter.
Sadly, Gomer Pyle is one of the more difficult shows to find in reruns today. Even when it was being shown in reruns it was being shown in the early morning hours like around 4:30 in the morning.
It was one of my favorite television shows ever and would like to be able to see those shows again, if they are ever shown again.