The Legendary Voice of Thurl Ravenscroft
Wednesday, June 1, 2005
by Sheila Hagen, staff writer
We're now entering Splash Mountain, where every day
is one of those 'ZipADeeDoDah' days. If you look
real hard, you might just find your laughin' place. Disneyland
Railroad narration spiel.
The rumbling, velvety voice uttering these words belonged to Thurl Ravenscroft,
who passed away on Sunday, May 22, 2005 at the age of 91. So many attractions
at Disneyland were graced with his voiceovers that it's easy to believe
he is still with us. From the booming singing bust in the Haunted Mansion
graveyard to Fritz the talking parrot in the Enchanted Tiki Room, Ravenscroft
has left an indelible stamp on Disneyland and on our memories.
Ravenscroft was born in 1914 in Norfolk, Nebraska, a small city about
100 miles northwest of Omaha. After finishing high school, he moved to
California in 1933 to study interior design and set design at the Otis
Art Institute. Active in a local church choir, he officially started his
professional career when the choir director suggested Ravenscroft go to
an audition at Paramount Pictures.
After that, Ravenscroft found steady work as a studio singer; so much
so that he dropped out of school, thinking he could always go back if
the studio work didn't pan out. He never did, and a lifetime of performing
as a singer, actor and voiceover talent was in full swing.
Hey Henry, what's holding ya up? Let's get on
with the show! We can't hang around here all day.
Thurl Ravenscroft as Buff the Buffalo from The Country Bear Jamboree
Ravenscroft often appeared on radio shows, and sang backup for
Bing Crosby on The Kraft Music Hall as part of the Paul Taylor
Choristers. Along with fellow choristers Bill Day and Max Smith, they
formed their own group, a quartet called The Metropolitans, which was
later renamed to The Sportsmen.
World War II intervened, and Ravenscroft enlisted in the Air Transport
Command, serving as a navigator in the North Atlantic. While in the service,
he met his future wife, June, with whom he shared his life with for the
next 53 years.
When the war ended, Ravenscroft returned, intending to rejoin his old
singing groupbut his replacement, Gurney Bell, didn't want to step
aside for him. The group was now a regular on The Jack Benny Program,
with Bell threatening to sue Benny if Bell was replaced. Benny wound up
firing the group until the legal wrangling was resolved. Despite the settling
of differences, however, The Sportsmen were never rehired. Max Smith and
Ravenscroft went on to form the nowfamous Mellomen, who went on
to perform in every facet of entertainment: Film, radio, television, commercials
and whatever backup gigs they could book.
When the crypt doors creak and the tombstones quake
Thurl Ravenscroft (as lead singer) and the Mellomen in The Haunted
The Mellomen worked with many of the big stars during the 1950s and '60s,
including Frank Sinata, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Elvis Presley,
in addition to working on films and television projects for Walt Disney.
Ravenscroft lent his talents to many Disney television shows and films,
- The Nifty Nineties (1941) Uncredited singer in
this short about Mickey courting Minnie in the Gay Nineties
- Springtime for Pluto (1944) Uncredited singer
in this short where Pluto celebrates spring
- Alice in Wonderland (1951) Sings as a card painter
as one of The Mellomen
- Trick or Treat (1952) Uncredited singer as one
of The Mellomen in this short where Donald Duck plays a trick on his
- Peter Pan (1953) Uncredited chorus singer
- Toot Whistle Plunk & Boom (1953) Uncredited singer
as one of The Mellomen in this short about a crash course on musical
- Pigs is Pigs (1954) Uncredited singer in this
short where a package of guinea pigs arrive at a station
- Lady and the Tramp (1955) voice of Al the Alligator
- The Story of Anyburg U.S.A. (1957) voice of Cyrus
- Sleeping Beauty (1959) Uncredited singer
- Paul Bunyan (1958) Voice of Paul Bunyan
- Noah's Ark (1959) Uncredited voice of Noah's sons
Shem, Ham, and Japeth
- One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961) Voice of the
- Donald and the Wheel (1961) Voice of the Spirit
of Progress and Senior
- Zorro (1957), the TV series version where he sang the theme
- The Sword in the Stone (1963) Uncredited voice of the
knight at the tournament
- Mary Poppins (1964) Uncredited voice of the pig
- The Jungle Book (1967) The singing voice of George Sanders/Shere
- The Aristocats (1970) Voice of the Russian cat
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977) Uncredited
- The Brave Little Toaster (1987) Voice of Kirby the vacuum
Mein goodness, you're all shtaring at us! Ve better
start the show rrrrolling.
Thurl Ravenscroft as Fritz the German parrot in the Enchanted
Ravenscroft's voice could be heard (and is still heard on some of these
attractions today) on many of Disneyland's attractions, including Pirates
of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion (the broken singing bust),
the Enchanted Tiki Room (Fritz the German parrot), the Country Bear Jamboree
(Buff the Buffalo), portions of the Disneyland Railroad narration, Adventure
through Inner Space, and the Submarine Voyage. He was also the announcer
for many of the ceremonies and events on Disneyland's opening day in 1955.
But even with so many Disney credits to his name, his most notable role
would probably be as the voice of Tony the Tiger for Kellogg's Frosted
Flakes, for which he associated with for almost 50 years, with his last
assignment as Tony the Tiger occurring only a few months before his death.
They're grrrrreeeat! Thurl Ravenscroft as the voice of Tony the
Tiger. Photo courtesy of AP.
In 1966, Ravenscroft was tapped by Chuck Jones to work on How the
Grinch Stole Christmas. It was a success and the two went on to work
on other Dr. Seuss projects such as Horton Hears a Who, The
Cat in the Hat and The Lorax. Ravenscroft worked constantly
throughout the years, but he did not receive onscreen credit for many
of his appearances and voiceovers. Ravenscroft once remarked that since
he always worked freelance without an agent, he never negotiated contractual
terms that are so common today; as a result, he remains uncredited even
for his famous part in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch!
Thurl Ravenscroft singing, from How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Ravenscroft was also a member of the Johnny Mann Singers, appearing on
28 albums altogether, and performed at the White House for President Richard
M. Nixon and Soviet Chairman Leonid Brezhnev.
In 1973, he began a 20year association with the Laguna Beach Festival
of the Arts in California, where he was the narrator for their Pageant
of the Masters, a series of paintings that was brought to life by real
people onstage. He also appeared on the Hour of Power Christian
television show, and narrated the Crystal Cathedral's annual Glory
of Christmas show in Garden Grove, California.
Ravenscroft received the Winsor McCay Award from the International Animated
Film Society in 2004 (the Annie Awards) in recognition of his lifetime
contributions to the art of animation.
In the last 10 years, Ravenscroft began slowing down, and with the exception
of occasional Tony the Tiger recordings, he generally declined offers
to appear in television, film or recordings. He is survived by his two
children, Ron and Nancy, and four grandchildren. His wife, June, passed
away in 1999. As of the date of this article, plans for a memorial service
are still pending.
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Sheila here.
The Foundations of Magic (formerly Architects of Magic) column looks at the important building blocks that formed the basis of Walt Disney's dream, and includes a look at Disney history, Disney lore, and important Disney individualsparticularly Imagineers and artistswho made significant contributions to Walt Disney's dream.
Send your comments to Sheila here.