Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 12/13/2021: Christmas Countdown Edition (Part I, The Past)

Burl Ives is one of those long dead artists of yore who would be nearly completely forgotten were it not for an annual revival every Christmas season. He had popular recordings of “Frosty…” and “Rudolph…,” and was featured in one of the Rankin-Bass animated Christmas shows as a singing snowman. The one Christmas song he made his own was “Have A Holly Jolly Christmas, and it’s a pretty annoying one at that. Ives was a fascinating character, a burly ex-NFL player who profitably turned to folksinging in the Thirties. He became famous doing that until he was the definitive Big Daddy on Broadway and on film in Tennessee Williams’s classic drama “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (Williams wrote the part with Ives in mind), leading to a long acting career.

He was blacklisted during the Red Scare, named names for HUAC and alienated the folksinging crowd. Ives had such a pure, light voice that he had great success with children’s songs (like “I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly”), yet on screen and stage he was usually a menacing presence. I always found the image of “Big Daddy” singing “Holly Jolly Christmas” bizarre.

December 13 is one of those banner days for ethics, good and bad. In 2000, Al Gore gave an admirable speech abandoning his efforts to flip the results of the too-close-to-call (literally) Presidential election, the ethics high water mark in his otherwise sketchy career. TIME disgraced itself on this date in 2019 by naming exploited teen mouthpiece for the climate change lobby Greta Thunberg as its “Person of the Year.

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