During his nearly 40-year association with The Walt Disney Studios, actor Sterling Holloway supplied narration and character voice-overs for more than twenty Disney animated shorts, features, and television specials. Yet it was his irresistibly childlike portrayal of Disney’s “silly old bear,” Winnie the Pooh, for which he is most remembered.
Director of Disney Character Voices Rick Dempsey once described the actor’s one-of-a-kind vocal quality: “Sterling just had a unique voice—a high-tenor, raspy voice unlike anything you ever heard. He was the first spoken teddy bear.”
Born January 14, 1905, in Cedartown, Georgia, Sterling was educated at Georgia Military Academy. At 15, he enrolled in New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts and, upon graduation, appeared in musical revues, vaudeville, and on the radio. He then moved to Hollywood, where he launched his film career, appearing in such silent movies as Casey at the Bat with Wallace Beery. When the advent of talking pictures left many featured players without work, Sterling’s distinctive voice brought him prosperity. In the 1930s and ‘40s, the lanky redhead with a knack for playing country bumpkin roles appeared in such films as Gold Diggers of 1933, with Dick Powell, and Blonde Venus, with Marlene Dietrich. He would go on to make more than 150 film appearances during his lifetime.
Before long, Sterling’s unusual voice perked the ear of Walt Disney, who invited him to star as the voice of the Messenger Stork in the 1941 animated classic Dumbo.
His first Disney performance led to subsequent voice roles including the adult Flower in Bambi and the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. Sterling also played Kaa, the hypnotic snake, in The Jungle Book, for which he sang the memorable song “Trust in Me.” His most beloved role, however, was as the voice of Winnie the Pooh in such featurettes as the Academy Award®-winning Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day.
Among his other Disney film credits, Sterling played Professor Holloway and the Cold-Blooded Penguin in The Three Caballeros and Roquefort in The Aristocats. He also served as narrator for the “Peter and the Wolf” segment of Make Mine Music, and other Disney shorts, including The Pelican and the Snipe, Lambert, the Sheepish Lion, and Susie, the Little Blue Coupe.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, the actor segued into the budding medium of television, appearing in such popular situation comedies as The Life of Riley and The Baileys of Balboa. Among his Disney television credits, Sterling narrated Christmas at Walt Disney World and The Restless Sea, a combination live-action and animated story of the sea.
Sterling Holloway passed away on November 22, 1992, in Los Angeles.