THE SMOKEY BEAR SHOW
While forest fires had always been a concern, World War II put a new emphasis on their severity. Many of those who would combat these fires, such as professional firefighters, were off fighting in the war. The United States Forest Service launched an ad campaign to educate Americans about the causes of fires in the hopes of preventing any from ever starting. But while they dealt with the domestic problem, an international one was brewing as the Japanese viewed wildfires as a weapon in their arsenal. In 1942, Japanese submarines surfaced near the coast of Santa Barbara, California, and fired shells into an exposed oil field near Los Padres National Forest. It was hoped that if Americans knew how wildfires would inhibit the war effort that they would work in cooperation with the Forest Service out of patriotism.
|Disney's Bambi and his friends promoting fire safety.|
The Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention (CFFP) program was established. They created a series of public service campaigns that featured the character of Bambi, loaned to the Service by Walt Disney since a wildfire played a role in the film that debuted that year. However, as the term was only for a year and further licensing of the character was cost prohibitive, they decided they needed to come up with their own mascot. Ultimately, an anthropomorphic black bear was chosen and given the backstory of being rescued from a wildfire by Forest Rangers in New Mexico, who then raised him and whose ranks he joined. He was named “Smokey” after New York City firefighter “Smokey” Joe Martin, notable for battling the 1922 Greenwich Volcano fire.
On August 9, 1944 (considered his birthday), the creation of Smokey Bear was authorized by the Forest Service and the first posters in the campaign debuted that October, drawn by artist Albert Staehle. They depicted Smokey wearing jeans and a Ranger hat dousing a campfire with the slogan “Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!” In 1947, the Wartime Advertising Council (now the Ad Council) gave Smokey his well-known trademarked slogan: “Remember: only YOU can prevent forest fires.” The slogan endured for over five decades before it was altered to say “wildfires” in 2001 in response to outbreaks of fires in areas other than forests, and to clarify it was directed at unplanned fires and not controlled ones.
Smokey became a part of American popular culture, appearing on radio programs, comic strips, cartoons, books, music and merchandise. In 1950, life imitated art when a black bear cub was caught in a fire in New Mexico and rescued by Rangers. Originally named “Hotfoot” after his burned paws, he was rechristened “Smokey” and lived out his life in the National Zoo in Washington, DC as the living symbol of fire prevention until 1976. In 1952, the Smokey Bear Act was passed which took the character out of the public domain and put it under the control of the Secretary of Agriculture. The Act would allow the use of royalties to finance the continued education of fire safety.
Between 1955 and 1961, Dell Comics published Smokey comics as part of their Four Color Comics anthology series. The comics featured Smokey among a cast of animals acting out tales of carelessness, such as chipmunks using matches they found to start a fire, and greed, such as rams chasing deer out of their feeding grounds. There was also more adult subject matter, such as Smokey getting involved in foiling a Communist plot or two photographers willing to let a coyote pounce on a family of whooper swans in order to get a valuable snapshot. It was these comics that would serve as the springboard for Smokey’s first foray into serial television.
Produced by Rankin/Bass Productions, The Smokey Bear Show followed the adventures of Smokey (Jackson Weaver, who voiced Smokey until his death in 1992) in the hillbilly town of Piney Woods. On top of trying to keep the peace between all the residents, he tried to keep them safe as well by making sure they followed proper safety procedures. He was assisted (often ineptly) by his deputy Rangers, Benny the rabbit (Paul Soles) and Gabby the mountain lion. Each episode was broken up into several story segments with one being dedicated to Smokey in his younger days as a budding Ranger, voiced by Billie Mae Richards.
The Smokey Bear Show debuted on ABC on September 6, 1969. The series was written by Shamus Culhane, Frank Freda, Hal Hackady, Fred Halliday, Romeo Muller and William J. Keenan, with Keenan serving as the story editor. The series’ music was composed by Maury Laws and producer Jules Bass. Animation duties were outsourced to Toei Animation Studios based on character designs by Rod Willis. Unfortunately, while Smokey was still undoubtedly popular and well-known in the country, his show found itself up against some stiff competition and was thoroughly trounced in the ratings by The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour and Heckle and Jeckle. It remained on the air in reruns, however, until the start of the 1971 television season.
The show marked Smokey’s return to comics with the Smokey Bear series from Gold Key. Whitman published a coloring book and a sticker book, as well as a couple of puzzles utilizing characters from the show. Classic Media released two full episodes on VHS, but nothing further. To date, the entire series has never seen an official release or any new airings. While Smokey isn’t quite the massive icon he was in his early years, he continues to be one of America’s most enduring and powerful public service advertising. His birthday is frequently celebrated through a collaboration of various federal institutions, signage featuring Smokey continues to be widely used in national parks and forests, and persistent advertising campaigns utilizing animation, puppets, suit actors and eventually computer imagery with the likes of Dallas McKennon, Jim Cummings, Jack Angel, Frank Welker and Sam Elliott giving a voice to the character.
“The Outlaws / Silliest Show on Earth / Mission Improbable” (9/13/69) – A pair of escaped convict wolves steal the town’s picnic lunch. / NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“Running Wild / Old Club House / Saga of Gas Bag” (9/20/69) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“Hare Verses Cougar / High Divin’ / Spit ‘N Polish” (9/27/69) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“Mighty Minerva / Casanova Hare / Great Kite Contest” (10/4/69) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“Bessie Paints the Town / Thar She Blows / Hobo Jackal” (10/11/69) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“Sneaky Beaky / Heroes Are Born / Winter and Still Champ” (10/18/69) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“Freddy’s Big Date / Gone Fishin’ / An Apple A Day Keeps” (10/25/69) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“The Not So Merry Mailman / An Ill Wind / The Baby Sitters” (11/1/69) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“The Fire Fighter’s Convention / End of the World / Hizzoner the Admiral” (11/8/69) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“Invention is the Mother of Necessity / Ancient Caleb Coyote / Haunted Castle” (11/15/69) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“The Honorable Freddy Fume / Gold Medal Grizzly / Treasure Hunt” (11/22/69) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“Leave it to Grizzly / Citizen Fume / Invisible Benny” (11/29/69) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“The Battle of Penny Echo River / Grizzly Rides Again / Build a Better Bridge” (12/6/69) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“Feudin’, Fightin’ and Fussin’ / Stick ‘Em Up / Goal Line Grizzly” (12/13/69) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“The Crabtrees Forever / Hare of a Thousand Faces / Whar Fer Art Thou” (12/20/69) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.
“The Celebrity / Ice Frolics / The Hambone Heist” (12/27/69) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.