|~ Tony's Catchphrase|
In 1951, Eugene Kolkey, an accomplished graphic artist and Art Director for Leo Burnett, sketched a character for a contest to become the official mascot of a then brand-new breakfast cereal. Kolkey designed a tiger named Tony (named after an ad man at Leo Burnett - Raymond Anthony Wells - see obiturary 2002 Chicago Tribune) and selected Martin Provensen for the finished artwork. Tony competed against three other potential mascots for the public's affection: Katy the Kangaroo (originated by Robert Dulaney in the early sixties), Elmo the Elephant, and Newt the Gnu. Within the year, the other mascots were dropped (with Elmo and Newt never once gracing the front of the box), and Tony was given a son, Tony Jr. Tony the Tiger would eventually become a cereal icon.
A recognizable and distinct voice was needed for the Tony the Tiger character. Initially, he was voiced by Dallas McKennon, but shortly after the initial Sugar Frosted Flakes advertisements aired, McKennon was replaced by Thurl Ravenscroft, who spent the next five decades providing the characteristic deep bass voice associated with the character, notably the familiar "They’re Grrrrreat!" catchphrase. John E. Matthews came up with this phrase while working as copywriter for Leo Burnett.
Tony began to be humanized in the 1970s; he was given an Italian-American nationality and consumers were briefly introduced to more of Tony's family including Mama Tony, Mrs. Tony, and a daughter, Antoinette. Tony was a popular figure among the young Italian-American population and it showed in 1974, where he was deemed "Tiger of the Year" in an advertising theme taken from the Chinese Lunar Calendar. The advertising theme declared, "This is the Year of the Tiger and Tony is the Tiger of the Year." Later that year, Tony graced the covers of Italian GQ and Panorama. In addition to Tony's success, during this decade, son Tony Jr. was even given his own short-lived cereal in 1975, Frosted Rice. He would make a comeback in the 2000s by replacing his father as the official mascot.
Provensen's original art design for the tiger has changed significantly over the years, as Tony the whimsical, cereal-box-sized tiger with a teardrop-shaped head was replaced by his fully-grown son Jr., who is now a sleek, muscular sports enthusiast--he was a coach for the Monster Wrestlers in My Pocket and a referee for the Monster Sports Stars in My Pocket. Tony the Tiger was never limited to American Cereal boxes, appearing on Kellogg's European brand cereal boxes.
Tony frequently appears in American commercials as an animated character in a live-action world, frequently with his drawn image rotoscoped over a live character, such as an extreme sports athlete, allowing Tony to not just appear in live-action, but interact as well.
The longtime voice of Tony, Thurl Ravenscroft, died in 2005. In North America, he was replaced by announcer Lee Marshall who currently maintains the role. However, advertisements for Frosties in the United Kingdom are revoiced locally; the British Tony is voiced by UK-based Californian voiceover, Tom Clarke-Hill. For some time in the United Kingdom, the rock song "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor was used in conjunction with Tony's viewings. In Canada, Tony is voiced by animation, commercial and promo voice artist Tony Daniels.