In Remembrance: Thurl Ravenscroft
Thurl Ravenscroft, the voice artist who contributed to several films as well as being the unmistakable voice of cereal pitch-cartoon Tony the Tiger, has passed away on May 22, 2005. He was 91.
Born on February 6, 1914 in the town of Norfolk, Nebraska, Ravenscroft moved to California in 1933 to study art and interior design at the Otis Art Institute. While in school he was encouraged to try show business after he was a hit at a school party. He didn’t think about it much until a friend suggested he audition for Paramount to be studio singer. Not too soon after, he had to leave art school because his vocal talent was held in high regard.
Thurl's career began on radio in the mid-1930s. He appeared regularly as Grandpa Hortle on The Goose Creek Parson, which was broadcast from Hollywood every morning. CBS Radio picked up the show and broadcasted it nationally three nights a week. The show lasted until 1937, but Ravenscroft soon joined on with The Kraft Music Hall supplying backup vocals for crooner Bing Crosby, as part of the Paul Taylor Choristers. Some of the male members, including Ravenscroft, later formed a quartet called the Sportsmen. The Sportsmen had a couple of uncredited appearances in Hollywood pictures, including 1941’s Puddin’ Head. The quartet later appeared in the Hopalong Cassidy western Lost Canyon (1942), singing “Jingle, Jangle, Jingle” at a party.
Ravenscroft left the quartet in 1942 to serve as a navigator in the WWII Air Transport Command for special missions over the North Atlantic and Pacific; his courier missions included Bob Hope and Winston Churchill. His military career lasted five years, after which he returned to Hollywood. At first, work was hard to obtain, but he and fellow Sportsmen singer Max Smith formed the Mellomen. During the 1950’s and early 1960’s, The Mellomen sang for anyone who wanted them, including names like Danny Kaye and Frank Sinatra. Their vocal talents were in frequent demanded for radio, television, film and commercials.
The quartet sang in a variety of commercial spots for such products as Gillette Blue Blades. At one time were singing for nearly thirty different beers. The Mellomen also had a generous contract with Kellogg’s singing the praises of Sugar Corn Pops. When Kellogg’s introduced Sugar Frosted Flakes, Ravenscroft was asked to voice a new character, Tony the Tiger. In the original script the endline, "Good? Why, they're great!" stood out to Ravenscroft and he decided to give the word “great” a little extra emphasis. Since the beginning in 1952, he had been the only one that's ever done the voice of Tony.
Although Ravenscroft worked a lot in Hollywood, he did not appear in too many Hollywood films. If he did make an appearance, it was usually with other singers like The Mellomen. The Mellomen could be seen in cowboy attire crooning “Bidin’ My Time” in The Glenn Miller Story (1953) while Glenn Miller (James Stewart) is playing trombone in the orchestra pit for the stage production of Girl Crazy. Ravenscroft appeared briefly in The Five Pennies (1959) with Danny Kaye and could be seen with the rest of the Mellomen helping Elvis sing “One Broken Heart for Sale” in 1963’s It Happened at the World's Fair. Ravenscroft also supplied the singing voice for on screen actors. He provided Fred Astaire's voice in one segment of Daddy Long Legs (1955) - the only time during Astaire's career that he was ever dubbed. Although audiences saw Ken Clark acting as Stewpot in South Pacific (1958), they heard Ravenscroft’s singing voice.
Ravenscroft developed an association with Walt Disney Studios that lasted over 60 years which saw him appearing often on film soundtracks but usually uncredited. His singing was first featured in the 1941 animated Disney classic Dumbo, singing “Look Out For Mr. Stork”. His vocal talent was later employed in numerous Disney animated features, such as Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1955), Sleeping Beauty (1959) and One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961). The Aristocats (1970) saw Ravenscroft receive a rare on screen credit as the voice of the Russian Cat. Ravenscroft also worked on other Disney projects, mostly voicing numerous Disneyland attractions like the lead vocalist on the theme song "Grim Grinning Ghosts" in the Haunted Mansion (he is the bust that most people have mistaken as Walt Disney).
Television variety shows had always benefited from the talents of Ravenscroft and The Mellomen. In 1966, Ravenscroft, at the request of Dr.Seuss and Chuck Jones, was given a chance to showcase his voice by singing “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” in How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The overwhelming success of the Christmas special led to other projects in the Seuss television franchise. He could later be heard in Horton Hears a Who, The Cat in the Hat, The Lorax and various others.
After the 1960’s, little film work was offered, but Ravenscroft did sing “No Dogs Allowed” in the Peanuts animated feature Snoopy Come Home (1972). He was also the voice of Kirby in The Brave Little Toaster children’s movies.
Because of his contributions over the years, he was named a Disney Legend in 1995. At 2004's Annie Awards, Ravenscroft received the Winsor McCay Award for lifetime achievement.
-John L. Gibbon