I’m not sure there’s anyone who has done so much live action work, including several prestige dramas and a classic sitcom, who is so universally known for his voice over his face. His first movie was one of the classics of cinema, and just about everyone I know who watches it for the first time responds with, “Hey, that’s Piglet!” He was apparently personally selected by Walt for the role because Walt thought the voice would be perfect, and I think John Fielder’s legacy proves that Walt was right.
Appropriately for someone so defined by voice—even if live action, it’s a distinctive voice—he got his start in radio. He was just out of the Navy in World War II, and I’m genuinely surprised by that, given he was 5’4″. (In metric, that’s “really short.”) I don’t know what he did in the service, but I hope it was radio. At any rate, he made the shift to TV early in his career, and by 1951, he was a regular on Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. In 1957, he made his first movie—12 Angry Men, where he was Juror 2. In 1961, Raisin in the Sun.
In 1968, “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day.” And there it is. For decades—until his death of cancer in 2005, in fact—he was Piglet. He did other characters for Disney over the years, but you heard them, and you still thought, “Hey, that’s Piglet!” Apparently, people would come up to him and tell him they hadn’t been sure if it was him, and then they heard his voice and knew. He said they seldom knew his name—nine times out of ten, they didn’t. Presumably, he routinely got, “Hey, you’re Piglet!”
What’s interesting is that he kind of acknowledged that, in a way, yes, he was Piglet. “The shyness and the anxiety and the fears.” He believed that those never went away, and the more you knew about your profession, the deeper they went because you knew everything that could go wrong. I think there are people who never thought about it that way because they had no innate fears of that sort. You’re not going to focus on what can go wrong unless that’s part of your nature, and it seems as though it was part of Fiedler’s in the way that it isn’t part of everyone’s.
Oh, there was more to him than Piglet. More to him than Father Sexton from Robin Hood and the owl from The Rescuers and the porcupine from The Fox and the Hound and even the Old Man Who Threw Off The Emperor’s Groove. You don’t have a career spanning more than five decades, including before you did anything for Disney, if that’s all there is to your abilities. That said, most of the roles I’ve seen him in have a little bit of Piglet to them, being the sort of roles that are good for a small, quiet man with a high-pitched voice and a bunch of insecurities.