A Conversation With Pat Carroll at the High Falls Film Festival, May 14, 2009
May 14th, 5:30pm, Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, New YorkFeaturing:
Pat Carroll, Actress
Fred Armstrong, Animatus Studio
Pat Carroll (left) with Fred Armstrong
Pat Carroll first gained recognition in the early days of television, appearing as a regular on Make Room For Daddy, as well as appearances on The Red Buttons Show, The Danny Kaye Show, Password, and To Tell The Truth. In 1956, Carroll won an Emmy for her work on Caesar's Hour. Here's a video from her appearance on Password with Johnny Carson:
Her television work continued with appearances in the 1965 TV version of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, The Carol Burnett Show, Too Close For Comfort, She's The Sheriff, and ER. For the last 20 years, concentration of much of her work has been doing voice overs for animated shows, including Pound Puppies, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, Chip 'n' Dale's Rescue Rangers, as well as the movies A Goofy Movie and My Neighbor Totoro. Carroll's best known voice-over role, however, has been as Ursula in The Little Mermaid, which she has reprised for its sequel, the Kingdom Hearts game series, and several episodes of House of Mouse.
A member of The Actors Studio, Carroll has appeared in stage productions of Our Town, Electra, The Merry Wives of Windsor, as well as Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, Gertrude Stein, for which she won a Grammy Award for its recording in 1981. Her career extends to motion pictures, with live-action appearances in With Six You Get Eggroll, Songcatcher, Freedom Writers (as Miep Gies), and Nancy Drew.
The conversation began with Fred Armstrong introducing Carroll with her extensive list of credits on stage, in movies, and in television, followed by a ten-minute montage of her screen work. Armstrong asked Carroll how she got into show business. At age 5, while living in El Paso, Texas, her family's Mexican maid, Maria took Pat to a play in Mexico, which mesmerized the young girl. At age 12, now living in Los Angeles, Pat looked up a theater company in the Yellow Pages and was soon cast as Emily in their production of Our Town. She commented, "Whenever people ask how I got started, I always say "The Yellow Pages!"
Our Town is Carroll's favorite American play, and Thornton Wilder is Carroll's favorite American playwright. She may have been cast as Emily, but her favorite role was as the Stage Manager. At the time, the role was played by a man, but in 2002, Carroll got her chance to play the role in a Bethesda, Maryland production. When a friend of her daughter's saw Carroll play the role, she remarked to someone, "Isn't it wonderful that Pat Carroll is playing that role?" and the other person responded, "That isn't a male role! That was written for a woman!"
Carroll went to college and taught drama at a Catholic High School. She wanted to go to New York right after high school, but her parents refused. At age 20, she finally did go to New York, made the casting rounds, getting cast in Summer Stock productions. This led her to getting cast on television on The Red Buttons Show (her first TV appearance), and Make Room For Daddy (now known as The Danny Thomas Show). Carroll believes she owes much of her recognition on stage by the audience to her TV work.
Segueing into the voice-over work, Carroll talked extensively about her work in The Little Mermaid. The Little Mermaid was Disney's first big hit in years, following a long slump that included The Fox and the Hound. Carroll doesn't believe it was any accident, though.
"The quality control on that film was superb." She said.
One day, while she was working on the film, she was speaking to her daughter. Carroll was very cranky and felt exhausted by the work when her daughter pointed out to her, "It seems to me that you were raised on quality Disney Films, you raised your children on quality Disney Films, and even after all the theater and television you have done, 50 years from now, this is what you'll be remembered for." Carroll realized her daughter was right.
She also spoke of collaborating with animators, saying, "Many times, you people who animate are artists. You are creative. We who are voice actors, are not. We are interpretive." As she was doing voice work, she noticed that they had video cameras on her and she wondered why. After asking, she found out that they tape the voice over sessions to help the animators with drawing the character.
She talked about preparing for her roles as Gertrude Stein and Miep Gies. Dialect work has long been out of fashion, as Carroll remarked, but decided to take the role of Miep Gies anyway. To prepare for her role in Freedom Writers, Carroll watched and listened to Gies everyday for three months to pick up her dialect.
Q: What did you do to win the Emmy for Caesar's Hour?
Carroll: I did hard work! Actually, I played a waitress who is about to get fired for being truthful, and my character goes up to Sid Ceasar and asks, "Is there anything I can do to help you? I'd be happy to do anything!"
Jack Garner: When you're doing your voice work, what is your reaction to doing it? On one hand, I'd think you'd have a lot of creative freedom, because you only have your voice to worry about--you don't have to worry about what you look like. On the other hand, your body is limited so you can't use all of it.
Carroll: When you're concentrating on your voice-over work, you're not thinking about your body. Unbeknownst to you, you might say something, and your hand will come up, and that's why the bloody camera is there!
The Disney Studio, for the first time in their history, had a reading of The Little Mermaid at a recording studio in Hollywood. They flew in all the New York actors, I was there, and all of our people were there. We started our show. It was a 2 1/2, 3 hour session, and I had to get to another studio after it was recorded. After it was done, they found out that nothing had recorded. I was so disappointed. It was the first time in the history of the studio that they had even attempted to do that, and it was blown technically, and I can't tell you why.
Interesting that as you get accustomed [to voice-over work], you become part of the loneliness. It's always good to be surrounded by other actors. When you're doing voice-overs, it's just you and the folks in the booth.
Armstrong: Who was your favorite comedian to work with, and your least favorite comedian to work with, and why?
Carroll:My favorite was Jimmy Durante. I was doing a series of revues. He spotted me, and hired me for a special. As a little girl, I adored him. During rehearsals, I was so nervous. After a week of rehearsals, he asked me to [come out to Hollywood] and do his show. I called my parents, who also adored him, that I was coming out to do his show, and at the time, they didn't own a television, so they went out and bought one. Then they decided to come to the taping and see me live.
When it was time to introduce me on his show, Jimmy announced, "Now, folks, I found this little girl, and her name is Pat Crowley!" The director looked at me and he said, "He does that." I came onstage and said, "Jimmy, I thank you for the introduction, but my name is Pat Carroll, not Pat Crowley" and he says, "Who's Pat Crowley?" He was the kindest human being who could walk with presidents and kings--that's the kind of man he was.
My least favorite comedian to work with? Danny Kaye. He used to say he liked children, but in reality, he hated them. If you don't like kids, just come out and say so! I don't like that type of phoniness in a person, never have, whether it's a star, or a human being. He was wonderful to work with, until he found out that I was pregnant with my third child.