DEATH AS IMAGE MAKEOVER
During the run-up to Christmas, I often listen to a CD of Burl Ives holiday tunes. That’s right, ladies, I rock the Burl-man. Please try to control yourselves.
Burl Ives was an actor and folk singer who lived between 1909 and 1995. He did a bunch of stuff, but most people today probably remember him as the voice of “Sam” the snowman narrator of the Rankin/Bass “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” Christmas special from the sixties which still plays on TV every year. I can’t say I’ve ever listened to any of his non-holiday recordings, though I distinctly remember seeing commercials on TV for his albums when I was a kid. His Christmas music kicks ass (Steady, girls).
But for some reason this year, I wasn’t content with just enjoying “Silver and Gold” or “Holly Jolly Christmas” (I defy you to listen to that one and NOT get in the holiday spirit, even if it’s, like, July.) I became weirdly interested in whether Burl Ives, wholesome performer of some of my favorite tunes, was a douchebag in real life.
A lot of these old entertainment legends from music or Hollywood, the ones who are most beloved and revered and adored, were total a-holes in their personal lives. Bing Crosby crooned like crazy; “White Christmas” is a classic. Laughed his way through a bunch of movies with Bob Hope. He was also, reportedly, horribly abusive to his kids. Legendary Hollywood actress Joan Crawford also, supposedly, beat her kids. W.C. Fields played a drunk and really was a drunk. Harry Morgan from “Dragnet” and “M*A*S*H” was charged with abusing his wife. Back in the day, Johnny Carson was a drunk too and, famously, really hard to stay married to.
Nobody remembers this stuff though. We remember the great albums, the great movies, how we enjoyed them in our favorite TV shows. Still, people love salacious dirt and these folks, among many others, had dirt by the truckload and, apparently, I’m not above craving all the gossip. I really wanted to get the goods on Burl Ives and I knew there had to be something out there if I looked hard enough.
It wasn’t easy. It’s not like today when Charlie Sheen is on every gossip website and in every tabloid for his latest escapade. Lindsay Lohan will never disappear so long as she keeps generating new mugshots for the news shows. Robert Downey Jr. is on top of his game professionally now, but he has a legendary past that is well documented. Burl Ives, on the other hand, has been dead for nearly two decades and wasn’t necessarily in the limelight for a long time before that.
Plus, these old guys – Crosby and others – they were protected by the studios and the public didn’t give a crap what they did in their personal lives. Consequently, for the most part, only their bodies of work outlive them. Twenty years after Charlie Sheen is dead, is anyone going to remember his work in “Platoon”? Probably not. But they will remember his infamous “winning!” celebrity meltdown. People already have trouble remembering Lindsay Lohan was a pretty good actress as a kid and teenager. When she’s gone, they’ll just remember the rap sheet.
So it was hard finding any dirt on Burl Ives. Most of the stuff I read said he was a pretty good guy. He was a suspected Communist during the McCarthy era and got blacklisted in Hollywood for testifying before Congress, but even that didn’t stick. The ban was lifted after a few years because, even though he testified, he didn’t name any names.
So that’s that, I guess.
I’m over it now. Of course, Christmas is over too and I’ve put Burl and Bing and Perry Como away (Ladies! STOP sending me naked pictures. It’s embarrassing.) By next Christmas, maybe I’ll have another obsession. If this year is any guide, it will probably include chocolate chip cookies with Andes candies in them.
Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas 2013!