Scatman Crothers

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This article is about Scatman Crothers. For the latter jazz musician and singer named "Scatman", see Scatman John.
Scatman Crothers
Scatman Crothers - Southern Campus 1960 crop.jpg
Crothers performing in 1960
Born Benjamin Sherman Crothers
(1910-05-23)May 23, 1910
Terre Haute, Indiana, United States
Died November 22, 1986(1986-11-22) (aged 76)
Van Nuys, California, United States
Occupation Actor, dancer, musician, singer
Years active 1932–1986
Spouse(s) Helen Sullivan (1937–1986)

Benjamin Sherman "Scatman" Crothers (May 23, 1910 – November 22, 1986) was an American actor, singer, dancer and musician known for his work as Louie the Garbage Man on the TV show Chico and the Man, and as Dick Hallorann in the Stanley Kubrick film The Shining in 1980. He was also a prolific voiceover artist, and provided the voices of Meadowlark Lemon in the animated TV version of The Harlem Globetrotters, Jazz the Autobot in The Transformers, the title character in Hong Kong Phooey, and Scat Cat in the 1970 animated Disney film The Aristocats.

Early life[edit]

Crothers was born in Terre Haute, Indiana the son of Benjamin Crothers[1] and Donnie/Donel.[2] He got the name Scatman when he auditioned for a radio show in 1932 at the former WSMK (now WING) in Dayton, Ohio. The director didn't think his given name was catchy enough, so Crothers quickly concocted the handle Scat Man, although this talent, scat singing, would develop later. He continued to enjoy this talent throughout his career, even teaching scat singing to college students. Later, the nickname was condensed to Scatman by Arthur Godfrey. In his early career, he also associated with many Cleveland-based acts and frequently played on the scene in Ohio.

Career[edit]

Crothers started his musical career as a 15-year-old drummer in a speakeasy band in his home town of Terre Haute. He played a variety of instruments, including drums and guitar, on jazz club band circuits in his early days as an entertainer. Among the people for whom he performed was the notorious gangster, Al Capone. Crothers formed his own band in the 1930s and traveled to Oakland, California with the band in 1948. He played piano at the Port O' Call and Walt's 405 Club. He also appeared in a 1950 episode of The Phil Harris/Alice Faye Radio Program performing "Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy" with Harris, who introduced him as Scatman Roth. He left Oakland to stay in Los Angeles in 1952.

Film[edit]

Crothers made his official debut in the movie Meet Me at the Fair (1953). He worked in both movies and television, often taking bit parts. He also made musical shorts and played drums with Slim Gaillard in the mid-1940s. Crothers then landed a major supporting role in the 1970 animated film The Aristocats from Walt Disney Productions, providing the voice of "Scat Cat". He also performed the film's theme song "Ev'rybody Wants to be a Cat". Good friends with Jack Nicholson, he appeared in four of his films: The King of Marvin Gardens (1972), The Fortune (1975), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), and The Shining (1980). His later film appearances included the role of a wizened fable-telling convict in the extremely controversial Ralph Bakshi animated film Coonskin (1975), as a train porter in Silver Streak (1976), as a liveryman in The Shootist (1976), as a ringmaster of a struggling wild west show in Bronco Billy (1980), the Baseball coach and school teacher in Zapped! (1982), an angel in Two of a Kind (1983) and finally Mr. Bloom, a magician in the guise of an old man in the "Kick the Can" segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie. Crothers reprised his role as the Autobot warrior Jazz in The Transformers: The Movie, though due to the fact that the film was intended partially as a showcase for new characters being introduced to the toy line and upcoming season three canon, Jazz's role is minimal at best, appearing only a few times in the course of the film. He is among the characters from the original Autobot lineup of the previous two seasons who survives the film.

Some sources erroneously list him as a dancer in the Duke Ellington short, Symphony in Black (1935), who is first seen dancing with a woman in his apartment before taking her out. Later, he encounters his jilted lover, played by the also uncredited Billie Holiday. They briefly have words, he pushes her down and exits with his new girlfriend before her song. This role was actually played by Earl Snakehips Tucker, who also appears at the end of the short.

There is, however, a character in the Claude Hopkins short, Barbershop Blues (1933) at the beginning who looks and sounds uncannily like Crothers.

Television[edit]

Crothers appearing with Redd Foxx on Sanford and Son

Even though Crothers worked in television at the beginning of his career, he really came into his own in the medium doing voice-over work on several animated series, beginning with Disney's The Aristocats. In the 1970s, fans recognized his distinctive voice as Hong Kong Phooey, and the voice of Meadowlark Lemon in the Harlem Globetrotters cartoon series. In 1966 an animated special from the Hanna-Barbera studios aired called The New Alice in Wonderland (or What's a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This?), a hip take on the Lewis Carroll story that featured Sammy Davis, Jr. as a swingin', beatnik Cheshire Cat; the special was followed up by an audio adaptation for records (on Hanna-Barbera's HB Records label), but with Davis exclusive to the Reprise label, Crothers provided the Cat's record voice, and an even more exuberant spin on the character. Additionally, he made guest appearances on many popular shows, including Dragnet in 1967, Bewitched and McMillan & Wife in 1971, Adam-12 in 1972 (as "George Strothers"), Kojak and Ironside in 1973, Kolchak: The Night Stalker and Sanford and Son in 1974, Starsky and Hutch in 1977, Charlie's Angels and "Love Boat" in 1978, Magnum, P.I. in 1980, and Taxi in 1983. Also in 1980, he was on two episodes of "Laverne & Shirley" as a porter. In the 1980s, he gained a new fanbase, providing the voice of the smooth-talking, music-loving Autobot Jazz on the television series The Transformers.

During his appearance on Sanford and Son he joined Redd Foxx for two musical numbers, one of which was a memorable version of the standard "All of Me", where he accompanied Foxx on tenor guitar. Crothers starred in three short-lived 1980s television series — One of the Boys (1982), Casablanca (1983), and Morningstar/Eveningstar (1986).

Through all of the television characters that he played, he was most noted for his supporting role as Louie Wilson, the garbage man, on the sitcom Chico and the Man.

Music[edit]

Crothers performed on piano and drums in several bands, most notably with bandleader Slim Gaillard. According to the jacket notes of the Let Freedom Sing CD set, Crothers was part of the music group The Ramparts who sang A.C. Bilbrew's "The Death of Emmett Till". He also recorded several solo albums and singles.

Death[edit]

A heavy smoker most of his life, Crothers was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 1985, but he kept his condition a secret in order to continue working. The cancer eventually spread to his esophagus by mid 1986, leaving him unable to speak. He died of pneumonia on November 22, 1986 at his home in Van Nuys, California at age 76. Crothers is buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Hollywood, California.[3]

Filmography[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
None
Voice of Jazz
1984–1986
Original Series and Animated Movie
Succeeded by
Andrew Kishino
2007
Video Game