Our Halloween treat is a perennial favorite that put the “boo-boo-boo-boo” in “BOO!” — Disney’s take on the Washington Irving classic with ol’ Bing…
ICHABOD: THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
Told and Sung by Bing Crosby
Decca Records DAU-725
Side One (Two 78 RPM Discs / Mono / 1949); DL-6001 (10” 33 1/3 RPM / 1949 / Reissued as a 12” LP)
(Side Two: Rip Van Winkle – Walter Huston)
Director: Simon Rady. Adaptation: Winston Hibler, Ed Penner. Music: Victor Young. Running Time: 13 minutes.
Songs: “Ichabod,” “Katrina,” “The Headless Horseman” by Don Raye, Gene DePaul.
As the uniquely ‘40’s format of Disney “package” features approached the 1950’s (and away from WWII), it became possible to lengthen the segments and present them in pairs, giving each more of the elements of feature-length storytelling. Such was the case with 1947’s Fun and Fancy Free (pairing Bongo with Mickey and the Beanstalk and 1949’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.
Like Mickey and the Beanstalk in Fancy Free, Sleepy Hollow has subsequently enjoyed far more exposure than its partner story. The Ichabod tale has the extra advantage of being ideal for Halloween presentations—and it doesn’t hurt that it’s among the very best segments of all the package films.
While the film lacks the scope and detail it might have enjoyed as a fully realized feature, Ichabod is a fall feast of character animation, design and memorable moments, particularly the Headless Horseman sequence—an element that, to this day, is a highlight of Disney theme park Halloween events.
It also benefits tremendously from the casting of Bing Crosby, who sings, narrates and speaks for all the characters. The film’s box office had to be boosted by Crosby’s stardom of the era, but even today, it’s a spot-on performance. In both his singing, acting and hosting, Crosby was able to shift effortlessly between nonchalance and gravity. It’s a testament to the talents of the Disney story artists as well as Crosby that the film’s narrative feels as if it had flowed from the pen of Irving himself.
Decca was Crosby’s home label (he even recorded some sides for the label with arrangements by Tutti Camarata, who would later be the musical director for Disneyland Records). In the case of Ichabod, the great Victor Young – whose towering movie scores include The Quiet Man and Around the World in 80 Days — handled the fully scored recording. (Young was nominated for 22 Oscars but won his sole statuette for Around the World after his passing.)
The production is fine, but could have used one more disc to allow Crosby to sing the three songs completely. This, however, could have been done intentionally so Decca could sell the songs on separate discs, which Decca did. He also performed the film’s songs, including “Katrina” and “The Headless Horseman” on his long-running radio program. (It’s worth noting that Crosby’s low-key, seemingly off-the-cuff style of speaking on his radio show makes one wonder if his writers had any input on the Ichabod script.)
Decca released Ichabod on LP records with Irving’s Rip Van Winkle, adapted by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee (husband of Janet Waldo). Narrated by Walter Huston, this version was likely taken from the anthology radio show, Favorite Story, for which Lawrence and Lee were writers. Decca frequently adapted radio dramas for records, including Lost Horizon with Ronald Colman and Sorry, Wrong Number with Agnes Moorehead. The Decca Rip Van Winkle art has a Disney copyright, perhaps because there once were plans for a film based on the Irving story.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Ichabod: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”
For Crosby fans, one of the favorite gags in the Disney film is Crosby’s own kidding of his “boo-boo-boo-boo” way of crooning in the scene where Ichabod teaches a music lesson. Unfortunately, Decca’s version is boo-boo-boo-less.
THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
Disneyland Records (Side One Only) ST-1920 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / February 4, 1963);
Reissues: DQ-1285 (1965); ST-3801 (1971, with 11-Page Book)
(Side Two: Rip Van Winkle)
Executive Producer/Writer: Jimmy Johnson. Based on the Story by Washington Irving and the Walt Disney’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Producer: Camarata. Running Time: 12 minutes.
Voices: Billy Bletcher (Narrator); Bill Lee (Vocalist); Thurl Ravenscroft (Vocalist).
Songs: “Ichabod,” “The Headless Horseman” by Don Raye, Gene DePaul.
Billy Bletcher recorded a number of fine children’s discs for Capitol, including the internationally famous Sparky’s Magic Piano. He also did some work for Golden, but his work for Disneyland Records is less well-known. This shouldn’t be surprising since few of Disney’s albums listed his credit.
Bletcher’s warm, grandfatherly narration for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (and Rip Van Winkle on side two) is credited on this album, however—and rightly so, since he is the only speaking actor on the disc.
Produced during the lower-budget days of Disney’s in-house label, the album has no background music except for a brief piece of marching band music taken from another source in Rip Van Winkle. The songs are sung with a simple combo. Yet somehow it all works well. When compared with the lavish Crosby/Decca version, Disney’s own recording is kind of low-octane, but the small musical combo makes it work, especially in their lively folk accompaniment for “The Headless Horseman.”
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”
Check out Thurl Ravenscroft’s definitive performance of the “Headless Horseman” song. It’s as if one of the busts in the Haunted Mansion is singing it!