Pat Carroll, the gregarious Emmy-winning comedian who was a television mainstay for decades before transitioning to a career as a voice talent that included portraying the villainous sea witch Ursula in The Little Mermaid, has died. She was 95.
Carroll died of pneumonia at her home in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, on Saturday, her daughter Kerry Karsian told .
Carroll’s cheeky personality, zany wit, and impeccable timing made her a great second banana, and Red Buttons, Jimmy Durante, Mickey Rooney, Steve Allen, and Charley Weaver were among those who urged her to make their programs funnier. Her antics in Caesar’s Hour earned her an Emmy in 1957, and the following year she was nominated for her work on the classic variety show.
In a 2013 interview with Kliph Nesteroff, Carroll compared Howard Morris, Carl Reiner and Sid Caesar on Caesar’s Hour to the Chicago Cubs’ legendary double-play combination of Tinkers to Evers to Chance.
“I learned so much about comedy watching these three work together. It was infallible,” said Carroll. “They worked together for so long that they had this innate sense of each other’s timing. It was impossible for them to fumble. We did two shows every Saturday night because one was for the west coast and one was for the east coast. If they totally loathed a sketch they’d made, these three would sit in Sid’s dressing room with the writers and write a brand new sketch. Yes unbelievable.”
Over the next two decades, the bubbly blonde seemed to keep popping up on television.
Carroll played Bunny Halper, the high-spirited wife of nightclub owner Charley Halper (Sid Melton) on The Danny Thomas Show in the early ’60s; was Hope Stinson, who owned a newspaper with Ted Knight’s character in the final season (1986-87) of Too Close for Comfort; and appeared alongside Suzanne Somers in the series She’s the Sheriff from 1987-89.
Carroll stood out on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1971 as a moody patient who shared a hospital room with Mary Richards (the latter was there to have her tonsils removed), and she portrayed Lily Feeney, the mother of Cindy Williams’ character. in a 1976 episode of Laverne & Shirley.
Her TV appearances have also included Cinderella, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, Love, American Style, My Three Sons, Police Woman, Busting Loose, The Love Boat, Trapper John, MD, Evening Shade, Designing Women and ER.
Carroll was also a game show favorite. Truth be told, The Match Game, I’ve Got a Secret, Password All-Stars, You Don’t Say and The $10,000 Pyramid – you name it, she played it.
And she played Doris Day’s matchmaking sister in With Six You Get Eggroll (1968).
Carroll’s throaty laugh and spirited intonation made her a natural for animation work.
She first slipped into the recording booth for the animated series The Super 6 in 1966. But in the ’80s, her voice acting career skyrocketed. She has appeared in the cartoons Yogi’s Treasure Hunt, Galaxy High School, Foofur, Pound Puppies and Superman.
Her most memorable character was undoubtedly Ursula for the 1989 Disney film The Little Mermaid. It would prove to be one of her favorite roles. “It has been my lifelong ambition to do a Disney movie,” she told author Allan Neuwirth in Makin’ Toons: Inside the Most Popular Animated TV Shows and Movies. “So I was her hook, her line, and her plumb line.”
Carroll’s enthusiasm made the octopus-like character uniquely her own, and Ursula became one of Disney’s most memorable villains. However, she only landed the role after a tedious search through the studio.
Howard Ashman, producer and lyricist of The Little Mermaid, was a huge fan of the TV series Dynasty and pictured Ursula as a Joan Collins type. And who better to play it than Collins himself? Unfortunately, her agent quickly dismissed the idea.
Screenwriters Ron Clements and John Musker saw Ursula as more of a roaring aquatic version of Bea Arthur, but her agent was offended when the script compared the actress to a witch — and adjusted. Roseanne, Hearts’ Nancy Wilson and The Sopranos’ Nancy Marchand were then reported to have read for the role, but neither was quite right.
Charlotte Rae and Elaine Stritch auditioned, but Rae didn’t have the vocal range for Ursula’s theme song, “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” and Stritch couldn’t deliver the song in the way Ashman wanted.
However, Carroll understood Ashman’s approach immediately. The key was a recording he made while singing the song. Once Carroll heard and saw that, the rest was easy.
“He gave me this achievement! Come on, I’m honest enough to say that,” she said in Makin’ Toons. “I got all the attitude from him … his shoulders would shrug a certain way and his eyes would go a certain way … I learned more about this character from Howard singing that song than from anything else.”
Carroll won the role and voiced the character in several video games and a 1993 Little Mermaid CBS series. (She also provided the voice for Morgana in the direct-to-video release of 2000’s The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea.)
Patricia Ann Carroll was born on May 5, 1927 in Shreveport, Louisiana. When she was 5 years old, she moved to Los Angeles with her family. By the age of 20, she was serving as a civilian actress technician for the Army, writing, producing and directing all-soldier productions. In 1949 she graduated from Catholic University in Washington, DC.
Carroll’s first professional appearance was in a 1947 regional series production of A Goose for a Gander opposite Gloria Swanson. This led to more public company roles, and she also honed her comedic skills by performing in nightclubs and resorts.
Carroll’s Off-Broadway debut came in 1950’s Come What May. Shortly thereafter, she began television work on Goodyear Television Playhouse, The Red Buttons Show and The Saturday Night Revue.
Carroll first starred on Broadway in the 1955 musical revue Catch a Star! written by Danny and Neil Simon. The performance earned her a Tony nomination. Decades later, Carroll received rave reviews for her off-Broadway one-woman show Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein: A One-Character Play.
In his 1979 review for The New York Times, Walter Kerr wrote: “Based on a text by Marty Martin, Miss Carroll gives us the bizarre, close-cropped, richly dressed woman who might be mistaken for one—for once became a bishop with a mad zeal… I don’t know exactly how Miss Carroll manages this, but she manages – without any effort – to let us share in Gertrude Stein’s attitude towards herself.”
The actress received a Drama Desk Award for her portrayal of the author; She beat out fellow nominees Moore, Susan Sarandon, Phyllis Frelich and Blythe Danner for the honor.
Carroll was married to Lee Karsian from 1955 until their divorce in 1976 and they had three children: Tara, an actress; daughter Kerry, a casting director; and son Sean (he died on the same day as his mother 13 years ago).
Also among the survivors is a granddaughter, Evan.