On This Day – June 24th: Happy Birthday, Phil Harris!

On the 24th of June 1904, the legend Phil Harris was born in a mining camp outside Linton, Indiana. Phil was a musician, comedian, actor, and, philanthropist. His flair for entertainment was not far-fetched as he was born into a family of circus performers that was always traveling, performing all over the country.

Phil Harris started his career as a drummer for his dad at age 12, where he quickly learned the ropes before leading his band at age 23. Through his active years, Harris recorded several hit songs but “The Thing” (1950), performed best by rising to number one on the chart, selling a million copies within that year.

Phil also made a lot of television and movie appearances within 1927-1991. His most celebrated role came in 1967 when he was picked by Walt Disney to voice Baloo’s character in an animated film called Jungle Book.

He was actually married twice; first to actress Marcia Ralston (1927-1940) and later to Alice Faye (1941-1995). Harris contributed a lot to his birthplace, Linton. He helped establish scholarships for promising high school students, performed at an annual variety show locally to help fund these scholarships, and was the name-sake of a yearly charity golf tournaments in town for many years too. Harris and Faye also gave out some of their career souvenirs and papers to Linton’s public library. Phil Harris died at age 91, and he was inducted into the Indiana Hall of Fame two years before his death.

Although not much was popularly known about Harris’s radio career. He remained grateful to radio for the difference it made in his life and career. “If it hadn’t been for radio, I would still be a traveling orchestra leader.” Harris had a long and successful career as a musician, television, and radio personality, but it is his benevolence and contributions to Linton that will ring in the minds of Linthonians for years to come.

The featured photo shows Phil Harris performing alongside Linton’s own Jack Shelton at one of the early fundraising events for the Phil Harris Scholarship. Photo contributed by Jack Shelton. We believe the photo was taken by the late Frank Miller.

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