Tag Archives: disneyland

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.

The Mime and the Mouse

Chaplin & Disney.

I saw my first Charlie Chaplin film on a vintage hand-cranked Mutoscope at the Penny Arcade on Main Street USA during my first trip to Disneyland. It was an appropriate place to dip my toe into the Chaplin waters, which soon became an immersion, because Charlie Chaplin and his character, “The Little Tramp,” were major influences on Walt Disney, and on his animated character Mickey Mouse.

Walt Disney was a young man in Missouri when Chaplin first hit the silver screen in 1914. Young Walt idolized the Englishman entering several Chaplin impersonation contests in Kansas City. Years later, after choosing animation for a career and relocating to Southern California, Disney turned to his idol for inspiration in the creation of a new character.

“We felt that the public, and especially the children, like animals that are cute and little. I think we are rather indebted to Charlie Chaplin for the idea. We wanted something appealing, and we thought of a tiny bit of a mouse that would have something of the wistfulness of Chaplin – a little fellow trying to do the best he could.”

(“How to Be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life”)

In the 1930s Disney and Chaplin became business partners for five years when all of the Disney shorts were released through Chaplin’s company, United Artists.

Their paths crossed often in Hollywood and in remote sites like the Lake Tahoe region where Chaplin filmed the opening of The Gold Rush in 1925. Disney came to the same spot a few years later to invest in what is today known as the Sugar Bowl Ski Resort. One of the highest peaks at the resort is named Mt. Disney, which is next to the setting where a line of prospectors climbed to the gold fields in Chaplin’s 1925 epic.

The Santa Clarita Valley contains sites related to both men.

Disney bought a ranch in Placerita Canyon in the late 50s that is today known as Golden Oak Ranch. It has been used in dozens of productions for the company, including Spin and Marty from the Mickey Mouse Club. The company plans to expand the facility into its second major California studio complex over the next few years.

Chaplin also spent time in the SCV going back to 1923 when he filmed The Pilgrim in the Saugus Train Station. A dozen years later he returned to film the final scenes for Modern Times on Sierra Highway.

Modern Times premiered on February 5, 1936 in New York and made its West Coast debut a week later at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Before the show, the crowd was entertained by a Walt Disney Mickey Mouse cartoon. Disney inserted a note into the program to honor his childhood hero that said, “In appreciation of the pantomimist supreme whose inimitable artistry and craftsmanship are timeless.”

It was signed, “Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney.”


BTW, we will be honoring the 75th anniversary of the release of Modern Times in the SCV on February 5, 2011 by placing a historic plaque at the site of the final scene. We will be hosting a Chaplin Festival in Newhall that weekend, which includes a screening of The Pilgrim in the Saugus Train Station where part of it was filmed. Keep in touch for details.