Burl Ives


Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives (14 June 190914 April 1995) was an Academy Award winning American actor and acclaimed folk music singer. He won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the movie The Big Country and was the voice of Sam the Snowman in the 1964 animated film Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer; however, he is probably better remembered for his music. The prominent music critic John Rockwell has been quoted in the New York Times as saying that "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.

Life and career

Early life

Burl Ives was one of seven children born to a Scottish-Irish farming family. Born in 1909 near Hunt City in Jasper County, Illinois, Ives was the son of Levi "Frank" Ives (1880-1947) and Cordelia "Dellie" White (1882-1954). He had six siblings: Audry, Artie, Clarence, Argola, Lillburn, and Norma. His father was at first a farmer and then a contractor who did work 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.

From 1927 to 1929 Ives attended Eastern Illinois State Teachers College in Charleston (now Eastern Illinois University), where he played football. During his junior year, he was sitting in English class, listening to a lecture on Beowulf, when he suddenly realized that he was wasting his time. So he got up to leave. As he walked out 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.

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.


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. In c. 1931 he landed on WBOW radio in Terre Haute, Indiana. He also went back to school, registering for classes at Indiana State Teachers College (now Indiana State University).

In 1940 Ives began his own radio show, titled The Wayfaring Stranger after one of his ballads. The show was very popular. In the 1940s he popularized several traditional folk songs, such as “Lavender Blue” (his first hit, a folk song from the 17th century), “Foggy Foggy Dew” (an English/Irish folk song), “Blue Tail Fly” (an old Civil War tune) and “Big Rock Candy Mountain” (an old hobo ditty).

In early 1942 Ives was drafted by the military and spent time first at Camp Dix, then at Camp Upton, where he joined the cast of Irving Berlin's This Is the Army. 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 played Colonel Sherman T. Potter on M*A*S*H many years later. In December 1943, Ives returned to New York City and went to work again for CBS radio for $100 a week.

On Dec. 6, 1945, Ives married 29-year-old script writer Helen Peck Ehrlich. The next year, Ives was cast as a singing cowboy in the film Smoky. Other movie credits include East of Eden (1955); Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958); The Big Country (1958), for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor; and Our Man in Havana (1959), based on the Graham Greene novel; and many others. His autobiography, The Wayfaring Stranger, was published in 1948. He also wrote or compiled several other books, including Burl Ives Song Book (1953); Tales of America (1954); Sea Songs of Sailing, Whaling, and Fishing (1956); and The Wayfaring Stranger's Notebook (1962).

Broadway roles

Ives' 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 was as Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955-56), a role written specifically for Ives by Tennessee Williams.

1950s: Communist "blacklisting"

Ives was identified in the infamous 1950 pamphlet Red Channels as an entertainer with supposed Communist ties. In 1952, he cooperated with the House Unamerican Activities Committee and named fellow folk singer Pete Seeger and others as possible Communists.

His cooperation with the HUAC ended his blacklisting, allowing him to continue with his movie acting. It also led to a bitter rift between Ives and many folk singers, including Seeger, who felt that Ives had betrayed them and the cause of cultural and political freedom to save his own career. Forty-one years later, Ives and Seeger were reunited in a benefit concert in New York City; they sang "Blue Tail Fly" together.


In the 1960s Ives began singing country music with greater frequency. In 1962 he released three songs which became country music hits, “A Little Bitty Tear,” “Call Me Mr In-Between,” and “Funny Way of Laughing.” All three songs also were big pop hits. In the 1960s and 1970s, Ives had a number of television roles. He played the narrator, Sam the Snowman, in the Rankin-Bass animated television special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964). He performed in other television productions, most notably Pinocchio (1968) and Roots (1977). He starred in two television series: O. K. Crackerby! (1965-1966) and The Bold Ones: The Lawyers (1969-1972). O.K. Crackerby!, about the presumed richest man in the world, replaced Walter Brennan's somewhat similar The Tycoon on the ABC schedule from the preceding year, but it too was unsuccessful.. In 1962, he starred alongside Rock Hudson, in the movie The Spiral Road which was based on a novel of the same name by Jan de Hartog.

Ives and Helen Peck Ehrlich were divorced in 1971. Ives then married Dorothy Koster Paul in London in that same year. In his later years, Ives and his wife, Dorothy, lived with their children in a home located alongside the water in Anacortes, in the Puget Sound area of Washington. He also had a home just south of Hope Town on Elbow Cay, a barrier island of the Abacos in the Bahamas.

In honor of Ives's vast influence on American vocal music, on October 25, 1975 he was awarded the prestigious University of Pennsylvania Glee Club Award of Merit. Beginning in 1964, this award was "established to bring a declaration of appreciation to an individual each year that 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.

In 1995 Ives died of cancer of the mouth on April 14 1995 at the age of 85, exactly two months before his 86th birthday, and he is interred in Mound Cemetery in Hunt City Township, Jasper County, Illinois.

Popular culture references

Ives's "A Holly Jolly Christmas” remains a popular tune during the Christmas season; it was featured in the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer special. Frank Black of the Pixies is a contemporary fan of Ives according to Apple's iTunes Music Store. In a contribution to “Celebrity Playlists”, Black includes no fewer than 15 of Ives' hits in his playlist. Madison, Wisconsin, punk rock band Killdozer released the EP Burl in 1986, which they dedicated “in loving memory of” Ives, who was still alive (and evidently still remembered) at the time.

The Ren and 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. When Ives saw the episode, he contacted Ren and Stimpy Show creator John Kricfalusi and said that he would have been willing to do the voice-over work for it. 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.



Singles (Selected)

  • Foggy Foggy Dew / Rodger Young (1945, 10 in., 78 rpm, Decca 23405)
  • Grandfather Kringle / Twelve Days of Christmas (1951, 10 in., 78 rpm, Columbia MJV-124)
  • Great White Bird / Brighten The Corner Where You Are (1953, 7 in., 45 rpm, Decca 28849)
  • That's My Heart Strings / The Bus Stop Song (c. 1956, 7 in., 45 rpm, Decca 30046)
  • We Loves Ye Jimy / I Never See Maggie Alone (1959, 7 in., 45 rpm, Decca 30855)
  • Little Bitty Tear / Shangied (1961, 7 in., 45 rpm, Decca 31330)
  • Mother Wouldn't Do That / Funny Way of Laughing (1962, 7 in., 45 rpm, Decca 31371)
  • Call Me Mr. In-between / What You Gonna Do Leroy (1962, 7 in., 45 rpm, Decca 31405)
  • Mary Ann Regrets / How Do You Fall out of Love (1962, 7 in., 45 rpm, Decca 31433)
  • Twelve Days of Christmas / Indian Christmas Carol (1962, 7 in., 45 rpm, Decca 25585)
  • I'm the Boss / The Moon Is High (c. 1963, 7 in., 45 rpm, Decca 31504)
  • True Love Goes On and On / I Wonder What's Become of Sally (1963, 7 in., 45 rpm, Decca 31571)
  • On The Front Porch / Ugly Bug Ball (1963, 7 in., 45 rpm, Buena Vista 419)
  • Four Initials on a Tree /This Is Your Day (1964, 7 in., 45 rpm, Decca 31610)
  • Pearly Shells / What Little Tears Are Made Of (1964, 7 in., 45 rpm, Decca 31659)
  • Salt Water Guitar / The Story of Bobby Lee Trent (1964, 7 in., 45 rpm, Decca 31811)
  • Evil Off My Mind / Taste of Heaven (c. 1967, 7 in., 45 rpm, Decca 31997)
  • Lonesome 7-7203 / Hollow Words (1967, 7 in., 45 rpm, Decca 32078)
  • That's Where My Baby Used to Be / Bury the Bottle with Me (1968, 7 in., 45 rpm, Decca 32282)
  • I'll Be Your Baby Tonight / Maria If I Could (1968, 7 in., 45 rpm, Columbia 4-44508)
  • Santa Mouse / Oh What a Lucky Boy I Am (1968, 7 in., 45 rpm, Columbia 4-44711)
  • Gingerbread House / Tumbleweed Snowman (c. 1970?, 7 in. 45 rpm, Big Tree BT-130)
  • The Best Is Yet to Come & Stayin' Song / Blue Tail Fly (1972, 7 in., 45 rpm, MCA 1921)
  • Mrs. Johnson's Happiness Emporium / Anytime You Say (1973, 7 in., 45 rpm, Decca 33049)
  • The Tail of the Comet Kohoutek / A Very Fine Lady (1974, 7 in., 45 rpm, MCA 40175)
  • It's Gonna Be a Mixed Up Xmas / The Christmas Legend of Monkey Joe (1978, 7 in., 45 & 33 1/3 rpm, Monkey Joe MJ1)
  • The Night before Christmas / Instrumental (1986, 7 in., 45 rpm, Stillman/Teague STP-1013)

Radio Work (selected)

  • Back Where I Came From, CBS (Sept. 30, 1940-Feb. 28, 1941)
  • The Wayfarin' Stranger, CBS & WOR (1941-1942, 1946-1948)
  • Burl Ives Coffee Club, CBS (July 5, 1941-Jan. 24, 1942)
  • The Columbia Workshop, CBS
    • "Roadside" (Mar. 2, 1941)
    • "The Log of the R-77," second installment of Twenty-Six by Corwin (May 11, 1941)
    • "The People, Yes," third installment of Twenty-Six by Corwin (May 18, 1941)
    • "A Child's History of Hot Music" (Mar. 15, 1942)
  • G. I. Jive, military radio (c. 1943)
  • Columbia Presents Corwin, CBS
    • "The Lonesome Train" (Mar. 21, 1944)
    • "El Capitan and the Corporal" (July 25, 1944)
  • The Theatre Guild on the Air, ABC
    • "Sing Out, Sweet Land" (Oct. 21, 1945)
  • Hollywood Star Time, CBS
    • "The Return of Frank James" (Mar. 10, 1946)
  • The Burl Ives Show, Syndication (1946-1948)
  • Hollywood Fights Back, ABC (Nov. 2, 1947)
  • The Kaiser Traveler, ABC (July 24-Sept. 4, 1949)
  • Burl Ives Sings, Syndication (1950s)

Theater Appearances (selected)

  • Pocohontas Preferred (1935-1936)
  • I Married an Angel (1938)
  • The Boys from Syracuse (Nov. 23, 1938 - June 10, 1939)
  • Heavenly Express (April 18-May 4, 1940)
  • This Is the Army (July 4-Sept. 26, 1942)
  • Sing Out Sweet Land (Dec. 27, 1944 - Mar. 24, 1945)
  • She Stoops to Conquer (1950)
  • Knickerbocker Holiday (1950)
  • The Man Who Came to Dinner (1951)
  • Paint Your Wagon (Nov. 12, 1951 - July 19, 1952)
  • Show Boat (1954)
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Mar 24, 1955 - Nov 17, 1956)
  • Dr. Cook's Garden (Sept. 25-30, 1967)

Filmography (selected)



Concerts (selected)

  • Royal Winsor, New York City, April 28, 1939
  • Town Hall, New York City, Dec. 1, 1945
  • Opera House, San Francisco, Feb. 9, 1949
  • Columbia University, New York City, Oct. 19, 1950
  • Royal Festival Hall, London, May 10, 1952
  • Albert Hall, London, Oct. 20, 1976
  • Reuben F. Scarf's house, Sydney, Australia, GROW Party, 1977.
  • Chautauqua, New York, 1982 (VHS)
  • Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois, April 27, 1990
  • Brodniak Hall, Anacortes, Washington, 1991 (VHS)
  • Mt. Vernon, Washington, February 1993 (VHS)
  • Folksong U.S.A., 92nd Street Y, New York City, May 17, 1993


  • The Wayfarin' Stranger: A Collection of 21 Folk Songs and Ballads with Guitar and Piano Accompaniment. New York: Leeds Music, 1945.
  • Wayfaring Stranger. New York: Whittlesey House, 1948 (autobiography)
  • Favorite Folk Ballads of Burl Ives: A Collection of 17 Folk Songs and Ballads with Guitar and Piano Accompaniment. New York: Leeds Music, 1949
  • Burl Ives Song Book. New York: Ballantine Books, 1953
  • Sailing on a Very Fine Day. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1954
  • Burl Ives Folio of Australian Songs, collected and arranged by Percy Jones, 1954.
  • Song in America: Our Musical Heritage, co-authored with Albert Hague. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, n.d.
  • Tales of America. Cleveland: World Publishing, 1954
  • "Introduction" to Paul Kapp's A Cat Came Fiddling and Other Rhymes of Childhood, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1956.
  • The Ghost and Hans Van Duin [excerpt from Tales of America]. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Institute of Technology, 1956
  • Sea Songs of Sailing, Whaling, and Fishing. New York: Ballantine Books, 1956
  • The Wayfaring Stranger's Notebook. Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill, 1962
  • Irish Songs. New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, n.d.
  • The Burl Ives Sing-Along Song Book: A Treasury of American Folk Songs & Ballads, 1963
  • Albad the Oaf. London: Abelard-Schuman, 1965.
  • More Burl Ives Songs. New York: Ballantine Books, 1966
  • Sing a Fun Song. New York: Southern Music Publishing, 1968
  • Burl Ives: Four Folk Song and Four Stories, co-authored with Barbara Hazen. N.p.: CBS Records, 1969
  • Spoken Arts Treasury of American Ballads and Folk Songs, co-authored with Arthur Klein and Helen Ives, n.d.
  • Easy Guitar Method. Dayton, Ohio : Heritage Music Press, 1975
  • We Americans: A Musical Journey with Burl Ives. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1978 (pamphlet)
  • "Foreword" to Martin Scot Kosins's Maya's First Rose. West Bloomfield, MI: Altweger and Mandel Publishing, 1991


External links

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