Actor John Fiedler Dies; Was Piglet's Voice in 'Pooh' Films

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 28, 2005

John Fiedler, 80, a stage, film and television actor who excelled at meek or nervous roles and was personally chosen by Walt Disney to play the voice of Piglet in Winnie the Pooh films, died June 25 at the Lillian Booth Actors' Home in Englewood, N.J. He had cancer.

Balding, short and with a high-pitched voice, "I knew I was going to be a character actor from the beginning," Mr. Fiedler once said. "With my voice and my looks, I got the milquetoast, nerd parts."

He became an early favorite of director Sidney Lumet, who cast him as the wavering Juror No. 2 in the film version of "12 Angry Men" (1957), opposite Henry Fonda and Lee J. Cobb.

He also was in Lumet's "Stage Struck" (1958) with Fonda and Susan Strasberg and a televised version of Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men."

In perhaps his best-known stage work, later captured on film, he was the sole white cast member in Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun" (1959). He played Karl Lindner, a white-collar racist from a homeowners group who tries to pay the black Younger family so they would keep out of his suburban neighborhood.

When Mr. Fiedler revived the role in 1986, Washington Post critic David Richards wrote that the veteran actor "plays him perfectly as a cross between Lester Maddox and Mr. Peepers," referring to the segregationist politician and the timid TV character.

Mr. Fiedler also was in the Broadway cast of Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple" (1965) as Vinnie, a poker buddy of the Oscar Madison character. He repeated the role in the 1968 film version.

To young viewers, he was known as the voice of Piglet, the friendly worrywart, in a series of animated Winnie the Pooh movies and television specials, starting with "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day" (1968). His final film was "Pooh's Heffalump Movie," released this year.

"There are lot of elements of Piglet that are me: the shyness and the anxieties and the fears," he told the Hartford Courant in 1996 while preparing for a stage show. "Even after all these years. The more you know, the higher your standards are and the more you have to lose."

John Donald Fiedler was born Feb. 3, 1925, in Platteville, Wis. He was raised in Shorewood, a suburb of Milwaukee, where his father was a beer salesman.

After Navy service during World War II, he moved to New York to study acting. He worked his way from summer stock to off-Broadway, appearing in 1954 in an acclaimed production of Chekhov's "The Sea Gull" with Montgomery Clift and Maureen Stapleton. Mr. Fiedler played a dull schoolteacher.

In the mid-1960s, he settled in Hollywood and earned steady income in television and film for two decades. He made about 40 movies, including: "The World of Henry Orient" (1964) with Peter Sellers, "True Grit" (1969) with John Wayne, "Harper Valley P.T.A." (1978) with Barbara Eden and "Sharky's Machine" (1981) with Burt Reynolds.

On television, he played the harried psychiatric patient Mr. Peterson on "The Bob Newhart Show" but veered from typecasting on several occasions. He was a presidential assassin in an episode of "I Spy" and a Jack-the-Ripper style of killer in a 1967 "Star Trek" episode, "Wolf in the Fold."

Survivors include a brother, James Fiedler of Madison, Wis., and a sister, Mary Dean of Milwaukee.

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