A gangling song-and-dance man with extensive TV and stage credits, Carpenter also made his brief mark in a handful of MGM musicals which embodied the small-town vision of the USA so prevalent in the 1950s. Thin as a rail and standing 6'3", Carpenter possessed a handsomely boyish face and loads of eager-beaver energy to match, all honed during a childhood spent as a performer. He was singing and dancing at age four and, by the time he was nine, was performing as a child magician in traveling carnivals. Carpenter served briefly with the Navy Seabees in WWII and made it to Broadway in his late teens in "Bright Boy" (1944). After making his feature debut in the sincere, low-budget, independently made film about a light-skinned African-American family passing for white, "Lost Boundaries" (1949), he was signed by MGM.
Carpenter quickly made a fun impression in the Metro musical when Debbie Reynolds, portraying Jazz Age "boop oop a doop" singer Helen Kane in "Three Little Words" (1950), cooed (in Kane's voice) "I Wanna Be Loved by You" to an amusingly deadpanned Carpenter. Reynolds and Carpenter reteamed for one of his most famous career moments, dueting on the smash comic hit "Aba Daba Honeymoon" in "Two Weeks with Love" (1950), which went on to sell over five million copies. He continued in comedies, dramas and musicals at MGM for the next few years, generally more at home in lighter fare, but his leading roles in "Fearless Fagan" and "Sky Full of Moon" (both 1952) did not establish him as a new star.
Carpenter kept working onstage, though, and also began his incredibly prolific career on TV. He gave an amusing turn as the flaming photographer Russell in a TV version of the musical "Lady in the Dark" (1954) and, over the years, played a recurring role on the CBS sitcom "Pete and Gladys" (1961-62), acted on "Perry Mason" and did guest stints on game shows. A starring role in the two-part special "Luke and the Tenderfoot" (1965) suggested that his perennial youthfulness limited him in middle age, but Carpenter went on to rack up over 6,000 TV appearances, toured widely in "Hello, Dolly!" with various star divas in the title role, and began publishing mystery novels. A handful of feature film returns included a teaming with old 1950s pal Farley Granger for the derivative horror film "The Prowler" (1981). He also made welcome returns to the stage, such as his assuming the role of the heroine's father on Broadway in the longrunning, nostalgic "Crazy for You" in the 90s.