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Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Carter served in the United States Navy during World War II. He began his performance career in 1947 in a Chicago nightclub where he met Pearl Bailey, who became an early supporter of his act. Kay Thompson's threat to sue him was to his benefit, and through it he became known in Los Angeles. As an encouragement, Josephine Baker gave him numerous Dior and Balenciaga gowns and tutored him in French.
Carter worked with big bands (typically 15 musicians), small ensembles, and with a solo pianist, as well as other dancers, such as the Jewel Box Review Chorus Boys and the Four Cartiers. He impersonated many famous actresses and singers including Pearl Bailey, Josephine Baker, Tallulah Bankhead, Fanny Brice, Carol Channing, Cher, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Phyllis Diller, Hermione Gingold, Hildegarde, Eartha Kitt, Ethel Merman, Barbra Streisand, Kay Thompson, and Mae West. He also created several original characters. He is best known for starring in the long-running Jewel Box Review showcase.
Carter recorded one album entitled She's a He in 1957 on Fiesta Records. He appeared on the Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas TV Shows (1960s), in the Fun City Review (1968), and in the film The Man from O.R.G.Y. (1970). In 1971 Carter became the first female impersonator to perform at Carnegie Hall.
Critics attributed his success to his ability to give his characterizations authenticity and depth as well as humor.
Carter's final performances were in "Hooray for Hollywood," a revue at the St. Regis-Sheraton Hotel in 1984. After suffering declining health caused by multiple heart attacks and AIDS related complications, Carter died of pneumonia in Manhattan in 1985.