Tony the Tiger (Wikimedia Commons)
The average person might not recognize the name Thurl Ravenscroft, but there's a good chance they might recognize his voice. Ravenscroft, who Feb. 6 would have turned 100, provided the voice for Kellogg's Tony the Tiger, roaring "They're grrrrreeeat!"
“I’m the only man in the world that has made a career with one word: Grrrrreeeat!” Ravenscroft told the Orange County Register in 1996. “When Kellogg’s brought up the idea of the tiger, they sent me a caricature of Tony to see if I could create something for them. After messing around for some time I came up with the ‘Grrrrreeeat!’ roar, and that’s how it’s been since then.”
Ravenscroft played the role of Tony the Tiger for more than 50 years. "I can’t even imagine an advertising campaign these days that could last that long. The character wasn’t all that special, it was the voice," said Brian Jacob, who created and manages the site AllThingsThurl.com. "At one point, Leo Burnett –– head of the ad agency –– said that Frosted Flakes had become the best-selling cereal in the world and it was all Thurl’s fault."
Ravenscroft began his career as a singer. In the 1930s he performed with the Mellomen, a male quartet that can still be heard on popular Big Band Era recordings. Later, as a member of the Johnny Mann Singers, he sang on 28 albums, appeared on television and performed at the White House. His basso profundo appears on Rosemary Clooney's "This Ole House" and Andy Williams' "Twelve Days of Christmas."
"Thurl Ravenscroft may have had one of the greatest voices to grace humankind," notes the website TVTropes.org. "While his deep voice was perfectly capable of shaking gods and chilling audiences, Thurl preferred to provide children's fare, and his voice also possessed a very friendly vibe to it, much like a giant teddy bear."
Ravenscroft worked closely with The Walt Disney Co. He can be heard singing in films including Cinderella, The Jungle Book, Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland, and Lady and the Tramp. Visitors to Disneyland could hear Ravenscroft as the narrator on the Mark Twain riverboat cruise, conductor of the monorail, and as characters on multiple rides, including "The Haunted Mansion" and "Pirates of the Caribbean."
"Disneyland wouldn't have been, and wouldn't be, the same without him," former park president Jack Lindquist told the Orange County Register in Ravenscroft's 2005 obituary. "His voice was one of the things that made it all come alive."
In an interview with the magazine Hogan's Alley, Ravenscroft described how his affiliation with Disney began. "Believe it or not, I was one of the singing mice in Cinderella. In falsetto, of course (singing in character): 'We’re going to the ball.'
“That led to a part in Disney's Lady and the Tramp singing in the quartet of dogs that howled "Home Sweet Home."
In 1966, Ravenscroft sang, "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" in the cartoon special How the Grinch Stole Christmas! based on the Dr. Seuss book. He was inadvertently not credited, and many assumed that narrator Boris Karloff had done the singing. Seuss called Ravenscroft and apologized for the oversight, then contacted columnists nationwide to correct them, according to Wikipedia. Seuss and producer Chuck Jones also took out a full-page ad in Variety to set the record straight.
By his own account, Ravenscroft's voice was heard in thousands of commercials. The website AllThingsThurl.com provides links to just a few, including National Bohemian Beer, Kool-Aid, Sara Lee and Gillette.
And, of course Tony the Tiger, pitchman for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes, a part he played for 53 years.
"Very few ever knew his name, but I’ve never yet met someone that hasn’t heard his voice," said Jacob, the webmaster. "That alone is a testament to how far-reaching his influence was."
Natalie Pompilio is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. Her lifelong love of obituaries raised eyebrows when she was younger, but she's now able to explain that this interest goes beyond morbid curiosity. Says Pompilio, "Obituaries are mini life stories, allowing a glimpse into someone's world that we're often denied. I just wish we could share them with each other when we're alive."