Wednesday, July 6, 2005

The Voices of Tigger and Piglet Pass On

It seems to me as if more voice men and more chracater actors have died in 2005 than any year I can remember. Two more voice men have passed on, both having worked on the same series of animated cartoons. Paul Winchell was a professional ventriloquist, an inventor, and the voice of Tigger in Disney's series of Winnie the Pooh cartoons. John Fiedler was a character actor and the voice of Piglet on the same series of cartoons. The two died last week, with a day of each other.

Paul Winchell passed on Friday morning in his sleep at the age of 82. As a child Winchell was a fan of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy. In fact, he began his career in show business as one of the winners on the radio show Major Bowes' Orignial Amateur Hour at the age of 13. Winchell would go onto become one of the early pioneers of television. With his dummy Jerry Mahoney, he first appeared regularly on The Bigelow Show on CBS in 1948. The Bigelow Show did not last long. Fortunately, Winchell's next series would see more success. The Spiedel Show, later known as What's My Name, ran five years. Along with his dummies Jerry Mahoney and Knuclehead Smiff, Winchell would also appear on the Saturday morning children's show The Paul Winchell-Jerry Mahoney Show and later on the children's show Circus Time.

Throughout his career Winchell made a number of guest appearances on various televison shows. He appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Laugh In, and Love American Style. As a ventriloquist Winchell made the perfect voice man for cartoons, so that in the Sixties he found a second career. Providing voices for various Hanna-Barbera cartoons, Winchell was given the cartoon role for which he would be best known in 1968. It was in that year that he gave voice to Tigger in Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. He would voice Tigger until 1999. Winchell also provided voices for the Disney features The Aristocats and The Fox and the Hound, as well as numerous Saturday morning cartoons.

Winchell was also an inventor as well as a ventriloquist and voice man. He held patents for 30 different inventions. Perhaps the most important of these was an early artificial heart, which he developed in 1963. He also invented the flameless cigarette lighter, an invisible garter belt, a retractable ballpoint pen, and various other devices.

As a ventriloquist and an inventor Winchell was a rare breed. It is one thing to be able to throw one's voice. It is another to be able to give a distinctive voice to one of the most memorable characters in literature and cartoons (Tigger, of course). It is quite another to invent various devices on top of all that! I seriously doubt that we will see anyone else like Winchell for some time to come.

As stated above, John Fiedler died withn a day of his Winnie the Pooh co-star, of cancer at age 80. With a distinctive, high pitched voice and a balding head, Feidler was born to play character parts. In fact, he was best known for either meek characters or nervous, high strung ones. After serving a stint in the Navy during World War II, Fiedler moved to New York to take up acting. He started in summer stock, eventually receiving a regular role on the TV series Tom Corbett, Space Cadet as Cadet Alfie Higgins. He went on to appear on stage in Chekov's The Sea Gull with Montgomery Clift and Maureen Stapleton in 1954. His career under way, Fiedler regularly made guest appearances on television from the Fifties into the Nineties. Among the shows he appeared on were Studio One, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, Bewitched, Star Trek, and The Odd Couple. As far as his television appearances, Fiedler was probably best known for his regular role as Emil Peterson, the highly neurotic Emil Peterson on The Bob Newhart Show. He also appeared regularly on Kolchak: the Night Stalker as Gordy Spangler.

Fiedler also made a large number of movies, many of them classics. He played Juror #12 in 12 Angry Men, Sidney in Raisin in the Sun, Mr. Smith in That Touch of Mink, and Vinnie in The Odd Couple. I don't know about anyone else, but where movies are concerned I remember him best as Lawyer Dagget in True Grit.

With regards to his role as Piglet in Disney's Winnie the Pooh cartoons, Fiedler was supposedly chosen by Walt Disney himself. Reportedly, Disney heard Fiedler in one of his many TV appearances and decided he was perfect for the voice of Piglet. Fielder has provided the voice of Piglet in every single Winnie the Pooh cartoon, from 1968's Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day to 2005's Pooh's Heffalump Movie. Fielder also provided voices for other Disney projects, such as Robin Hood, The Rescuers, and The Emperor's New Groove.

Fiedler first appeared on Broadway in One Eye Closed in 1954. He would later appear in the plays Howie, Harold, and The Crucible. Fiedler created the roles of Vinnie in The Odd Couple and Mark Lindner in Raisin in the Sun. He later reprised the roles in the movies based on them.

John Fiedler was always one of my favourite character actors. He made the perfect milquetoast, meek and unassuming. At the same time, however, he could play nervous, high strung, even jumpy chracters. His appearance and voice lent themselves to comedy, for which he had perfect timing. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that Fiedler could not play drama. He was perfect as Juror #12 in Twelve Angry Men. It is hard to picture anyone but Fiedler as Mark Lindner in Raisin in the Sun. An actor with a gift for comedy and drama, it is sad to think that John Fiedler is gone.

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