Mudcat Café message #2251722 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #108263   Message #2251722
Posted By: Don Firth
02-Feb-08 - 02:52 PM
Thread Name: Burl Ives and Johnny Cash -- A Wow
Subject: RE: Burl Ives and Johnny Cash -- A Wow
Scumbag? Nah, I think that's a bit harsh.

As I understand it, Burl Ives, like Pete Seeger and several others, had become disillusioned with the Communist Party. At the time, he was probably the best known of the bunch (several records out, a regular radio program, and he'd been in a couple of movies by then, playing, basically, himself), and as such, he was one of the first to be called to testify. He didn't know what the others were going to do, and he simply answered the committee's questions truthfully, assumed the others would do the same. He didn't know that Seeger was going to refuse to testify.

A few years later, Woody Guthrie visited Ives in Hollywood, stayed with him for awhile, and they talked a lot. They parted friends. When Guthrie returned to New York, when asked about Ives, he said, "Burl is one angry man!" "Oh? What's he so angry about?" Guthrie responded, "Burl is angry at himself!"

I tend to think that once Ives saw how Seeger responded to the committee, he wished that he had done that. If he had, the whole folk scene back then might have done a pretty interesting shuffling of personnel.

It's awfully easy for us to sit around "Monday morning quarterbacking" and from our lofty positions (not having been in the trenches at the time) make judgments about other people. But I think Burl Ives found himself in an untenable position and did what, at the time, he thought right.

Ives spent his final years living with his wife, Dorothy, in Anacortes, Washington, about 80 miles north of Seattle. His chewing gum because of a constantly dry mouth turns out to be a bit ominous, because in 1995, at the age of 85, he died of mouth cancer.

He was definitely a flawed man (hard drinker at times, and had an explosive temper), but he was a riveting actor (The Big Country, for which he received an Oscar, and a bravura performance in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). I can't help but think of him fondly because he was the first folk singer I recall hearing on the radio, and some of the first songs I learned, I learned from his records. Other than, his, Susan Reed's, Richard Dyer-Bennet's, and Cynthia Gooding's (not counting Folkways and a few other esoteric labels, which were not available in most record stores), there were not that many folk records out in 1952. But Burl Ives had several.

He lapsed into some pretty schlocky songs later on, little more than light-weight fluff, but "Big Daddy" was most people's introduction to folk music back in the Forties and early Fifties.

So let's give him due credit.

Don Firth