Tag Archives: bing crosby

The President & the King

Meeting a king is no big deal for a president, but when the “King of Rock and Roll” shows up at the White House asking to come inside … that is a big deal!

This actually happened forty years ago today, when Elvis Presley, traveling under the name “Col. Jon Burrows,” walked up to the White House, presented the guards with a five-page handwritten letter, and asked to meet with President Nixon.

The story begins three weeks earlier when Presley was in Palm Springs hanging out with Vice President Spiro Agnew (huh?!) and decided he wanted to enlist in the “War On Drugs.” He soon found himself flying to Washington in the company of California Senator George Murphy (huh?!) writing the letter he would later present to the White House on American Airlines stationery.

In it, Presley stated that he was fully aware of the “communist brainwashing techniques” that were eroding America and offered to report back on a host of America’s enemies, stating “the drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS, Black Panthers etc., do not consider me as their enemy, or as they call it The Establishment. I call it America and I love it.” He hoped to be made a “Federal Agent At Large” by Nixon, a position that didn’t officially exist.

The letter was passed to David Chapin, one of the president’s aides, who wrote a memo to Nixon’s Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman recommending that Nixon meet with Presley later that same day. The White House then called the Washington Hotel, where Elvis was staying with two of his bodyguards, to offer the invitation. At the time of the call, Presley was at the FBI Headquarters hoping to meet with J. Edgar Hoover (huh?!) but left for the White House when the invitation to the Oval Office arrived.

Presley was escorted in to meet the president, but was barred by the Secret Service from presenting him with the chrome-plated World War II .45-caliber pistol that he brought along as a gift. He then spread out his own collection of police badges on the president’s desk and asked for an FBI badge of his own, which the president okayed. The two men spoke of ways Presley could help the president’s efforts in thwarting the radicals, and Elvis even took a few shots at the Beatles, who he felt were spreading an “anti-American” message. A few pictures were taken of the meeting, which have since become some of the most requested photographs in the entire National Archives collection. After an awkward hug between the two men (and again, huh?!), the Presley party was given a tour of the White House and served lunch. At the conclusion of their visit, “The King” got his presidential Christmas present in the form of his new badge.

Nixon sent a letter to Presley on December 31, thanking him for the visit, and for the gift, which is now on display at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda.

Elvis, of course, died of a drug overdose in 1977 at the age of 42.

Nixon and Presley. Just about the only Christmas-time pairing in history weirder than that Bing Crosby/David Bowie duet.

Thurl-ly Entertaining

Thurl and Tony.

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.

Ravenscroft became a "Disney Legend" in 1995.