Sunday, June 14, 2009
Today is Flag Day! So put out your flags and be proud. Today would have been the 100th birthday of one of my favorite singers, Mr. Burl Ives. How many of you have not heard Burl sing that wonderful Christmas song "Holy Jolly Christmas" from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Burl was Born in 1909 near Hunt City, an unincorporated town in Jasper County, Illinois, He 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 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. Dear Burl 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 1931 he landed on WBOW radio in Terre Haute, Indiana. He also went back to school, attending classes at Indiana State Teachers College. In 1940 Burl 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 would later go on to play Colonel Sherman T. Potter on M*A*S*H). 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. They would later adopt a son (Alexander). The next year, Ives was cast as a singing cowboy in the film Smoky. And today, we remember the passing of Alan Jay Lerner at the still very young age of 67. At the time of his death, he was actually writing the lyrics for Llyold Weber's Phantom Of The Opera. He was replaced by Charles Hart. Can you imagine how different "Phantom" might have been with the great Alan jay Lerner doing the lyrics. Poor Alan had some really bad luck with musicals written without his old partner Frederick Lowe. The worst was a little ditty called "Dance A Little Closer" which opened and closed in one night. He wrote it with Charles Strouse and was based on the Robert Sherwood play and movie "Idiot's Delight". Too bad they didn't stick with the original title. Critics dubbed the poor thing "Close A Little Faster" -- In the movie version, Clark gable actually sang Irving Berlin's classic song "Putting On The Ritz". Oh yes, by the way, the musical "Hair Spray began life on this date in 2002 as it premiered in 2002 in Seattle. So Happy Flag Day, everyone-- put your flag out!