Sterling Holloway's distinctive looks led him to voice Winnie the Pooh
When a Hollywood exec shrewdly told the actor his face was too repulsive for the pictures, he almost quit before Winnie the Pooh ever got to utter "Oh, bother."
Sterling Holloway is an actor best known for saying, "Oh, bother," the catchphrase Winnie the Pooh utters whenever he gets himself into a sticky situation.
Voicing the loveable cartoon bear is likely Holloway’s most famous role, and there’s a chance that we never would’ve heard his dulcet take on Winnie the Pooh if Holloway had listened to a Hollywood executive who during his very first screen test discouraged him from pursuing any acting career.
As Holloway told the story to The Los Angeles Times in 1979, he showed up at Paramount, stepped in front of the camera, and a shrewd executive did not mince words when he told him, "Give up on the movies. Your face is too repulsive."
There were many times in Holloway’s career when he considered quitting acting, but this was the most discouraging.
Ever since he was a young boy putting on plays in his father’s barn and dragging neighborhood kids in to act in them all, he knew he wanted to be an actor.
Determined, he took on small parts where he nearly always played a comedic role, appearing on sitcoms like The Andy Griffith Show and Gilligan’s Island. Just as the Paramount executive predicted, his distinct looks held him back from the dramatic roles he craved.
"I wanted to be a serious actor," Holloway said. "But they kept giving me comedy parts. I asked them why and they said, 'Well, you go home tonight and look in the mirror.'"
His career turned around when Frank Capra spotted him onset one day when he was visiting with a cousin who happened to be dating Capra’s assistant director. Capra liked Holloway’s look and invented a bank teller role that Holloway improvised throughout the film American Madness.
From there, Holloway drew interest from many directors, ultimately appearing in more than 200 roles in his career, but before all of that happened, it was Walt Disney who saw the actor performing and heard the voice of a star.
Holloway told the Times that three days after the Paramount exec dashed his dreams of doing movies, Walt Disney called to pull the actor into the voicework that made him famous.
In his life, Holloway proved that Paramount exec wrong, amassing enough wealth to design a hilltop house with a view of the ocean that housed an art collection so massive that the Winnie the Pooh voice actor’s home became known as a "lived-in museum."
In his collection, he had famous works of artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, but perhaps most important to marking the magnitude of his acting legacy, in his living room, he hung an abstract portrait of himself done by the Dutch painter Karel Appel.
Every day that he sat on his couch, his distinctive face, which almost denied his ambitions as an actor entirely, hung on the wall above him, an artistic rendering that proved what the Paramount exec considered "repulsive" in his features was actually a work of art and a huge part of pop history.