Len Dresslar

Voice of the Jolly Green Giant
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The Independent Online

The booming baritone voice of Len Dresslar was familiar to television viewers worldwide for more than 40 years for just three syllables. "Ho, ho, ho!" he intoned in the middle of the jaunty jingle, "From the valley of the Jolly [ho, ho, ho!] Green Giant", as the huge, green-skinned character, dressed in a toga and boots made of leaves, stood, smiling, hands on hips, to extol the virtues of the Green Giant Company's vegetables.

The giant had appeared in advertisements since 1928, three years after the company launched a brand of unusually large pea -"great big tender peas" - and, over the years, also promoted its sweet-corn, frozen vegetables and the first mushrooms to be sold in a glass jar; although, for the first couple of years, his skin was not green.

When the character first appeared in a television commercial in 1958, he looked like a monster and scared children, so the Green Giant Company restyled the screen image the following year. Dresslar, one of those who auditioned as a singer, recalled:

I found myself without a job. 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."

The result was one of the most iconic commercials in television history and Dresslar occasionally re-recorded his short but famous line, the last time in 1999, as plans were afoot to mark the 75th anniversary of Green Giant peas. (During the 1960s, a "live-action" Jolly Green Giant was portrayed on screen by the Olympic long-jump skier Keith Wegeman.)

Elmer Dresslar Jnr, usually known as Len, was born in St Francis, Kansas, in 1925, sang on the WIBW radio station in Topeka and served in the navy as a gunner's mate during the Second World War, before studying voice at the Kansas City (Missouri) Conservatory of Music. After performing in summer theatre in Wisconsin and on stage in a national tour of South Pacific, he landed a regular singing spot in the CBS network's Saturday-evening television programme In Town Tonight (1955-60). This led him twice to be voted the most popular singer in Chicago by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

While with the Chicago-based jazz group the J's With Jamie, formed to perform in commercials, Dresslar sang the "Snap" in Rice Krispies' "Snap", "Crackle", "Pop" campaign, took the role of Dig'em, the frog, for Sugar Smacks and voiced the Marlboro Man for that cigarette brand. He also sang with the Singers Unlimited jazz quartet, who recorded 15 albums, starting with In Tune (1971), accompanied by the Oscar Peterson Trio and featuring standards such as "The Shadow of Your Smile" and "Here's That Rainy Day".

Anthony Hayward