Actor, Folk Singer, Author. Over the course of a long and diverse show business career, this imposing 300 pound singer appeared in some 30 movies, a dozen Broadway productions and recorded over 100 albums while making countless radio and television appearances. He was born Burl Icle Ivanhoe in rural Jasper County, Illinois near the town of Hunt, one of seven children, his father a farmer. He was a singer from an early age learning his first tunes from his doting grandmother who had him singing in the local Baptist church by age four. In high school, Burl became a proficient banjo player while athletically active as a fullback on the school team with aspirations toward a career as a coach. He enrolled at Eastern Illinois State Teacher's College only to drop out after a couple of years. With jobs scarce, as the great depression had engulfed the country, he simply went on a "bum," wandering the country, hitching rides, doing odd jobs and using his musical talent as a busker (street singing for money). Stock company performances led him to New York City in 1937, a year later he made his Broadway debut in "The Boys from Syracuse" while singing in Greenwich Village clubs. By 1940, he was a radio personality with his own show on CBS, "The Wayfarin' Stranger." He made a 1946 movie debut in "Smoky" followed by many others..."East of Eden" "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" "The Big Country (Oscar winner best supporting actor) "Rocket to the Moon" and television movies..."Poor Little Rich Girl" "The New Adventures of Heidi" "The Man Who Wanted to Live Forever"and "Pinocchio." His albums and recordings were his main avenue to fame...He had many LP releases but his specialty were albums, most notable...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, Australian Folk Songs and Cheers. Some Top Ten Singles..."Blue Tail Fly" "Big Rock Candy Mountain" " A Little Bitty Tear" "Call Me Mr In-Between" "Funny Way of Laughing" and "On Top of Old Smokey." However, he also had a notable television career with many appearances..."Dolly" "Little House on the Prairie" "Andy Williams Show" "The Dinah Shore Chevy Show" "Toast of the Town" a few barely scratching the surface. At age 70, he quietly disappeared and retired to Washington State but remained active in music by participating in benefit performances. He was a many times contributor to fund raisers...Indian reservations, Boy Scouts, environmental groups, art foundations and children' medicine. He died from cancer at age 85 in his home at Anacortes, the Seattle, Puget Sound area of Washington. Cremated, the Masons provided his final tribute. Burl Ives was involved in Freemasonry from his youth, becoming a DeMolay in 1927. A memorial service was held at the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Los Angeles. The Ashes were taken to Newton, Jasper County, Illinois and the urn was interred beside his mother with the Masons and the Baptist minister from his boyhood church conducting the final committal. Legacy... He won a Grammy Award for Best County Western Recording for his song "It's Just My Funny Way of Laughin." Burl Ives did many shows as a voice actor, but the animated 1964 television special "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" where he was the narrator as "Sam the Snowman" has become an annual Christmas time classic. His first book appeared in 1948, "Wayfaring" an autobiography followed by "A Treasury of American folk songs & ballads," a sing-along book. He has a star on the Hollywood Blvd Walk of Fame. The Burl Ives Bridge located on Highway 130 in Jasper County, Illinois became his namesake and has an accompanying plaque erected by the Illinois Department of Transportation honoring the famous folk singer. A 33rd Degree Mason, the organization honored him with induction into the DeMolay Hall of Fame in 1994 after having received the DeMolay Legion of Honor in 1986.
Bio by: Donald Greyfield