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Obituaries

Len Dresslar, 80; His 'Ho Ho Ho' Was the Voice of Jolly Green Giant

October 27, 2005|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

In 1959, Chicago singer Len Dresslar stepped into a Windy City recording studio and, in his deep baritone, sang three words for a commercial jingle that have echoed through the decades: "Ho, ho, ho."

Dresslar, who died of cancer Oct. 16 in the hospice of a Palm Springs hospital at 80, was the familiar, booming voice of the Jolly Green Giant.

The leaf-clad Jolly Green Giant has been acknowledged by Advertising Age magazine as one of the three most recognizable American advertising icons of the 20th century -- after Tony the Tiger and the Marlboro Man.

Dresslar's melodic rendition of his famous line comes in the middle of the jingle "From the valley of the Jolly -- ho, ho, ho -- Green Giant."

"I'm the king of the minimalists," Dresslar told the Detroit Free Press in 1999. "I do 'Ho, ho, ho' -- that's it."

He periodically re-recorded the "ho, ho, ho" for Green Giant commercials, most recently in 1999 when, after an eight-year hiatus, the Jolly Green Giant was reintroduced in regional TV test spots.

Jamie King of Leo Burnett, Green Giant's longtime Chicago advertising company, said at the time that Dresslar "really embodies the voice and the tone and the energy we want in the Giant."

For Dresslar: "It was a little choice plum that just dropped in my lap."

""I found myself without a job," he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2000. "I got a call one day, 'Come into the studio.' We were singing, 'From the valley of the jolly ... ' when the producer said, 'Can you say ho, ho, ho?' And I said, 'sure.' He said, 'That's the voice we want.' "

Dresslar often joked that, thanks to residuals, his "ho, ho, ho" put his two daughters through college.

"Yes, well, it certainly did -- that and many other commercials," Nicki, his wife of 58 years, told The Times on Wednesday.

Indeed, the Jolly Green Giant wasn't Dresslar's only claim to commercial fame.

He was Snap in the Snap-Crackle-Pop Rice Krispies trio. He was Dig-'em, the frog in Kellogg's Sugar Smacks commercials. He was the voice of the Marlboro Man for many years. And he sang, "When you're out of Schlitz, you're out of beer."

"He did a lot of cigarette commercials, a lot of automobile commercials and a lot of beer commercials," his wife said. "That was basically what he was doing and why he stayed in Chicago in those years."

Born in St. Francis, Kan., Dresslar served in the Navy as a gunner's mate in the Atlantic during World War II. After the war, he studied voice at the Conservatory of Music in Kansas City, Mo., where he met his wife.

They were married in 1947 and performed together in summer stock in Wisconsin before heading to New York City, where Dresslar auditioned for Broadway shows and sang with the Male Quintet. After Dresslar appeared in the national touring company of "South Pacific," the couple settled in Chicago in 1952.

Dresslar appeared on the live "In Town Tonight" on WBBM, the CBS television affiliate in Chicago, from 1955 to 1960, during which he began doing voice-overs for commercials.

After singing with "The Js with Jamie," a Chicago group formed to do commercial jingles, he joined The Singers Unlimited, a jazz quartet originally created for the same reason. The Singers Unlimited recorded more than a dozen albums beginning in the early '70s -- the first one, "In Tune," with the Oscar Peterson Trio.

In 1991, Dresslar retired to Palm Springs, where, though falling somewhat short of a giant's height of 6 feet 2, he never failed to impress anyone who learned that he was the voice of the towering green vegetable purveyor.

"He was very generous with anybody that said, 'Oh, I have to hear it' -- he'd sing it right away," his wife said. "He loved doing it."

In fact, she said, even after her husband went into the hospital the last time, "He did 'Ho, ho, ho' for a lot of the nurses."

In addition to his wife, Dresslar is survived by his daughters, Teri Bennett and Jody Fossell; a sister, Corrine Weber; and three grandchildren.

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