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Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives (14 June 1909 – 14 April 1995) was an Americanmarker actor, writer and folk music singer.

As an actor, Ives's work included comedies, dramas, and voice work in theater, television, and motion pictures. Referring to Ives's singing, the prominent music critic John Rockwell said, "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

Ives was born in 1909 near Hunt Citymarker, an unincorporated town in Jasper County, Illinoismarker, 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 for the country 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 (now Eastern Illinois Universitymarker) in Charleston, where he played football. During his junior year, he was sitting in English class, listening to a lecture on Beowulf, when he suddenly realized he was wasting his time. 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.Ives was also involved in the Masonic Fraternity from 1927 onward.(

On 23 July 1929 in Richmond, Indianamarker, 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.

1930s – 1940s

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, Utahmarker, for vagrancy and for singing “Foggy Foggy Dew,” which the authorities decided was a bawdy song. Around 1931 he began performing on WBOWmarker radio in Terre Haute, Indianamarker. He also went back to school, attending classes at Indiana State Teachers College (now Indiana State Universitymarker).

In 1940 Ives began his own radio show, titled The Wayfaring Stranger after one of his ballads. Over the next decade, 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 into the U.S. Army. He spent time first at Camp Dixmarker, then at Camp Uptonmarker, where he joined the cast of Irving Berlin's This Is the Army. He attained the rank of corporal. When the show went to Hollywood, he was transferred to the Army Air Force. He was discharged honorably, apparently for medical reasons, in September of 1943. Between September and December of 1943, Ives lived in Californiamarker with actor Harry Morgan (who would later go on to play Colonel Sherman T. Potter on M*A*S*H). In December 1943, Ives went to New York City to work for CBS radio for $100 a week.

On 6 December 1945, Ives married 29-year-old script writer Helen Peck Ehrlich. Their son Alexander was born in 1949.

In 1946 Ives was cast as a singing cowboy in the film Smoky.

1950s: Communist "blacklisting"

Ives was identified in the infamous 1950 pamphlet Red Channels and blacklisted as an entertainer with supposed Communist ties. In 1952 he cooperated with the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC) and agreed to testify. He stated that he was not a member of the Communist Party but that he had attended various union meetings with fellow folk singer Pete Seeger to simply stay in touch with working folk. He stated: "You know who my friends are; you will have to ask them if they are Communists."

Ives's cooperation with the HUAC ended his blacklisting, allowing him to continue acting in movies. But 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 in order to save his own career. Forty-one years later, Ives reunited with Seeger during a benefit concert in New York City. They sang "Blue Tail Fly" together.

1950s – 1960s

Ives expanded his appearances in films during this decade. His movie credits include East of Eden (1955); "Big Daddy" in 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. He was initiated as a member of the Alpha Chi Chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity, the national fraternity for men in music, at the University of Tulsamarker in 1953.

1960s – 1990s

In the 1960s Ives began singing country music with greater frequency. In 1962 he released three songs that were popular with both country music and popular music fans: "A Little Bitty Tear," "Call Me Mister In-Between," and "Funny Way of Laughing."

Ives had several film and television roles during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1962 he starred with Rock Hudson in The Spiral Road, which was based on a novel of the same name by Jan de Hartog. In 1964 Ives played the narrator, Sam the Snowman, in the Rankin-Bass animated television special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He performed in other television productions, including 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!, which was about the presumed richest man in the world, replaced Walter Brennan's somewhat similar The Tycoon on the ABC schedule from the preceding year. Both were unsuccessful. .

Ives and Helen Peck Ehrlich were divorced in February 1971. Ives then married Dorothy Koster Paul in London two months later. In their later years, Ives and Dorothy lived in a waterfront home in Anacortesmarker, in the Puget Soundmarker area. In the 1960s, he also had another home just south of Hope Townmarker on Elbow Caymarker, a barrier island of the Abacomarker in the Bahamasmarker.

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


Ives died of complications of mouth cancer on 14 April 1995 and is interred in Mound Cemetery in Hunt City Township, Jasper County, Illinoismarker.

Broadway roles

Ives's Broadwaymarker career included appearances inThe Boys From Syracuse (1938–1939), Heavenly Express (1940), This Is the Army (1942), Sing Out Sweet Land (1944), Paint Your Wagon (1951–1952), and Dr. Cook's Garden (1967). His most notable Broadway performance (later reprised in a 1958 movie) was as Big Daddy Cane in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955–1956), written specifically for Ives by Tennessee Williams.


Ives's autobiography, The Wayfaring Stranger, was published in 1948. He also wrote or compiled several other books, including Burl Ives Songbook (1953), Tales of America (1954), Sea Songs of Sailing, Whaling, and Fishing (1956), and The Wayfaring Stranger's Notebook (1962).

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 15 of Ives's hits in his playlist. Madison, Wisconsinmarker 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's singing style and recreated some of his crusty dialogue from The Big Country and Summer Magic. When Ives became aware of 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.

The Christmas film Elf, starring Will Ferrell, features a snowman resembling the character Ives voiced in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

Former Essex County, New Jersey presiding judge Burl Ives Humphries was named after the actor/singer.

The popular Washington, D.C.marker restaurant Lindy's features a burger called the "Burl Ives", which consists of two connected hamburgers topped with a hot dog and smothered in barbecue sauce.



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 Jimmy / I Never See Maggie Alone (1959, 7 in., 45 rpm, Decca 30855)
  • A Little Bitty Tear / Shanghied (1961, 7 in., 45 rpm, Decca 31330)
  • Funny Way of Laughing / Mother Wouldn't Do That (1962, 7 in., 45 rpm, Decca 31371)
  • Call Me Mister 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)
  • A Holly Jolly Christmas / Snow for Johnny (1964, 7 in., 45 rpm, Decca 31695)
  • 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 (30 September 1940 – 28 February 1941)
  • The Wayfarin' Stranger, CBS & WOR (1941–1942, 1946–1948)
  • Burl Ives Coffee Club, CBS (5 July 1941 – 24 January 1942)
  • The Columbia Workshop, CBS
    • "Roadside" (2 March 1941)
    • "The Log of the R-77," second installment of Twenty-Six by Corwin (11 May 1941)
    • "The People, Yes," third installment of Twenty-Six by Corwin (18 May 1941)
    • "A Child's History of Hot Music" (15 March 1942)
  • G. I. Jive, military radio (c. 1943)
  • Columbia Presents Corwin, CBS
    • "The Lonesome Train" (21 March 1944)
    • "El Capitan and the Corporal" (25 July 1944)
  • The Theatre Guild on the Air, ABC
    • "Sing Out, Sweet Land" (21 October 1945)
  • Hollywood Star Time, CBS
    • "The Return of Frank James" (10 March 1946)
  • The Burl Ives Show, Syndication (1946–1948)
  • Hollywood Fights Back, ABC (2 November 1947)
  • The Kaiser Traveler, ABC (24 July – 4 September 1949)
  • Burl Ives Sings, Syndication (1950s)

Theater Appearances (selected)

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

Filmography (selected)



Concerts (selected)

  • Royal Winsor, New York City, 28 April 1939
  • Town Hall, New York City, 1 December 1945
  • Opera House, San Francisco, 9 February 1949
  • Columbia University, New York City, 19 October 1950
  • Royal Festival Hall, London, 10 May 1952
  • Albert Hall, London, 20 October 1976
  • Reuben F. Scarf's house, Sydney, Australia, GROW Party, 1977.
  • Royal Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool,1979 accompanying The Spinners.
  • Chautauqua, New York, 1982 ( VHS)
  • Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, Illinois, 27 April 1990
  • Brodniak Hall, Anacortes, Washington, 1991 ( VHS)
  • Mt. Vernon, Washington, February 1993 ( VHS)
  • Folksong U.S.A., 92nd Street Y, New York City, 17 May 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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