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Walker Edmiston, 81; voice artist, puppeteer was host of early L.A. children's TV show

February 27, 2007|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Walker Edmiston, an early Los Angeles television kiddie-show host and puppeteer who had a long career as a versatile voice-over artist whose credits include several of Sid and Marty Krofft's live-action children's TV series in the 1960s and '70s, has died. He was 81.

Edmiston, who voiced Ernie the Keebler Elf in recent years, died of complications from cancer Feb. 15 at his Woodland Hills home, said his daughter, Erin Edmiston.

Early during his nearly six-decade acting career, Edmiston became the replacement voice for Walter Lantz's animated character Wally Walrus, and for a time he did incidental voices and puppetry on the award-winning "Time for Beany" children's show in the early 1950s.

Edmiston also hosted his own children's program -- "The Walker Edmiston Show" -- on local channels in the 1950s and early '60s. The afternoon show featured puppets that Edmiston designed and made, Kingsley the Lion, Calli the Cat and Ravenswood the Buzzard.

For the Kroffts in the late 1960s and 1970s, Edmiston did numerous voices, including Dr. Blinkey and Orson the Vulture on "H.R. Pufnstuf," Sparky the Firefly on "Bugaloos," Enik on "Land of the Lost" and Sigmund Ooze -- and Sigmund's brothers Blurp and Slurp -- on "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters."

"Walker was one of the most talented voice people in town," producer Marty Krofft said. "He had such a tremendous voice range and, especially for the Krofft shows, he could do everything."

During the 1950s, Edmiston played the character of Fester on a record spoof of the hit TV western "Gunsmoke" called "Mr. Grillon."

He reprised his spoof of Dennis Weaver's Chester character in a "Gunsmoke" parody on TV's "Maverick" called "Gun-Shy."

After Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's 1959 visit to the United States, Edmiston recorded the novelty tune "I Dreamt I Saw Khrushchev (In a Pink Cadillac)." (He did half the record in the voice of Barky the Dog and half as Khrushchev.)

Edmiston, who began imitating actor Lionel Barrymore and other movie figures to entertain his family while growing up in the 1930s, could do impressions of a variety of celebrities, including Red Skelton and Lawrence Welk.

Actor Will Ryan said Edmiston's versatility was exemplified on "Adventures in Odyssey," a radio series set in a small town produced by the nonprofit Focus on the Family.

He had been with the show, which is in its 19th year, since the first episode.

"He played the nicest guy in town named Tom Riley," said Ryan, a fellow cast member, adding that when "a really sleazy character" was added to the show several years after the start, "Walker did that character as well.

"It was fun because sometimes there'd be a page or two of dialogue between the two of them."

As an actor, Edmiston also appeared frequently in episodes of shows such as "Gunsmoke," "The Big Valley," "Mission: Impossible," "Batman," "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "Knots Landing."

Edmiston was born Feb. 6, 1926, in St. Louis, Mo., where he was involved in community theater groups in high school.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1947 and took acting classes at the Pasadena Playhouse.

While appearing in a play in Hollywood, someone overheard one of his celebrity impressions. That led to an introduction to Lantz.

Edmiston's daughter, his only survivor, said he continued working until he became very ill in January.

Evelyn, Edmiston's wife of 48 years, died in 1998. His other daughter, Andria, died in 1987.

A memorial service is pending.

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