Eddie Carroll dies at 76; voice of Jiminy Cricket and Jack Benny impersonator
He became the second actor to voice Disney's diminutive character, beginning in 1973. Carroll also staged one-man shows in tribute to the legendary comedian.
Eddie Carroll, who voiced Jiminy Cricket for Disney, poses with a statue of comic Jack Benny. (October 12, 1999)
Carroll died Tuesday from a brain tumor at the Motion Picture and Television Fund Hospital in Woodland Hills, said his wife, Carolyn.
FOR THE RECORD:
Eddie Carroll obituary: In Sunday's California section, the obituary of Eddie Carroll, an actor who voiced Jiminy Cricket and impersonated Jack Benny, said that his daughter's name was Tia Monti. Her name is Tina Monti. —
"He was so proud to do both roles," his wife said. "He just admired the whole fantasy of Jiminy Cricket, and he loved the man . . . who was Jack Benny."
In 1973, Carroll became the second actor to voice the cricket, who was the title character's conscience in the 1940 animated film "Pinocchio."
Before auditioning, Carroll studied Jiminy's signature song, "When You Wish Upon a Star," sung by Cliff Edwards. The Canadian-born Carroll realized that he needed to adopt a Midwestern accent.
His agent did "back flips" when Carroll got the part, he told the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News in 2008. "He knew the role was a cottage industry," Carroll said. " . . . There's something practically every month -- a singalong film, computer game, recording as spokesman for Disney on Ice, a show at Disneyland or Disney World."
No one else has voiced a Disney character for as long as Carroll did, said Rick Dempsey, senior vice president of Disney's Character Voices division.
"He totally was Jiminy Cricket," Dempsey said. "He really took what the character was into his own heart and in a sense lived that in his own life. He also was one of the best Jack Benny impersonators on the planet."
When a crew member on a 1982 film set ruined a scene by dropping a prop, Carroll broke the tension by bursting out with a trademark Benny line, "Oh, for heaven's sake, Rochester!," and "everybody laughed," Carroll later recalled.
It led to him being cast in the one-man show, "A Small Eternity With Jack Benny," which opened in 1983 in Santa Monica.
After touring in that show for a year, he wrote a tribute, "Jack Benny: Laughter in Bloom," and continued appearing as the comedian, who died in 1974, until late last year. He often toured six months a year.
Los Angeles magazine's reaction to the show in the 1990s was typical: "Before our eyes, he truly becomes the legendary comedian."
Laura Leff, president of the International Jack Benny Fan Club, told The Times: "Jack's humor is based so much around character, and Eddie was able to recreate that in a very authentic way. It was the next best thing to having Jack himself there."
Eddie Eleniak was born Sept. 5, 1933, in Edmonton, Canada, and acted in high school alongside another student, Robert Goulet.
A bout with polio was not far behind him when Carroll came to Los Angeles in the mid-1950s with Goulet as part of an NBC talent program.
Soon after moving to the U.S., Carroll served in the Army. For two years, he wrote and produced shows for Armed Forces Radio and Television.
When his mother suggested he needed a simpler last name, he adopted "Carroll" for a favorite aunt.
In an acting class after the war, he met Jamie Farr, who would appear in the TV series "MASH." They formed a production company in the 1960s that developed a number of projects for networks and studios.
"We were like brothers, and we still are," Carroll said in 2005 in the Toledo (Ohio) Blade.
Carroll had appeared in more than 200 commercials, according to his website, and was a regular on the early 1970s variety program "The Don Knotts Show."
To portray Benny, Carroll taught himself to play violin and joked with a Times reporter in 1999: "Thank goodness Benny wasn't a great violinist or I'd be in trouble."
After walking onstage as Benny, he would put the violin down and drolly say, "Don't look so relieved; I play it later."
Actress Erika Eleniak of TV's "Baywatch" is his niece.
For almost 37 years, he lived in Encino with his wife, whom he married in 1963.
He is also survived by his children, Tia Monti and Leland Carroll; and two brothers, Bob Elen and Dale Eleniak, all of Los Angeles.