For years, it’s been a common thing for celebrities to accept an invitation from the President of the U.S.A. to visit his home. Film and TV stars, singers, war heroes, athletes, you name it. And, at least in one case, a cartoon character.
It just wasn’t any cartoon character. It was Yogi Bear. And it wasn’t just any White House. It was Richard Nixon’s White House.
Perhaps my viewpoint is coloured because I grew up in the ‘60s, but the words “The Nixon White House” conjure the kind of image one associates with no other American president. A concealing and paranoid White House that kept a ballooning enemies list containing the name of beloved cartoon voice actor June Foray, for one thing.
Time has pulled aside an Oz-like curtain to reveal oddities that happened at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue during the Nixon years. Elvis receiving a coveted special agent’s badge like one owned by Paul Frees. The impromptu knees-to-the-carpet prayer session with Henry Kissinger during the final days. Some tape recordings that made Rose Mary Woods a household name at one time. And there was the photo op gone wrong.
It seemed to be an image-man’s dream, on the face of it. Everyone loves kids. Everyone loves cartoons. Everyone loves Christmas. Import them all into the White House and everyone will love that, too. Only it didn’t quite work that way. The AP wire had a couple of versions of the story but almost every single headline I’ve read about it focused on one thing—Yogi Bear getting kicked. It happened on December 21, 1971.
EMBASSY KIDS GET WHITE HOUSE YULE PARTY,
ATTACK YOGI BEAR
WASHINGTON (AP) — Yogi Bear got kicked in the shins but the gingerbread house remained intact Tuesday at the annual White House Christmas party for embassy children.
“I hope you are having a happy holiday away from school and that your holiday will be bright,” Mrs. Richard M. Nixon, hostess at the party sponsored by State Department volunteers, told the children seated on the East Room floor. Then she introduced several television stars including Yogi Bear and his sidekick Booboo.
A 5-year-old Nicaraguan girl jumped onto the stage, kicked Yogi in the shins and retreated. She did not say why.
Last week another group of children nibbled some of the goodies from the two-foot-tall gingerbread house built by the White House chef. He baked replacements for the bare spots, and a White House aide guarded the tempting building during the party Tuesday.
Screen Gems got into the people-in-oversized-cartoon-character-outfits business in 1959 with Huck, Yogi and Quick Draw, among others, available for promotional purposes; for example, Huck and Yogi even toured fairs with comedian/emcee Eddie Alberian in 1960. Writer Tim Hollis sent me this photocopy of what appears to be Quick Draw McGraw being presented with the key to Portland, Maine by the mayor. History doesn’t record whether Quick Draw suffered any abuse at the hands, or feet, of foreign children.
This certainly wasn’t the first foreign affairs gaffe involving Yogi. Who can forget the diplomatic incident he caused with France in ‘A Bear Pair’ (1961) when he demanded ketchup on his “fillett mig-nonnies”?
Other that providing a unique story to tell his friends and family for the rest of his life, it doesn’t appear the chap dressed as Yogi suffered any lasting effects. At least no one reported on it. White House journalists were busy with other things than doing cartoon-bear follow-up pieces. They uncovered a Boo Boo of a different kind.