Monday, September 12, 2011

Senior DeMolay Highlight - Burl Ives

This is the fourth in our series of Senior DeMolay Highlights and today we take another dive back into the DeMolay International Hall of Fame. Today's highlight is an entertainer that I'm willing to bet everyone has heard or seen at some point, but probably doesn't even realize it.

I don't know of many people who dislike the holiday season. One of the most famous television holiday specials is the 1964 classic, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. That show was narrated by a plump and jolly character named "Sam the Snowman." That snowman was a characterization of Burl Ives. He also recorded several classic holiday tunes, like Holly Jolly Christmas and Silver and Gold. So, without further ado, let's learn more about
Burl Icle Ivanhoe Ives
Actor and Folk Singer


Brother Ives was born on June 14, 1909, near Hunt City (an unincorporated area in Jasper County, Illinois.) Burl had six siblings and was the son of farmer and laborer. He started singing very early on. It is said that his Uncle overheard him singing in a garden and thought he had a great voice. He was invited to come sing in Hunt City with a group and impressed everyone with his talent.

Burl was inducted into George N. Todd Chapter, in Illinois, in 1927. He became a member of the Legion of Honor of DeMolay in 1986. An active Freemason throughout his life, Ives would become a 33rd Degree Member of the Scottish Rite. He was also very active with the Boy Scouts of America, earning several distinctions, including the prestigious Silver Buffalo, the highest honor given in Scouting. One link Burl has to Pennsylvania is a 1977 sound recording of him being interviewed by Boy Scouts at the National Jamboree at Moraine State Park.

He would go on to college in Illinois to become a teacher. As the legend goes, he was sitting in English class in his Junior year when he suddenly felt that he was just wasting his time. It is said that he got up and left the class. As he did so, the professor apparently made a remark to Burl, to which he responded by slamming the door on his way out. Sixty years later, Eastern Illinois University named a building after not one of its most famous graduates, but its most famous dropout - Burl Ives.

Burl started his singing career in the 30's and 40's, travelling the country learning folk songs from cowboys, hobos, and anyone with a tune or tale to tell. He landed some gigs on local radio stations where he became famous for playing folk songs. In the late 1930's, he associated himself with a group of singers that took a public "anti-war" stance. This group included Woody Guthrie, Will Geer, and Pete Seeger. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the group changed its views, throwing its full support behind FDR. They even wrote "pro-war" songs to support the movement. In 1942 he was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he would attain the rank of Corporal before being discharged in 1943 for medical reasons. Following his stint with the Army, Ives went to New York City to host a radio program for CBS radio. In 1945 he would marry Helen Ehrlich, with whom he would have a son, Alexander, in 1949. 

In the early 1950's, Ives hit a rough patch. He was identified (mistakenly) with the Communist movement and was placed on the infamous "Blacklist." Later, he would testify in front of the notorious House UnAmerican Activities Committee. During his testimony it was revealed that he had been blacklisted for visiting Union meetings where he was trying to stay in touch with the working man in an effort to increase his musical repertoire. He would round out the 1950's by landing parts in several movies and becoming a minor celebrity. 

The 1960's saw Ives continue his acting career and become a recording sensation. As mentioned above, his 1964 animated adaptation of the story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer brought him a whole new level of success that would keep him into the public consciousness for years to come. In 1975 he earned another tie to the Keystone State when he was awarded the Penn State University Glee Club Award of Merit. He was also famous as a spokesman for Luzianne teas in the 60's and 70's. Ives was an author and Broadway actor during this time. 

Some of you may noticed that Bro. Ives is smoking a pipe in the picture above. As you know, PA DeMolay has a zero tolerance policy in regards to the use of tobacco in any form, but I wanted to depict Bro. Ives smoking his pipe for a specific reason. Ives was famous for his love of pipes, but it would ultimately be his demise. In 1994 he was diagnosed with oral cancer, caused by his decades of tobacco use. He fell into a coma in 1995 and would die before the end of the year due to complications from the disease. His signature look, that of a pipe smoker, would ultimately kill him.

Special thanks to the DeMolay International Hall of Fame and Wikipedia for information on Bro. Ives.

Bro. Ives took Control of his life, changing his career path and becoming a famous singer and actor. What have you done on your Mission to Control your own destiny?

Frat! ~ "Dad" Seth Anthony

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