Winnie the Pooh for Presidentby Jim Korkis, contributing writer
My parents always told me that if I wanted to be liked at social gatherings, I should never talk about three topics: religion, sex and…politics. However, today, every one is talking about politics. In particular with so many people running for the office of president of the United States in 2020, it seems that many people are talking about nothing but politics.
Over the years, some voters protest the slate of candidates by writing in the name of a fictitious character or a celebrity on the ballot. Most states can't officially count those votes for uncertified candidates, since they require potential write-in candidates to register.
Mickey Mouse is perhaps the best-known and most frequently used character used as a write-in candidate. It has been estimated that Mickey can get up to as many as 20,000 votes in an election year as a write-in candidate for some office from governor to commissioner of agriculture.
In the 2008 presidential election, Mickey received 11 votes nationally, beating out write-ins for Joe the Plumber, Jesus Christ and Santa Claus.
For today's column, I am going to take a chance and break one of the cardinal rules of my parents whose advice always proved to be right and talk politics. I am going to talk about the four unsuccessful attempts to get elected president by one of Disney's most popular cartoon characters.
In the turbulent year of 1968, Disney's version of Winnie the Pooh was an unofficial candidate for President of the United States, even though it was obvious the fictional teddy bear was not an American citizen, and so he was ineligible to run for the highest office in the United States. Author A.A. Milne's literary creation was clearly meant to be British.
Disney had obtained the rights to use the character in June 1961 and although Walt's intention was for Pooh to appear in an animated feature, he found challenges translating the stories into something acceptable for American audiences.
Pooh appeared in the Disney animated short Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree in 1966. Despite mixed critical reaction, the studio proceeded with another animated short, Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day, which was released in December 1968. It would later go on to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Short.
Disney marketing decided promoting the upcoming cartoon short at Disneyland during the 1968 summer would be a good thing. A Winnie the Pooh costumed character already existed at Disneyland starting with the Christmas holiday season in 1965 wearing a red sweater as in the Disney film and balancing a "hunny" pot on his head with a bee on top.
The character could wiggle its nose and ears but the arms had to be operated awkwardly by rods inside the outfit. This costume lasted at Disneyland until around 1989 and evolved in the following years including eliminating the honey pot.
Disney Legend Bill Justice, who designed the original costume, told me, "Winnie the Pooh characters became popular quickly. The children just seem to relate to Eeyore."
It was no problem to adapt the existing costume into one that replaced the honey pot with a top hat that resembled a red, white and blue American flag with stars and stripes.
Pooh's first campaign for president began on the night of July 14, 1968 at a special Family Night at the Hollywood Bowl. Ten thousand people attended that kick-off announcement as emceed by comedian Morey Amsterdam, perhaps best remembered for his role on the Dick Van Dyke Show, as he introduced a host of Disney costumed characters.
Snow White and all Seven Dwarfs, the Three Little Pigs, Peter Pan and, of course, Mickey and Minnie Mouse were just some of the characters who showed up in support of Pooh's candidacy.
The musical entertainment to stir up the audience was provided by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and Disneyland's Kids of the Kingdom singing and dancing group.
Pooh was joined onstage by his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood like Eeyore for a campaign musical number and the release of thousands of red, white, and blue balloons.
Disney had distributed handheld signs to the crowd (to help provide a photo opportunity for the media) with such messages as "Hunny In Every Pot," "A Good 5-Cent Candy Cigar," and "Yoyo a-go-go." The evening closed out with the audience singing along to the songs It's a Small World and When You Wish Upon a Star.
Strangely, for some reason, a local ice company provided 20 tons of ground-up ice for snowman building and snowball fights.
Pooh moved his campaigning to the Tomorrowland Stage at Disneyland to become part of the Kids of the Kingdom show On Stage U.S.A. that was performed twice a day. His segment was appropriately called "Winnie the Pooh for President" and sometimes included rotating celebrities, like puppeteer Shari Lewis and singer Peggy Lee.
The show was performed during July and August, ending when children went back to school and attendance at Disneyland dropped. However, Disneyland executives noticed that this little publicity stunt garnered big publicity, as well as being a huge guest satisfier. By the time of the next presidential election in 1972, Disneyland had time to enlarge Pooh's campaign.
"Pooh in '72" was the campaign slogan for a three-day special Disneyland event that ran from October 21 to October 23. Each day there was a ticker tape parade down Main Street U.S.A. The Disneyland Band, under the direction of Vesey Walker, played "Hip-Hip-Pooh-Ray" from Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day.
Marilyn Magness, Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Entertainment Portfolio Leader for the Resort, recalled working on the event. "Pooh for President was a fun campaign. The first time Winnie the Pooh ran for president was a fun concept to put together. At that time, what a risk! But what fun to overdress Pooh in his Uncle Sam hat and his little vest and have Tigger be his campaign manager."
However, for this campaign, Disney decided to include the recently opened Walt Disney World, as well.
As Orlando Magazine editor Edward Prizer remembered:
"There was a big political rally on a Saturday afternoon in the open field beyond Frontierland. It is an occasion to entertain the press (for who can more surely influence the success of a candidate).
"We disembark from the train at the new Frontierland railroad station. The rostrum is draped in red, white and blue bunting. A band plays old time tunes. For each of us, a picnic box is stuffed with fried chicken, ham sandwiches, pickles and such. The smiling Disney hosts pin us with 'Pooh for President' buttons and cap us with straw hats bearing 'Pooh for President' streamers.
"Each of us receives a handful of wooden nickels. They prove to be legal tender for the day, good for Pepsis, corn on the cob and watermelon. We cheer the speeches…shake hands with the candidate…dance to the Dixieland band…and afterwards have the run of the Magic Kingdom until midnight."
It was Winnie the Pooh in 1972 for president as part of a marketing campaign at Disneyland. The national campaign included a cross-country whistle stop tour with Pooh, and some of his friends. in Anaheim at Disneyland in 1972. (Photo Courtesy, The Disneyland Resort)
On October 1, 1972, at a convention held at Walt Disney World, Pooh was nominated to run for president on the Children's Party ticket. Drawings had been held at Sears, Roebuck and Co. and those stores across the nation selected delegates from each of the 50 states to be sent with their families to Walt Disney World.
Sears was having huge sales of exclusive Disney Winnie the Pooh merchandise so were eager to get on board for the promotion. The Sears stores sold some exclusive Winnie the Pooh for President merchandise like a plush figure that proved very popular.
As part of the festivities, the delegates nominated Pooh for President of the United States in the forecourt of Cinderella Castle. Two days after the Walt Disney World event, from his "West Coast retreat" at Disneyland, Pooh announced his platform and campaign strategy.
Although supposedly still recuperating from his Florida visit, Pooh took the microphone for some 30 seconds (in Sterling Holloway's offstage voice) to address a large group of personal friends and enthusiastic supporters who had gathered near Sleeping Beauty Castle.
His short speech outlined his policy platforms to put "hunny in every pot." He also mentioned his battle to "lick" the high price of ice cream cones and that there would be hot fudge sundaes every Monday and banning all spankings. The crowd cheered enthusiastically and loudly.
Pooh and his press secretary Tigger, with campaign manager Eeyore, left on a old-fashioned two week cross country, whistle-stop train campaign tour sponsored by Sears and Amtrak before setting up his official campaign headquarters in Disneyland.
The tour started on the Disneyland Railroad with plenty of photographs of Pooh surrounded by Disney characters, but eventually transferred to a special Amtrak Train that started at Los Angeles Union Station and stopped in many towns on the way to Chicago and Washington D.C.
"We went from Union Station in L.A., across country to Kansas City, Chicago and the Sears Tower, then on to Washington, D.C., then back west and up the coast to Seattle before returning to Los Angeles. We did it all in two weeks and all by train," said Gary Moore who at the time was a photographer for Disneyland who accompanied the other seven Disneyland personnel on board.
"When we got to Barstow that first night, there were several-thousand people with children all waiting to see Winnie the Pooh, Tigger and Eeyore."
A baggage car had been adapted into a traveling stage with big doors on either side that would open up, depending upon which side the audience was at a particular stop.
The show lasted roughly 10 to 15 minutes as the Pooh characters danced to a pre-recorded soundtrack. Afterward, they joined the audience for photo opportunities. The excitement of the audience was so great that the stops ran much longer than expected resulting in the train running faster between destinations.
One night, the Disney personnel were awoken in their private sleeping car at 1:30 a.m. as they approached a small town in New Mexico with a population of only 200 people.
"It turned out there were about 2,000 people waiting there to see Winnie the Pooh," Moore said. "Children were bundled up and sitting on their dads' shoulders and more, so they switched us to the siding there so we could do the show."
At the urging of his press secretary and "close personal friend" Tigger, Pooh declared, "If elected in November, I will put two tricycles in every garage, provide free candy on holidays, and make sure everyone enjoys two Saturdays a week."
Owl was in the running to be Pooh's pick for vice-president.
"According to press secretary Tigger," claimed one report, "Owl is on the inside track because of the learned bird's appeal to both the left and right wingers."
Pooh ended up picking Piglet.
"Pooh-litical" rallies in support of Pooh for President were held all over that month, with marching bands and free balloons, pictures, buttons, and posters for kids supplied by Sears.
During the three-day event in Disneyland, Pooh, Tigger, and Eeyore were available for meet and greets all day at their National Campaign Headquarters in the Carnation Plaza Gardens.
According to the California Orange County Registrar of Voters, Pooh did receive some votes in 1972, but because the records from that year were not yet computerized, the exact amount is unknown.
The popularity of the 1972 campaign guaranteed that one in 1976 would be even bigger.
"Winnie's a Honey of a Candidate" was the campaign slogan for the three day Winnie the Pooh for President event held at Disneyland October 24-25, 1976. Pooh was touted as "The Children's Pick in '76".
Each day, there was a Main Street "Tigger Tape Parade" down Main Street and Pooh-litical "Fun Raising" Rally in Town Square.
Children up to 12 years old (the Disneyland cut off for when a child became a "junior") were invited to gather in front of the It's a Small World attraction at 1:30 p.m. They would be part of the 2 p.m. parade through Fantasyland and down Main Street for the big rally in Town Square.
When children exited the park at the end of their day with their family, they could pick up a free "Pooh for President" poster, pin, and coloring kit.
The Fantasyland Theater hosted a free all day showing of Winnie the Pooh cartoons. "The Pooh Revue" stage show that performed three times a day was presented on the Tomorrowland Stage.
Once again, Sears aggressively sponsored the promotion. Winnie the Pooh merchandise was prominent in Sears stores and its catalogs. Sears even sponsored television network broadcasts of the Pooh featurettes. For Pooh's 1976 campaign, Sears had in-store, point-of-purchase materials and a special record.
A special record with Pooh's own campaign song was produced. The original song was written and performed by novelty songwriter Larry Groce who had written Junk Food Junkie earlier in 1976 that became a Top Ten hit. Later, he had Platinum recordings of classic children's songs for Walt Disney Records Children's Favorites 4-volume series.
Here are the lyrics:
Groce: I'm proud to nominate a bear who's been a friend to me. A bear whose name in stories are known by millions sea to sea. And so right now, without more words or any more adieu, I give you our next president The Honorable Winnie the Pooh.
Chorus: Pooh for President! (Vote for Winnie the Pooh!) Pooh for president! (Pooh is right for you!)
Groce: He's pleased as punch. Yes, Pooh is the one! Stand up and cheer our favorite son.
Chorus: Pooh for President! (Vote for Winnie the Pooh!)
Pooh: Thank you! Thank you! If I'm elected, I make a promise to all you girls and boys! I'll do away with taxes on bicycles and toys! A bit of honey in every pot will be my golden rule and each you will have a snack when you come home from school.
Chorus: Pooh for President! (Vote for Winnie the Pooh!) Pooh for President! (Pooh is right for you!)
Groce: The people's choice! The bear for you. All the way with W.T. Pooh!
Chorus: Pooh for president (Vote for Winnie the Pooh!)
Pooh: Christopher Robin is the head adviser on my team! My running mate is Piglet who is of great esteem. My cabinet is composed of Owl, Eeyore and Tigger too. My chief-in-staff is Kanga and her assistant, Roo
Groce: Thank you Pooh. Now let me say, you folks must make the choice. Pooh is in the country's heart. Who has the people's voice? And while the words of elephants and donkeys fill the air perhaps you'll find that now's time to vote for Pooh the Bear.
Chorus: Pooh for President! (Vote for Winnie the Pooh!) Pooh for President! (Pooh is right for you!)
Groce: He is the only one who can bring us together once again!
Chorus: Pooh for President! (Vote for Winnie the Pooh!) Pooh for President (Vote for Winnie the Pooh!) Pooh for president! (Pooh is right for you!) Pooh for President (Vote for Winnie the Pooh!)
Groce: Let me hear you now
Chorus: Pooh for President! (Pooh is right for you!) All right!
Both the voices of Sterling Holloway (Pooh) and John Fiedler (Piglet) are on the record with Holloway even "talk/singing" Pooh's part of the song. In addition, Christopher Robin (voiced by Billy Simpson) offered a basic overview of the U.S. election process.
WTVJ, which in 1976 was a CBS affiliate in Miami, produced a homegrown "Pooh for President" television special.
Winnie the Pooh for President Disneyland Records 563 (Sears Exclusive / 7" 45 RPM) ran for eight minutes. The song itself was only about two and a half minutes long. The record included an eight page coloring book.
Pooh had one more short shot at running for president in October 1980 at Disneyland, but it was much less elaborate than previous attempts. He ran against Captain Hook and guests were encouraged to fill out a ballot for their favorite candidate.
It is no surprise that when it came to counting the ballots near the end of the day in Town Square, Captain Hook had tried to steal the election, but was caught.
During the 1980s, Disney released two Winnie the Pooh television shows. The first was called Welcome to Pooh Corner and featured a mix of real actors and puppets to tell the stories. The second was The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which was a traditionally animated show in the style of the original shorts.
Controversies over the rights to use Winnie the Pooh prevented further campaigns. Considering all his wonderful qualities, maybe it is not so crazy to consider Winnie the Pooh for president in 2020.