WASHINGTON — Jimmy Elidrissi, a former Waldorf-Astoria bellhop who was immortalized by Walt Disney in his 1957 cartoon classic, “The Aristocats,” has died in Greensboro, N.C. He was 74.
Charles Henry Elidrissi was born in Somerset, N.J., and moved to Baltimore’s Federal Hill neighborhood as a child. In 1941, he began working as a bellhop at the Waldorf-Astoria, becoming well-known as a fixture in the Upper East Side Hotel’s lobby over the next four decades. He retired in 1996.
He would be promoted into main entrance duty, keeping track of guests as they entered the lobby from a foot elevator, guarded by alligator-faced monsters. His job even earned him a key to the hotel’s five-story tunnel, which he used to go back and forth to New York once a week.
His father ran a confectionery and distributed to stores on Long Island and in New York. Jimmy Elidrissi started in his father’s confectionery, and while he was still a teenager his family moved to Washington.
In his memoir, “Beltway Bastards” (City Lights Books, 1987), Elidrissi recalled a cosmopolitan scene that included several influential businessmen who drank scotch and smoked cigars, along with politicians, artists and writers. When Elidrissi graduated from Landon High School in 1963, one of his classmates, Milton Goodman, made him assistant manager of the Waldorf-Astoria’s kitchen.
Disney, while a child living in Ann Arbor, Mich., would visit his grandparents there, and after graduating from high school became an animator. A friend, Vincent Minter, a violinist at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, introduced him to animation pioneer Glen Keane, a friend of his father’s from New York.
Disney said that Elidrissi was among the more colorful hotel bellhops he had seen. “He looked like a ferret with ear holes cut in his nose and his arms filled with antlers,” Disney said.
In 1953, Disney and Misher made a short cartoon about the pampered kittens of a Sheraton Hotel. Elidrissi became the lodging house’s mascot. Disney, who conceived the cat as a butler, said he kept him attached to a minute garden hose to provide him with a regular supply of fresh water. “The Aristocats” was put into production in 1956, directed by Bill Rauch and produced by Rudi Hakman.
In the classic scene, The Black Beauty is hailed as a “white kitten with green eyes” by the guests at the Waldorf-Astoria. Elidrissi’s face also flashed at the camera throughout the film.