The Life and Times of Big Al
While we at Celebrations are loathe to appear biased, we must admit that Big Al is unquestionably the greatest part of the Country Bear Jamboree (at least according to the fully objective opinion of the author of this article). His deep, growling voice combined with his enormous size and tone deaf singing have made him an audience favorite since the Attraction first opened in 1971 at Walt Disney World. Since that time, Big Al has appeared in multiple shows, merchandise, a storybook, and even a feature film. Here’s a look back at the life and times of the one and only Big Al.
1 Al Bertino
The physical appearance of Big Al was based off of Disney animator Al Bertino. In addition to helping create the Country Bear Jamboree, Bertino helped create Attractions like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, the Haunted Mansion, and America Sings. He also worked on Disney films like Pinocchio and Fantasia.
2. Tex Ritter
Country singer Tex Ritter provided the singing voice for Big Al, growling out the song “Blood On the Saddle”.
3. Walt Disney World
The Country Bear Jamboree debuted on October 1, 1971 at the opening of Walt Disney World, marking Big Al’s Disney debut.
4. Big Albert Moves In
To coincide with the opening of Walt Disney World, Whitman Tell-A-Tale books published a picture book titled “Big Albert Moves In”. The story tells how Big Al (referred to as Albert throughout the text) joined the Country Bears after missing his chance to hibernate, travelling through the south and eventually catching a ride to Walt Disney World.
5. Big Al’s Biography
In 1972, Disney released the soundtrack for the Country Bear Jamboree Attraction. The record included a biographical sketch of Big Al which read: “Big Albert says, “I was born in a cave near the Princess Theater in Pocatello, Idaho”. There was music in his blood, and he’s been playing his guitar since he was a child. It’s become more difficult—Big Al has grown, and the guitar hasn’t. He loves to sit in front of his cave and sing. He was the first to practice ecology; he didn’t litter his cave with tin cans and paper cartons—he ate ‘em. He was resident bard and balladeer in the swamp before Walt Disney World was built (and three badgers and an alligator have expressed great joy that he is now singing for people). This is Big Albert’s 10th farewell appearance.”
6. Country Bear Christmas Special
Arguably, Big Al’s strangest role came in 1984 when Walt Disney World and Disneyland debuted the Country Bear Christmas special. Big Al appeared as “Baby New Year” wearing a diaper and party hat while singing “Another New Year”.
7. Country Bear Vacation Hoedown
The success of the initial Country Bear Attraction lead to the creation of a new show called the Country Bear Vacation Hoedown. It debuted in 1986 and remained at the Magic Kingdom for another six years. Big Al appeared decked out in camping gear and a miner’s hat and sang the song “I Got Lost on My Way To Your Heart”.
8. The Country Bears
Big Al also appeared in the 2002 live action feature “The Country Bears”. In the film, Al plays the groundskeeper of Country Bear Hall.
9. Meet and Greet
While not strictly a bit of history, fans of the lovable, gruff grizzly bear should know that he can occasionally be spotted wandering the park!