ANIMATION SPIN
October 25, 2016 posted by

Walt Disney’s “Ichabod” or “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” on Records

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…

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Walt Disney’s
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.

the-adventures-of-ichabod-and-mr-toadAs 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.

SleepyHollowSTReissueIt 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.)

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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.


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Walt Disney’s
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.

SleepyHollowDQBack-600Billy 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!

8 Comments

  • Billy Bletcher was one of the great cartoon voice artists of all time. It’s fortunate that he was able to continue to do occasional projects for Disney into the late 50’s/early 60’s or so, as the character of Pegleg Pete had been gradually phased out of the Mickey Mouse cartoons (though occasionally appearing with Donald Duck) and by the mid-50’s the short cartoons, except for an occasional “special”, had ceased regular production. He can also be heard as the voice of Captain Nemo in the Disneyland Records version of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (curiously at variance with the Disney film of the same name), and as Trusty in the Disneyland Records version of “Lady and the Tramp.”

    I always thought of Bletcher’s narration as more creepy and sinister than “grandfatherly” although I can definitely understand how a listener could also pick up that quality. It’s as though “grandfather” is telling the story in a somewhat low, eerie voice to convey the atmosphere of the story. This is also one recording that was done at a very low volume….I always had to turn the record player’s volume up to hear it clearly.

    On the Walter Houston “Rip Van Winkle” recording, another of the great vocal and comedy talents can be heard. Rip Van Winkle’s wife is given a short tirade (she is voiceless in the Disneyland Records version) and while the voice as far as I can tell is unbilled, it’s clearly Bea Benaderet, making possibly her only contribution to a Disney production.

    It’s also noteworthy that among film adaptations of “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” the ONLY one so far that I have discovered that hews close to the original Irving story is Disney’s. The Crosby narration is much in keeping with Irving’s leisurely storytelling style, and the story unfolds with a few Disney embellishments but essentially delivers a tale that is true to the “spirit” of the original. Other film versions pad out the story with so many subplots and extraneous situations and characters that they bleed it dry and it loses its impact entirely. Ichabod is too often remade into a hero, when the whole point of his character is that he is un-heroic–a greedy buffoon who comes to grief in a dramatic climax. This is one of the few times when the Disney version stays close to its source material.

  • I would of love seeing Disney do a animated version Washington Irving’s of Rip Van Winkle. I wonder why Rip Van Winkle wasn’t green lighted to become a animated short, I’ve seen other version of the Rip Van Winkle story from Popeye to Mr Magoo even the Flinstones had two different episodes based on the Rip Van Winkle story as well as a version that aired on CBS starring Mel Blanc

    • There was also Will Vintion’s 1977 Academy Award nominated short that later aired on “Masterpiece Theater” with “The Little Prince” (1979).

  • The artwork on the bottom half of the Decca album featuring Rip Van Winkle sure looks like the work of Walt Kelly. Before Snow White, Walt had discussed doing a feature on Rip Van Winkle with a live action Will Rogers playing the role and the little people done in animation.

    Crosby paid his radio writers to come up with some gag lines for the fabled ROAD pictures with Bob Hope who also paid his radio writers to come up with some gags to try and top Der Bingle.

    At an early point in the production, it was discussed having a live action Bing telling the story to his family and then transitioning to animation.

    Another great column from a brand new Californian. Florida misses you but wishes you the best.

    • Why, thank you so very much, my friend!

    • Is there any evidence of the proposed Rip Van Winkle feature? ‘Cause when I commented on Michael Barrier’s
      blog about Will Rogers, he debunked that myth

  • This is fantastic! I sure wish that a WALT DISNEY LEGACY COLLECTION double CD edition of this could be released with not only Bing’s original music and scoring but Billy Bletcher’s incredible retelling. Now that I’d buy in a New York minute!

  • Am I the ONLY one who thinks that Brom used Ichabod’s fear of ghosts and stuff to “wipe him out” to be able to have Katrina all to himself?

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