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Edward Eatinger, ran Hollywood Lookalikes business, dead at 84

Almost every time Ed Eatinger went to the grocery store, somebody said, “Do you know who you look like?”

His dark-browed “Black Irish” features made him a ringer for actor Henry Fonda. The resemblance was so strong, he decided to open a celebrity impersonators’ business with a stable full of 30 “stars.”

Mr. Eatinger could supply a Michael Jackson, a Frank Sinatra, a John Travolta, a Paul McCartney, a Marilyn Monroe and a couple of Elvises. He could also provide a Dolly Parton, a Princess Di, a Diana Ross, a Liz Taylor and a Prince Charles.

Edward Eatinger | Provided photo
Edward Eatinger | Provided photo

When he appeared as Fonda — patriarch of a Hollywood dynasty that includes daughter Jane, son Peter, and grandchildren Bridget Fonda and Troy Garity — Mr. Eatinger dressed in a Navy uniform and performed dialogue from the 1955 movie “Mister Roberts,” in which Fonda stands up to a dictatorial officer on behalf of his men.

“I don’t know which I hate worse, you or that other malignant growth that stands outside your door,” Fonda says. “How’d you ever get command of a ship?”

That speech, on Aug. 28, was “the last time my dad talked,” according to his daughter, Pamela Howard. When a veterans’ advocate stopped by to see Mr. Eatinger at his rehab facility, he did the dialogue from his hospital bed.

“The veterans’ liaison for hospice care saluted my dad,” she said,” and he got his arm up halfway, and saluted him.”

He died Sept. 2 at 84 in Wakefield, Massachusetts.

Young Ed grew up in the 1100 blocks of South Mason and Mayfield in the neighborhood known as The Island, a little square of Austin bounded roughly by the Eisenhower Expressway, Berwyn, Cicero and Oak Park. His dad was a streetcar conductor.

So many people told Edward Eatinger (left) that he resembled actor Henry Fonda (right) that he was inspired to start a celebrity lookalike business. | Provided photo
So many people told Edward Eatinger (left) that he resembled actor Henry Fonda (right) that he was inspired to start a celebrity lookalike business. | Provided photo

He attended St. Phillip High School and worked as a soda jerk for “Old Man Finnegan” at a nearby pharmacy. Ed Eatinger prided himself on his thick vanilla malts, an elixir his daughter Pamela brought him every day for the last six months of his life.

In 1948, his Columbus Park baseball team won a championship. “He always had that little trophy on his dresser,” his daughter said.

He loved to sing, do imitations, draw and perform magic tricks. His mother, who had weathered the Great Depression, told him to be practical. “His mom talked him out of being an opera singer,” said another daughter, Cynthia DeJus. “She said you have to devote so much time to that, it will suck up your life.”

Edward Eatinger (left) serving as a lineman in the Korean War. | Provided photo
Edward Eatinger (left) serving as a lineman in the Korean War. | Provided photo

After high school, he was drafted into the Army. A Signal Corps lineman, he shinnied up poles to set up communication wires. “You were a sitting duck if the North Koreans could see you,” said his son, Kevin.

He used his artistic skill to start a cottage industry, sketching dream girls for lonesome sailors. He did his best to keep his customers happy, like when they requested that their girlfriends’ faces be grafted onto pinup bodies.

Mr. Eatinger met his wife of 59 years, Rita, working at an overheard sprinkler company. They married and moved to Oak Park, and he earned a communications degree at Columbia College.

“He flipped homes before it was the popular thing to do,” said another son, John Martin-Eatinger.

“We must have had about 15 different houses,” Pamela Howard said.

After losing his job at the sprinkler company — and winning a 1978 celebrity doubles’ contest — he decided to open Hollywood Lookalikes. He did all the booking and financing. Sometimes, to save money on lodgings before an appearance, the doppelgangers stayed overnight at the Eatinger home. “We had ‘Elizabeth Taylor,’ ” Kevin Eatinger said. “She slept in her makeup and she slept in her hair.”

Mr. Eatinger worked as a movie extra in “The Untouchables” and “Analyze This.” And, he told the Sun-Times in 1990, “I was a stand-in for Tom Cruise’s father in ‘Risky Business.’ ’’

An enthusiastic dad, “He wasn’t a guy that would sit back on a Sunday and watch the football games,” Kevin Eatinger said. “We’d go to Adventureland, Kiddieland, the lakefront all the time, the zoos, art fairs.”

Edward Eatinger and some of his celebrity doubles. | Provided photo
Edward Eatinger and some of his celebrity doubles. | Provided photo

“Before my dad went to work, he’d make either extra scrambled eggs, Cream of Wheat, and leave it on the stove for us,” Pamela Howard said.

He serenaded them around the house. “Sometimes it was Johnny Cash, ‘Ring of Fire,’ ” said another daughter, Kristine Erickson. Other times, it was “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.”

Services have been held in Massachusetts. In honor of his time as a soda jerk, in Chicago, “We’re going back to an ice cream store and have a malted,” Pamela Howard said. Mr. Eatinger also is survived by one great-grandchild and 10 grandchildren, whom he charmed with imitations of Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny and Darth Vader.

Edward Eatinger, who had dreamed of being an opera singer, with Luciano Pavarotti and a Pavarotti lookalike. | Provided photo.
Edward Eatinger, who had dreamed of being an opera singer, with Luciano Pavarotti and a Pavarotti lookalike. | Provided photo.