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.
Crothers was born in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1910. He was the son of Benjamin Crothers and Donnie/Donel. 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
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.
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
Some sources erroneously list him as a dancer in the
There is, however, a character in the Claude Hopkins short, Barbershop Blues (1933) at the beginning who looks and sounds uncannily like Crothers.
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
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.
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.