To the ranks of great impersonators Hal Holbrook (who does a one-man show as Mark Twain), James Whitmore (Will Rogers), Robert Morse (Truman Capote) and Frank Gorshin (George Burns), add Eddie Carroll.
The voice of Disney's Jiminy Cricket is also the voice and personality behind "Jack Benny: Laughter in Bloom," coming Friday, May 30, to American Music Theatre.
Carroll shies away from the "impersonator" label.
"It's not an impersonation," said a talkative Carroll during a telephone interview from his home in Encino, Calif. "Impersonations are full of exaggeration. To do a two-hour show, you need to find the core of the person's humanity."
Born Edward Eleniak in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Carroll grew up listening to Jack Benny on the radio. "He came on every Sunday night at 7 p.m.," Carroll recalled. "If it was summer and you walked up the street, you wouldn't miss a line. You could hear it playing in every house."
Wanting to pursue acting, he left for Los Angeles in 1956 to take an internship with NBC-TV. He has since appeared in such shows as "Gomer Pyle," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "All in the Family," "Fantasy Island," "Love American Style" and "Frasier."
"One year, I had 12 national TV commercials running at the same time," said Carroll, who does voice-over work in addition to acting, writing and producing. In his career, he's logged more than 200 commercials and lots of animation work. He is the voice of Jiminy Cricket for educational films, theme-park announcements and computer games.
One day in 1983, Carroll broke a moment of on-set tension by slipping into Jack Benny's voice and doing a joke. That brief moment of serendipity was overheard by a producer who hooked up Carroll with a Broadway producer looking for a Benny type.
"My hairline was starting to recede," Carroll admitted with a laugh. "And when I combed it back, I realized I had Jack Benny's hairline."
He was given the lead in "A Small Eternity With Jack Benny," which ran in Los Angeles but never made it to Broadway.
After that, Carroll had been bitten by the Benny bug. He wrote his own one-man show, exploring Benny's beginnings as Benjamin Kubelsky of Waukegan, Ill., and his later success in vaudeville, radio and television.
"Laughter in Bloom" begins with Benny TV clips and a classic Benny pose that segues to a perfect imitation by Carroll onstage. For two acts, Carroll, 74, interprets the perpetually 39-year-old cheapskate comedian. The San Francisco Chronicle raved: "Carroll doesn't do Benny; he is Benny."
His AMT date marks the first-ever visit to Lancaster for Carroll, who still does a dozen live gigs a year. Many are connected to radio nostalgia conventions. Carroll has won awards from the Golden Radio Buffs, the Radio Enthusiasts and the Friends of Old Time Radio.
"The idea of doing Jack Benny came at me out of left field," Carroll said. "Robert Morse told me I was lucky. He had to sit in makeup for 2½ hours to become Truman Capote. All I have to do is comb my hair back and put on a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. Doing Jack is a gift that's been given to me."
Eddie Carroll will perform "Jack Benny: Laughter in Bloom" at 8 p.m. Friday, May 30, at American Music Theatre, 2425 Lincoln Highway East. For ticket information, call 397-7700.
Marty Crisp is staff writer for the Sunday News. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.