Sunday, February 7, 2010

Black History Month Day Eight: Scatman Crothers

We all know Scatman Crothers as the very helpful- although wrong place at the wrong time guy- Mr. Hallorann. An immediate pal to Danny- Mr. Hallorann boldly goes where no man has gone before and explains to Danny just what this "power" is that he has. He also has advanced Telepathic skills and knows that what kids really want- is ice cream.

What you don't know about Scatman- although you've probably surmised it from his name- is that he was a very prominent and successful musician. Born in Terre Haute Indiana, Benjamin Sherman Crothers taught himself to play the drums and the guitar at the age of 14. While still in his teens, he worked hard making money off of tips by playing at local speakeasies. Around the age of 19- Scatman joined a traveling band called Montague's Kentucky Serenaders- a band that he continued to tour the south with, until leaving in 1931.

In the middle of the 1930s, Scatman formed his own band, which became quite successful touring the midwest. During these tours Scatman met his future wife Helen Sullivan whom he would stay married to throughout the rest of his life. Up until the around the 50s, Scatman travelled in and around the country- finally settling in Los Angeles with his wife. He landed his first acting role on the TV show Dixie Showboat a role that made him the first African American on television in Los Angeles.

The 1970s marks Scatman's biggest break in terms of entertainment. During this time he landed the voice of Scat Cat in the Aristocats- and in 1974 became Louie the garbage man in Chico and the Man- a role that sadly ended in 1978 after the suicide of Freddy Prinze. Which then brings him to where we know him best- in Jack Nicholson's care. After working in The King of Marvin Gardens with Nicholson- Nicholson got him a role in One Flew Over the Cuckoos nest and then again 5 years later as Mr. Hallorann in The Shining.

From then on- Scatman continued to get roles in various TV series- and continued playing music well up until the discovery of a malignant tumor behind his left lung. This was in 1985- and he continued to work through his illness until the cancer spread to his esophagus and he could no longer sing. Scatman Crothers died on November 22, 1986.

Not a lot has been written on the Scatman- but there plenty and plenty of youtube videos of his various performance which are fantastic. There was also a book written on him by Jim Haskins which I would love to pick up someday. A quote from the book in particular is a wonderful indicator of just the kind of man Scatman was, "There was no dark side to Scatman one endured more happily or had a better time living". Well grounded and smart, kind and caring, Scatman Crothers was not jaded by his sudden Hollywood success but just kept doing what he loved. Garnering respect and charm- Scatman Crothers is perhaps the often overlooked icon in Hollywood and the one I would love to know so much more about.


Thomas Pluck said...

I always loved Scatman. He was one of a kind. I'll watch anything with him in it.

Gory said...

I too loved the Scatman. Great post!

On a side note, I believe he also did one of the voices in the Transformers cartoon. Little bit of trivia there.If it's true. lol

Paul Castiglia said...

Scatman was also the voice of Hong Kong Phooey, title character of a fondly-rememberd 1970s Saturday morning cartoon show. He imbued the character with a lot of humor that really helped put the show over (along with co-star Joe E. Ross) - especially in light of the show's limited animation. As a result, Hong Kong Phooey is something of an icon among 1970s kids like me.

B-Sol said...

"Ya like ice cream, Doc?"

I also loved him as the voice of Hong Kong Phooey, and can't forget his part in the "Kick the Can" segment of The Twilight Zone: The Movie.

Pax Romano said...

There was something about Mr. Crothers that was so damn enjoyable; he was like a lovable uncle who always had a smile and great story to tell.

He has a great cameo appearance as a Cathouse John named Big Ben, in Lady Sings the Blues, BTW.

Dod said...

The waves of nostalgia just about knocked me over. Scatman is one of my all-time favorites, and I'm so glad you did a tribute to him. Grew up with his voice and that smiling face on my TV.