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With his grandfatherly image, Burl Ives parlayed his talent as a folksinger into a wide-ranging career as a radio personality and stage and screen actor. After spending his early twenties traveling the country as an itinerant singer, Ives moved to New York City in 1937. By the end of 1938, he had made his Broadway debut, and he also sang folk songs in Greenwich Village clubs. In 1940, Ives began to appear regularly on radio, including on his own show, The Wayfarin' Stranger, on CBS. Ives made his first records for Stinson, a small folk label, then was signed to Decca, a major label. He made his movie debut in Smoky in 1946. In 1948, his first book, Wayfaring Stranger, was published. In 1949, he had his first chart hit with "Lavender Blue (Dilly Dilly)." The same year, he moved to Columbia Records. With the advent of the long-playing record, Ives suddenly had a flurry of LP releases from his three labels: The Wayfaring Stranger on Stinson; three volumes of Ballads & Folk Songs, Women: Folk Songs About the Fair Sex, Folk Songs Dramatic and Humorous, and Christmas Day in the Morning on Decca; and Wayfaring Stranger, Return of the Wayfaring Stranger, More Folk Songs, American Hymns, The Animal Fair, and Mother Goose Songs on Columbia. He also recorded a series of albums for Encyclopedia Britannica Films under the overall title Historical America in Song. In 1951, he hit the Top Ten with "On Top of Old Smoky." In 1952, he returned to Decca. While continuing to publish books and to act on Broadway and in the movies, Ives made a series of albums that included Coronation Concert, The Wild Side of Life, Men, Down to the Sea in Ships, In the Quiet of the Night, Burl Ives Sings for Fun, Songs of Ireland, Old Time Varieties, Captain Burl Ives' Ark, Australian Folk Songs, and Cheers, all released in the second half of the '50s. In 1961, Ives oriented himself toward country music, resulting in the hit "A Little Bitty Tear," which made the Top Ten in both the pop and country charts. The single was contained on The Versatile Burl Ives. "Funny Way of Laughin'" was another pop and country Top Ten in 1962; it appeared on It's Just My Funny Way of Laughin' and won Ives a Grammy Award for Best Country Western Recording. He turned his attention primarily to movie work from 1963 on, especially with the Walt Disney studio. But he charted with Pearly Shells in 1964 and made a children's album, Chim Chim Cheree and Other Children's Choices, for Disney Buena Vista Records. At the end of the '60s, Ives returned to Columbia Records for The Times They Are A-Changin' and Softly and Tenderly. He gave up popular recording, but returned in 1973 with the country album Payin' My Dues Again. He also continued to record children's music and released several religious albums on Word Records. Turning 70 in 1979, he became less active and finally retired to Washington State. In the '90s, Decca and the German Bear Family label reissued many of his recordings.
Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives (June 14, 1909 – April 14, 1995) was an American actor, writer, and folk music singer. As an actor, Ives's work included comedies, dramas, and voice work in theater, television, and motion pictures. Music critic John Rockwell said, "Ives's voice ... had the sheen and finesse of opera without its latter-day Puccinian vulgarities and without the pretensions of operatic ritual. It was genteel in expressive impact without being genteel in social conformity. And it moved people."John Rockwell, quoted in book review of Outsider, John Rockwell on the Arts, 1967–2006, by John Rockwell, the New York Times Book Review, 24 December 2006, p. 13.
ContentsLife and career1.1 Early life1.2 1930s–1940s1.3 1950s: Communist blacklisting and HUAC testimony1.4 1950s–1960s1.5 1960s–1990s1.6 Death
Life and career
Ives was born in 1909 near Hunt City, an unincorporated town in Jasper County, Illinois near Newton, Illinois, to Levi "Frank" Ives (1880–1947) and Cordelia "Dellie" (née White) (1882–1954). He had six siblings: Audry, Artie, Clarence, Argola, Lillburn, and Norma. His father was first a farmer and then a contractor for the county and others. One day Ives was singing in the garden with his mother, and his uncle overheard them. He invited his nephew to sing at the old soldiers' reunion in Hunt City. The boy performed a rendition of the folk ballad "Barbara Allen" and impressed both his uncle and the audience.
Ives had a long-standing relationship with the Boy Scouts of America. He was a Lone Scout before that group merged with the Boy Scouts of America in 1924. The organization "inducted" Ives in 1966. He received the Boy Scouts' Silver Buffalo Award, its highest honor. The certificate for the award is hanging on the wall of the Scouting Museum in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Ives often performed at the quadrennial Boy Scouts of America jamboree, including the 1981 jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia, where he shared the stage with the Oak Ridge Boys. There is a 1977 sound recording of Ives being interviewed by Boy Scouts at the National Jamboree at Moraine State Park, Pennsylvania; on this tape he also sang and talked about Scouting, teaching, etc. Ives was also the narrator of a 28-minute film about the 1977 National Jamboree. In the film, which was produced by the Boy Scouts of America, Ives "shows the many ways in which Scouting provides opportunities for young people to develop character and expand their horizons."
From 1927 to 1929, Ives attended Eastern Illinois State Teachers College (now Eastern Illinois University) in Charleston, Illinois, where he played football. During his junior year, he was sitting in English class, listening to a lecture on Beowulf, when he suddenly realized he was wasting his time. As he walked out of the door, the professor made a snide remark, and Ives slammed the door behind him. Sixty years later, the school named a building after its most famous dropout. Ives was also involved in Freemasonry from 1927 onward.
On July 23, 1929, in Richmond, Indiana, Ives did a trial recording of "Behind the Clouds" for the Starr Piano Company's Gennett label, but the recording was rejected and destroyed a few weeks later. In later years, Ives did not recall having made the record.
Ives traveled about the U.S. as an itinerant singer during the early 1930s, earning his way by doing odd jobs and playing his banjo. He was jailed in Mona, Utah, for vagrancy and for singing “Foggy, Foggy Dew”, which the authorities decided was a bawdy song. Around 1931, he began performing on WBOW radio in Terre Haute, Indiana. He also went back to school, attending classes at Indiana State Teachers College (now Indiana State University). During the late 1930s, Ives also attended the Juilliard School in New York.
In 1940, Ives began his own radio show, titled The Wayfaring Stranger after one of his ballads. Over the next decade, he popularized several traditional folk songs, such as “Foggy, Foggy Dew” (an English/Irish folk song), “The Blue Tail Fly” (an old minstrel tune now better known as "Jimmy Crack Corn"), and “Big Rock Candy Mountain” (an old hobo song). He was also associated with the Almanac Singers (Almanacs), a folk-singing group which at different times included Woody Guthrie, Will Geer, and Pete Seeger. The Almanacs were active in the American Peace Mobilization (APM), an antiwar group opposed to American entry into World War II and Franklin Roosevelt's pro-Allied policies. They recorded such songs as "Get Out and Stay Out of War" and "Franklin, Oh Franklin".
In June 1941, promptly after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, the APM reorganized itself into the prowar American People's Mobilization. Ives and the Almanacs rerecorded several of their songs to reflect the group's new stance in favor of US entry into the war. Among them were "Dear Mr. President" and "Reuben James" (the name of a US destroyer sunk by the Germans before US entry into the war).
In early 1942, Ives was drafted into the U.S. Army. He spent time first at Camp Dix, then at Camp Upton, where he joined the cast of Irving Berlin's This Is the Army. He attained the rank of corporal. When the show went to Hollywood, he was transferred to the Army Air Force. He was discharged honorably, apparently for medical reasons, in September 1943. Between September and December 1943, Ives lived in California with actor Harry Morgan (who would later go on to play Officer Bill Gannon in the 1960s version of Jack Webb's TV show Dragnet, and Colonel Sherman T. Potter on M*A*S*H). In December 1943, Ives went to New York to work for CBS radio for $100 a week.
On December 6, 1945, Ives married 29-year-old script writer Helen Peck Ehrlich. Their son Alexander was born in 1949.
In 1946, Ives was cast as a singing cowboy in the film Smoky.
In 1947, Ives recorded one of many versions of "The Blue Tail Fly", but paired this time with the incredibly popular Andrews Sisters (Patty, Maxene and LaVerne). Only Bing Crosby sold more Decca Records than the sisters in the 1940s. The flip side of the record would be a fast-paced "I'm Goin' Down the Road". Ives hoped the trio's success would help the record sell well, and indeed it did, becoming both a best-selling disc and a Billboard hit.
His version of the 17th century English song "Lavender Blue" became his first hit and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song for its use in the 1949 film, So Dear to My Heart.
1950s: Communist blacklisting and HUAC testimony
Ives was identified in the 1950 pamphlet Red Channels and blacklisted as an entertainer with supposed Communist ties. In 1952, he cooperated with the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and agreed to testify. Ives's statement to the HUAC ended his blacklisting, allowing him to continue acting in movies. But, it also led to a bitter rift between Ives and many folk singers, including Pete Seeger, who accused Ives of betraying them and the cause of cultural and political freedom to save his own career. Ives countered by saying he had simply stated what he had always believed. Forty-one years later, Ives reunited with Seeger during a benefit concert in New York City. They sang "Blue Tail Fly" together.
Ives expanded his appearances in films during this decade. His movie credits include the role of Sam the Sheriff of Salinas, CA, in East of Eden, "Big Daddy" in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Desire Under the Elms, Wind Across the Everglades, The Big Country, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor; Ensign Pulver, the sequel to Mister Roberts; and Our Man in Havana, based on the Graham Greene novel.
In the 1960s, Ives began singing country music with greater frequency. In 1962, he released three songs that were popular with both country music and popular music fans: "A Little Bitty Tear", "Call Me Mister In-Between", and "Funny Way of Laughing".
Ives had several film and television roles during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1962, he starred with Rock Hudson in The Spiral Road, which was based on a novel of the same name by Jan de Hartog. In 1964, he played the genie in the movie The Brass Bottle with Tony Randall and Barbara Eden.
Ives' "A Holly Jolly Christmas" and "Silver and Gold" became Christmas standards after they were first featured in the 1964 CBS-TV presentation of the Rankin and Bass stop-motion animated family special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Johnny Marks had composed the title song (originally an enormous hit for singing cowboy Gene Autry) in 1949, and producers Rankin and Bass retained him to compose the TV special's soundtrack. Ives voiced Sam the Snowman, the banjo-playing "host" and narrator of the story, explaining how Rudolph used his "nonconformity", as Sam refers to it, to save Christmas from being cancelled due to an impassable blizzard. The following year, Ives rerecorded all three of these Johnny Marks hits, which Ives had sung in the TV special, but with a more "pop" feel than in the TV special. He released them all as singles for the 1965 holiday season, capitalizing on their previous successes.
Ives performed in other television productions, including Pinocchio and Roots. He starred in two television series: O.K. Crackerby! (1965–66), which costarred Hal Buckley, Joel Davison and Brooke Adams, and The Bold Ones: The Lawyers (1969–72). O.K. Crackerby!, which was about the presumed richest man in the world, replaced Walter Brennan's somewhat similar The Tycoon on the ABC schedule from the preceding year. Ives occasionally starred in macabre-themed productions. In 1970, for example, he played the title role in The Man Who Wanted to Live Forever, in which his character attempts to harvest human organs from unwilling donors. In 1972, he appeared as old man Doubleday in the episode "The Other Way Out" of Rod Serling's Night Gallery, in which his character seeks a gruesome revenge for the murder of his granddaughter.
Ives and Helen Peck Ehrlich were divorced in February 1971. Ives then married Dorothy Koster Paul in London two months later. In their later years, Ives and Dorothy lived in a waterfront home in Anacortes, in the Puget Sound area, and in Galisteo, New Mexico, on the Turquoise Trail. In the 1960s, he had another home just south of Hope Town on Elbow Cay, a barrier island of the Abacos in the Bahamas.
In honor of Ives's influence on American vocal music, on October 25, 1975, he was awarded the University of Pennsylvania Glee Club Award of Merit. This award, initiated in 1964, was "established to bring a declaration of appreciation to an individual each year who has made a significant contribution to the world of music and helped to create a climate in which our talents may find valid expression."
Ives lent his name and image to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's "This Land Is Your Land – Keep It Clean" campaign in the 1970s. He was portrayed with the program's fictional spokesman, Johnny Horizon.
Burl Ives was seen regularly in television commercials for Luzianne tea for several years during the 1970s and 1980s, when he was the company's commercial spokesman.
Ives was a renowned pipe smoker; the cover of his first album depicted a pipe and a fishing hat with the words "Burl Ives" in between. He also smoked cigars. In the summer of 1994, he was diagnosed with oral cancer after being hospitalized for back surgery. After several operations, he decided against having further surgery. In April 1995 he fell into a coma. Ives died from complications of oral cancer on April 14, 1995, at the age of 85, at his home in Anacortes, Washington; he was interred in Mound Cemetery in Hunt City Township, Jasper County, Illinois.Burl Ives (1948). Wayfaring Stranger. New York: Whittlesey House, pp. 15–20. Lone Scout Foundation, "How the Lone Scouts of America Came To Be": link. Guide to the Burl Ives Papers, 1913–1975, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts: link. NNDB: Tracking the Entire World: Silver Buffalo: link. The World of Scouting Museum at Valley Forge: Our Collection: link. John C. Halter, "A Spirit of Time and Place," Scouting Magazine, September 2004: link. WorldCat: OCLC No. 28143341: link. WorldCat: OCLC No. 5641115: link. Betsy Cole, "Eastern Mourns Burl Ives," Daily Eastern News, 17 April 1995. Ives, Wayfaring Stranger pp. 108–109. Associated Press, "Eastern Illinois University Honors Famed Dropout Burl Ives," St. Louis Post Dispatch, 3 May 1990, p. 71. Accessed via NewsBank. Burl Ives Museum, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. Tony Russell, Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921–1942, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, pp. 17, 369. Wayfaring Stranger pp. 129–132. Wayfaring Stranger p. 145. 'Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century' by Paul Kengor (2010) "Testimony of Burl Icle Ives, New York, N.Y. [on May 20, 1952]," Hearings before the Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, Eighty-Second Congress, Second Session on Subversive Infiltration of Radio, Television, and the Entertainment Industry. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1952. Part 2, p. 206. "Burl Ives Weds Script Writer," New York Times, December 8, 1945, p. 24. Accessed via ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Burl Ives Biography, Sitcoms Online. Sforza, John: "Swing It! The Andrews Sisters Story;" University Press of Kentucky, 2000; 289 pages Michael D. Murray, Encyclopedia of Television News, Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1998. p 18. Accessed via Ebrary Dean Kahn, "Ives-Seeger Rift Finally Ended with 'Blue-Tail Fly' Harmony: Skagitonians Ives, Murros Were on Opposite Sides," Knight Ridder Tribune Business News [from Bellingham Herald, Washington], 19 March 2006, p. 1. Accessed via ProQuest ABI/Inform. "Burl Ives Divorced," New York Times, 19 February 1971, p. 27. Accessed via ProQuest Historical Newspapers UPI, "Burl Ives Weds," Evening Sentinel, Holland, Michigan, 17 April 1971, p. 3. Accessed via Access NewspaperARCHIVE "The University of Pennsylvania Glee Club Award of Merit Recipients". NY Times Ives obituary Richard Severo, "Burl Ives, the Folk Singer Whose Imposing Acting Won an Oscar, Dies at 85," New York Times, 15 April 1995, p. 10. Accessed via ProQuest Historical Newspapers http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1S1-9199504150897195.html from encyclopedia.com
Ives's Broadway career included appearances in The Boys From Syracuse (1938–39), Heavenly Express (1940), This Is the Army (1942), Sing Out, Sweet Land (1944), Paint Your Wagon (1951–52), and Dr. Cook's Garden (1967). His most notable Broadway performance (later reprised in a 1958 movie) was as "Big Daddy" Pollitt in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955–56).
Ives's autobiography, The Wayfaring Stranger, was published in 1948. He also wrote or compiled several other books, including Burl Ives' Songbook (1953), Tales of America (1954), Sea Songs of Sailing, Whaling, and Fishing (1956), and The Wayfaring Stranger's Notebook (1962).
In popular culture
The Ren & Stimpy Show's first season episode "Stimpy's Invention" featured a record, "Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy", which parodied Ives' singing style and recreated some of his crusty dialogue from The Big Country and Summer Magic.
Ives is known to Star Wars fans for his role as the narrator in the 1984 made-for-TV film Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure.
The Christmas film Elf, starring Will Ferrell, features a snowman (voiced by Leon Redbone) resembling Sam the Snowman, who Ives voiced in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,
Director Wes Anderson included a number of songs (among them "Buckeye Jim") by Ives on the soundtrack for his 2009 film Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Popular 1980s British children's album The Runaway Train featured a recording of Ives singing the eponymous song.
The film True Romance includes Little Bitty Tear in the scene introducing Dennis Hopper's character, as he sings along with the song on his truck radio.