Everybody knows the song You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch from the Dr. Seuss animated Christmas classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas! And everyone also knows that it was sung by Boris Karloff … which of course, makes everyone wrong.
The booming bass belonged to Thurl Ravenscroft, whose voice is familiar to anyone who has ever seen a Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes commercial or waited in an attraction line at Disneyland.
Thurl Arthur Ravenscroft, the man with the great name and even greater voice, was born in Nebraska in 1914 and migrated to California during the Great Depression seeking a career in interior design. He got talked into trying out for a singing role at Paramount and soon became one of the most sought-after vocalists in Hollywood, performing regularly on radio shows with a group called the Sportsmen Quartet. After a stint in World War II as a navigator flying courier missions across the Atlantic, Ravenscroft returned to music, performing with the Mellomen, who sang backup for many of the stars of the Big Band era, including Bing Crosby and Spike Jones. His voice appeared on several hit songs, including Rosemary Clooney’s 1954 number-one single, This Ole House. Ravenscroft also released several solo singles during this time in hopes of becoming a pop star, but it never panned out. This hardly mattered since he had more film, television, and soon, theme park work than he could handle.
Ravenscroft’s film career began in the early 40s, where he briefly appeared on screen in a few roles, including Lost Canyon with Hopalong Cassidy. But it was in the soundtracks, most often in Disney films, where Ravenscroft’s star would fully shine. His long association with Disney began in 1940 with Pinocchio. He would later lend his pipes to songs and sounds in Dumbo, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, and One Hundred and One Dalmations.
After Disneyland opened in 1955, Ravenscroft’s voice could be heard in Country Bear Jamboree, the Enchanted Tiki Room, the Disneyand Railroad, Mark Twain Riverboat, It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, and most notably in the theme song Grim Grinning Ghosts in the Haunted Mansion. (His likeness appears as a singing hologram on a bust in the cemetery, which many mistake for Walt Disney.)
In 1952, Ravenscroft was cast as the voice of Tony the Tiger for Kellogg’s Frosty Flakes cereal. It was a role he would play over 500 times until his death in 2005, making the catchphrase “They’re gr-r-r-r-r-reat!” familiar to millions.
How the Grinch stole Christmas! came in 1966, but due to an omission in the credits, many believed the film’s narrator, Boris Karloff, actually sang its signature song. This was a mistake that Dr. Seuss and producer Chuck Jones later tried to correct in a full-page ad in Variety.