Burl Ives


Actor, Singer
Burl Ives

About

Also Known As
Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives
Birth Place
Hunt City Township, Illinois, USA
Born
June 14, 1909
Died
April 14, 1995
Cause of Death
Mouth Cancer

Biography

Described by one writer as "a character long before he became an actor," Burl Ives went from humble origins to become one of the world's most beloved folk singers as well as a widely respected film, stage, radio and television performer. Ives was able to captivate audiences with his incredible voice, vast repertoire of traditional ballads - more than 3,400, according to the Library of C...

Photos & Videos

Family & Companions

Helen Peck Erlich
Wife
Married in 1945; when they split up in 1960, she got custody of their son Alexander; had directed Ives on radio show.
Dorothy Ives
Wife
Co-wrote with Ives, "The Mystic Trumpeter-Walt Whitman at 70", a stage vehicle in which he performed the title role at the Lobero Theater in Santa Barbera, California in 1988; married in 1970; survived him.

Bibliography

"The Wayfaring Stranger"
Burl Ives (1948)

Notes

"I got into a brawl one night in a saloon in Greenwich Village. Elia Kazan, a great director, saw me put out a couple of hecklers and figures there was some Big Daddy in me, just lyin' dormant. And out it came. People still do call me Big Daddy, but to me, inside, I'm no Big Daddy at all." --Burl Ives, a 1978 quote reprinted in USA TODAY, April 17, 1995

Ives was the recipient of the Minnesota Heritage Award, the Carl Sandburg Award, the National Boy Scouts Award and the Crystal Humanitarian Award (given by the Crystal Cathedral), as well as being the Lincoln Laureate (State of Illinois). He also received an Honorary Doctor of Law from Farleigh Dickinson University, an Honorary Doctor of Music from Carl Sandburg College and the US Navy's "E" Award.

Biography

Described by one writer as "a character long before he became an actor," Burl Ives went from humble origins to become one of the world's most beloved folk singers as well as a widely respected film, stage, radio and television performer. Ives was able to captivate audiences with his incredible voice, vast repertoire of traditional ballads - more than 3,400, according to the Library of Congress - and a gentlemanly, homespun persona. After establishing himself on radio as the "Wayfarin' Stranger" and on Broadway in hits like "Sing Out, Sweet Land" (1944-45), Ives became a much-in-demand character actor via such major movies as "East of Eden" (1955), "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958) and "The Big Country" (1958), winning a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for the latter. In between ongoing film, stage, and radio work, Ives continued to rack up a truly impressive array of best-selling songs, including "Blue Tail Fly," "Big Rock Candy Mountain" and "A Little Bitty Tear." He also garnered two more hits via his participation in Rankin-Bass' beloved "Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer" (NBC, 1964), which would become a part of the TV Yuletide lineup every year since its original airing. During a professional career lasting more than five decades, Ives entertained audiences all over the world, made several hundred recordings heard on over 90 records, and more than earned himself the oft cited title of America's greatest folk singer.

Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives was born in Hunt Township, IL on June 4, 1909 to a poor family of tenant farmers. Ives gave his first public performance at age four, when he was asked to sing at an Old Soldiers' reunion. Displaying an aptitude at football, the strapping youth decided to become a coach. Before completing his studies at Eastern Illinois State Teachers College, he left school and began hitchhiking across country, earning a living by singing wherever anyone would pay him for his services. Describing himself during his early years on the road as "a tourist without funds" rather than a hobo, Ives enhanced both his musical and life experience by visiting many different towns and cities in the United States, absorbing local culture and singing wherever he found an audience. By the early 1930s, Ives had made his way out to California with his banjo, where he lived a hand-to-mouth existence working in restaurants and speakeasies. Ives committed hundreds of folk songs to memory and could perform any of them on demand. This incredible ability, coupled with his salty, down-home sense of humor, genuine emotions and eminently relaxed style easily won over most audiences. Upon taking voice lessons to enhance his talents, Ives made his Broadway debut with 1938's "The Boys from Syracuse," ironically, in a part that offered no opportunity to sing. However, within two years, he was a regular presence on the radio with the 15-minute CBS program "Wayfarin' Stranger."

Well on his way to becoming one of America's most beloved balladeers, he was back on Broadway that year - and singing this time - in "Heavenly Express." Ives' stage and radio careers were put on hold when he was inducted into the army, but his talents were not wasted as he was assigned to perform in the cast of Irving Berlin's patriotic musical "This is the Army" (1942-44), and remained a part of that company for 18 months. Upon discharge for medical reasons, Ives earned his first Broadway starring role in "Sing Out, Sweet Land" (1944-45). In 1946, Ives decided he wanted to try his hand at film acting, so he grew a beard and had a photographer shoot a series of stills of him in dramatic poses. After a false start at MGM, where he was briefly hired for a part in "The Great Sinner" but replaced with name star Walter Huston, Ives made his film debut in "Smoky" (1946), an adaptation of Will James' classic children's novel. Additional roles followed in another horse story, "Green Grass of Wyoming," as well as "Station West" and "So Dear to My Heart" (all 1948). Ives also published his autobiography, The Wayfaring Stranger (which he later admitted was not always entirely truthful), that same year. Additionally that decade, the singer's historically invaluable collection of 3,400 ballads was added to the Library of Congress, and the first of many Ives records began to appear in stores, including the six-album collection Historical America in Songs. He also performed concert tours, sometimes covering 48 states and a few international dates, as well as finding time to continue singing on radio.

Returns to Broadway in "She Stoops to Conquer" (1949-1950), "Paint Your Wagon" (1951-52), and "Show Boat" (1954) followed, but Ives' career was temporarily sidelined in 1952, when he was called to testify before The House Committee on Un-American Activities, where he admitted having attended meetings put on by a leftist group. Ives' decision to cooperate and name names created a rift between himself and some of his fellow folk singers, but now able to resume working, he was cast in his first notable film role, as a small-town sheriff, in Elia Kazan's critically acclaimed "East of Eden" (1955). He also enjoyed another triumph that year, earning the acting role he is most identified with, Big Daddy Pollitt, in the acclaimed Broadway adaptation of Tennessee Williams' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1955-56), a part he would reprise in Richard Brooks' 1958 film version. He won an Oscar for his larger-than-life supporting turn as a bitter cattle rancher in William Wyler's epic Western "The Big Country" (1958), and contributed memorable performances to the Eugene O'Neill adaptation "Desire Under the Elms" (1958), "Wind Across the Everglades" (1958), the comic spy caper "Our Man in Havana" (1959), "Let No Man Write My Epitaph" (1960), and "The Spiral Road" (1962).

Another signature role for the entertainer came when he lent his incredible voice to Sam the Snowman, narrator of the Rankin-Bass children's classic, "Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer" (NBC, 1964), which became a Christmas TV perennial and spawned two more hit songs for Ives. He also did voice work for the animated feature "The Daydreamer" (1966) and earned a Grammy Award for the album Chim Chim Cheree and Other Children's Choices. Additional film roles came in the comedies "The Brass Bottle"(1964), where he played a genie; the belated "Mister Roberts" sequel "Ensign Pulver" (1964), and "Those Fantastic Flying Fools" (1967). He also earned a final credit on Broadway with the titular role in the Ira Levin thriller, "Dr. Cook's Garden" (1967) and made periodic trips to television, notably as the star of the short-lived sitcom "O.K. Crackerby!" (ABC, 1965-66), and in a recurring part on the final season of "The Bold Ones: The Lawyers" (NBC, 1969-1972). With the rise of folk singers like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and The Kingston Trio in the early '60s, Ives opened a new phase of his career, successfully adding The Nashville Sound of country and western to his repertoire, enjoying several more hit recordings. The success of those younger singers also caused a sales spike in Ives' back catalog, giving him a new generation of fans.

Ives' remaining features were largely forgettable and played mostly on his established down-to-earth persona, though there were a few unusual credits, like the U.S./Japanese co-production "The Bermuda Depths" (ABC, 1978), Sam Fuller's controversial yet little-seen racial drama "White Dog" (1982) and Zalman King's silly soft-core outing "Two Moon Junction" (1988), which turned out to be Ives' last film. With his grandfatherly appeal, Ives was a natural for family entertainment, providing the voice of Sam the Eagle in the Disneyland attraction "American Sings" and appearing in such children's features as "Baker's Hawk" (1976), "The New Adventures of Heidi" (NBC, 1978), and "Earthbound" (1981). He also provided a voice for the U.S. version of the Hungarian animated feature "Hugo the Hippo" (1976) and narration for the made-for-TV "Return of the Jedi" spin-off, "The Ewok Adventure" (ABC, 1984). Over the years, several book collections of Burl Ives' songs were published, including such standards as "Blue Tail Fly," "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas," "Silver and Gold," "A Little Bitty Tear," "Big Rock Candy Mountain," and "Foggy Dew." A long-time supporter of The Boy Scouts of America, he frequently promoted the group and narrated a 1977 film about the scouts' National Jamboree. Ives died from the effects of mouth cancer on April 14, 1995, two months short of his 86th birthday.

By John Charles

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Two Moon Junction (1988)
Sheriff Earl Hawkins
Uphill All the Way (1986)
Sheriff
The Ewok Adventure (1984)
Narrator
White Dog (1982)
Earthbound (1981)
Just You And Me, Kid (1979)
The New Adventures of Heidi (1978)
Grandfather
Hugo the Hippo (1978)
Voice
The Bermuda Depths (1978)
Paulis
Baker's Hawk (1976)
The McMasters (1970)
Neal McMasters
The Other Side of Bonnie and Clyde (1968)
Narrator
Those Fantastic Flying Fools (1967)
Phineas T. Barnum
The Daydreamer (1966)
Father Neptune
Mediterranean Holiday (1964)
Narrator
The Brass Bottle (1964)
Fakrash-el Aamash
Ensign Pulver (1964)
Captain Morton
Summer Magic (1963)
Osh Popham
The Spiral Road (1962)
Dr. Brits Jansen
Our Man in Havana (1960)
Dr. Karl Hasselbacher
Let No Man Write My Epitaph (1960)
Judge Bruce Mallory Sullivan
Day of the Outlaw (1959)
Jack Bruhn
The Big Country (1958)
Rufus Hannassey
Desire Under the Elms (1958)
Ephraim Cabot
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Big Daddy Pollitt
Wind Across the Everglades (1958)
Cottonmouth
A Face in the Crowd (1957)
Himself
The Power and the Prize (1956)
George Salt
East of Eden (1955)
Sam
Sierra (1950)
Lonesome
So Dear to My Heart (1949)
"Uncle" Hiram Douglas
Station West (1948)
Hotel clerk
Green Grass of Wyoming (1948)
Gus
Smoky (1946)
Bill

Music (Feature Film)

The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Song
The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Song Performer
Expired (2007)
Song Performer
Big Momma's House 2 (2006)
Song Performer
Radio (2003)
Song Performer
Bad Santa (2003)
Song Performer
The Wedding Planner (2001)
Song ("Cowboy'S Lament")
The Family Man (2000)
Song Performer
Fools Rush In (1997)
Song Performer
The Ref (1994)
Song Performer
True Romance (1993)
Song Performer
Wind Across the Everglades (1958)
Composer
Sierra (1950)
Composer
Green Grass of Wyoming (1948)
Composer
Smoky (1946)
Composer

Cast (Special)

The Glen Campbell Special: The Musical West (1974)
Monsanto Night Presents Burl Ives (1972)
Host
The Red Skelton Chevy Special (1959)
Guest
Holiday U.S.A. (1959)
Host

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story (1987)
First Easter Rabbit (1978)
Voice
Roots (1977)
Captains and the Kings (1976)
Captains and the Kings Part 5 & 6 (1976)

Life Events

1938

Made his NYC stage debut in the Rodgers and Hart musical "I Married an Angel"

1946

Feature debut with a singing role in "Smoky"

1948

First starring role in the children's feature "So Dear to My Heart"

1954

Starred on Broadway in a revival of "Showboat"

1955

Collaborated with Elia Kazan on "East of Eden" (as Sam, the town sheriff) and on the original Broadway stage production of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof", for which he created his signature role of Big Daddy Pollitt

1956

TV debut with a guest spot on the Western series "Zane Grey Theater"

1957

Appeared as a panelist on the game show "High Low Quiz"

1958

Reprised his role as Big Daddy Pollitt in Richard Brooks' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"

1958

Won Supporting Actor Oscar for "The Big Country"

1959

Hosted the first of many holiday televised specials, "Holiday U.S.A."

1964

TV series debut as Prater Beasley on "Daniel Boone" (NBC)

1964

Credited as the host, narrator, voice and song performer for the animated classic, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"

1964

Narrated English-language version of "Mediterranean Holiday"; also performed songs on the soundtrack

1965

Portrayed title role of short-lived ABC series "O.K. Crackerby"

1968

Played Gepitto in "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentation of "Pinocchio" (NBC)

1968

TV-movie debut, "The Sound of Anger" (NBC), portraying lawyer Walter Nichols

1976

First TV miniseries, "Captains and the Kings" (NBC)

1977

Acted in acclaimed ABC miniseries "Roots"

1978

Final TV-movie, "The Bermuda Depths" (ABC)

1978

Provided the voice of the Great Easter Bunny in CBS' "The First Easter Rabbit"

1987

Final small screen appearance as F W Woolworth in the miniseries, "Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story" (NBC)

1988

Last feature acting credit, "Two Moon Junction"

Photo Collections

Cat On a Hot Tin Roof - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's Cat On a Hot Tin Roof (1958), starring Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, and Burl Ives, and directed by Richard Brooks.
Sierra - Movie Posters
Here are a few original movie posters for Universal Pictures' Sierra (1950), starring Audie Murphy.

Videos

Movie Clip

Station West (1948) - I Ain't Dead Yet Straight from a Burl Ives vocal under the credits, the aftermath of a gold robbery and Dick Powell arriving in town, the exterior certainly Sedona, Az, probably day-for-night, where Burl as the innkeeper resumes the song, opening director Sidney Lanfield’s taut, overlooked Western, Station West, 1948, also starring Jane Greer.
Brass Bottle, The (1964) - He's A Big King Solomon Fan Now convinced that the antique bottle he bought as a gift for his fianceè’s parents must be a fake, architect Harold (Tony Randall) is planning to turn it into a lamp when Burl Ives (as “”Farkrash-el Aamash”) pops out, so he assumes it’s an elaborate trick by his Bohemian buddy Seymour, in The Brass Bottle, 1964.
Brass Bottle, The (1964) - Also From The Caterer? In total panic because his unwanted genie (Burl Ives) turned his house into an Arabian pleasure palace before the dinner he planned with his fianceè (Barbara Eden) and his skeptical in-laws (Edward Andrews, Ann Doran), things get even worse for architect Harold (Tony Randall) when a dancing “houri” (Kamala Devi) appears, in The Brass Bottle, 1964.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) - I Don't Want Your Hand! Father Big Daddy (Burl Ives) and son Brick (Paul Newman) clash over Brick's drinking and his wife Maggie's (Elizabeth Taylor, not seen) misdeeds in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1958, from the Tennessee Williams play.
So Dear To My Heart (1948) - The Greatest Wealth Narration and vocal by John Beal, song by Irving Taylor and Ticker Freeman, story-book opening by Disney animators including Ub Iwerks and Josh Meador, and a quick look at the leading lad, Bobby Driscoll as Jerry, in the 1948 adaptation of the book by Sterling North, So Dear To My Heart.
Wind Across The Everglades (1958) - Tickle Of Them Feathers Now with the Audubon Society in early 1900’s Florida, Murdock (Christopher Plummer) doesn’t realize he’s meeting the notorious poacher Cottonmouth (Burl Ives, young Peter Falk in his band), in Wind Across The Everglades, 1958, from Budd Schulberg’s original screenplay.

Trailer

Family

Frank Ives
Father
Farmer.
Cordella Ives
Mother
Alexander Ives
Son
Survived him; adopted with first wife Helen Peck Erlich.
Kevin Ives
Step-Son
From wife Dorothy's previous marriage; survived him.
Robbie Ives
Step-Son
From wife Dorothy's previous marriage; survived him.

Companions

Helen Peck Erlich
Wife
Married in 1945; when they split up in 1960, she got custody of their son Alexander; had directed Ives on radio show.
Dorothy Ives
Wife
Co-wrote with Ives, "The Mystic Trumpeter-Walt Whitman at 70", a stage vehicle in which he performed the title role at the Lobero Theater in Santa Barbera, California in 1988; married in 1970; survived him.

Bibliography

"The Wayfaring Stranger"
Burl Ives (1948)

Notes

"I got into a brawl one night in a saloon in Greenwich Village. Elia Kazan, a great director, saw me put out a couple of hecklers and figures there was some Big Daddy in me, just lyin' dormant. And out it came. People still do call me Big Daddy, but to me, inside, I'm no Big Daddy at all." --Burl Ives, a 1978 quote reprinted in USA TODAY, April 17, 1995

Ives was the recipient of the Minnesota Heritage Award, the Carl Sandburg Award, the National Boy Scouts Award and the Crystal Humanitarian Award (given by the Crystal Cathedral), as well as being the Lincoln Laureate (State of Illinois). He also received an Honorary Doctor of Law from Farleigh Dickinson University, an Honorary Doctor of Music from Carl Sandburg College and the US Navy's "E" Award.