By the time Cliff Edwards was cast as a top hat-wearing cartoon cricket in Disney’s animated Pinocchio flick, he was already well-known on the vaudeville circuit, had appeared in dozens of movies, and had scored a No. 1 hit with his recording of “Singin’ in the Rain.” And well before he gave his voice to Jiminy Cricket, Edwards was known as “Ukulele Ike.”
According to the Ukulele Hall of Fame — which inducted Edwards in 2000 — the Missouri native didn’t just mess about on the ukulele: his “playing was that of a master,” and he could get “near-symphonic sounds” from the instrument. And not only did he get his name above the title on books like “Ukulele Ike’s Complete Ukulele Method,” in the 1950s, a California company released an actual Cliff Edwards plastic ukulele.
Unless you were around a century ago to catch Edwards on one of his apparently ass-kicking vaudeville appearances, you probably know him for sweetly singing “When You Wish Upon A Star.” His star turn as a (borderline insufferable) insect scored Disney its first Oscar for an original song, and the American Film Institute ranked the song 7th on its list of the 100 best songs in movie history. (In third place was Gene Kelly’s more famous version of ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’)
Edwards also sang in Dumbo, toured extensively, and had some regular TV gigs, including on The Mickey Mouse Club. But his story also took a hard turn toward being Profoundly Depressing: he struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, filed for bankruptcy multiple times, and died broke and alone in a California hospital. The Disney Company eventually made funeral arrangements, and he was buried in Valhalla Memorial Park in North Hollywood. His grave marker reads “In Loving Memory of Ukulele Ike.”
Jiminy Cricket shows up in this week’s live Twitch quiz. You can catch AJ hosting it here:
Featured image courtesy of: Public Domain.