Back in the 1950s—1953, to be exact—a silly, wistful song became a huge novelty hit. Sung by a 10-year-old named Gayla Peevey, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” captured the imagination of disc jockeys, jukebox managers, and the record-buying public. It also fueled the desires of enterprising zookeepers and animal custodians. The zoological society of Oklahoma City used that ditty as a launchpad for raising revenue to buy a hippo for their facility. Urging kids to donate nickels, dimes, quarters, and even a dollar (which was a lot in 1953), the Oklahoma City zoo managers actually got their Christmas wish, too, and put the collected funds toward bringing Mathilda the Nile hippopotamus to their enclosure! The purchased pachyderm became an instant celebrity, and her likeness popped up everywhere around town. Critters in the zoo have that ability to become superstars and VIBs (very important beasts).
Gayla Peevey, the “It” girl of 1953 (Photo courtesy of Movie Star News)In 2018, I’ve just discovered a famous zoo dweller of sorts that had flown under my radar until his video went viral. (Yep, a savvy zoo professional combined with an adorable animal can rake up millions of Internet hits!) I’m talking about Teddy Bear, the conversational porcupine. Yes, I know he’s most likely just chittering and chattering away, making a weird high-pitched series of syllables. It reminds me of how the Gremlins sound in the sci-fi movie that shares their name. However, I swear that his vocalizing eerily resembles a determined and purposeful discourse. In the first video that I witnessed, it was an adamant refusal to share his corn on the cob!
Living in Dallas, Texas—everything is bigger there, including the animals’ personalities—Teddy Bear is a bona fide cyber celebrity. Born on May 4, 2003, he’s a Taurus, and he’s also a teaching professional. His residence is called Zooniversity, and the denizens who inhabit there are called into service as visiting professors. Their human mama, a woman named Allison Knox Blankenship, has run a forum where the animals are brought to schools, libraries, community centers, and a learning program is paired with the critters’ arrival.
Weighing 18 pounds, and possessing an extraordinary 35,000 quills, Teddy Bear stole my heart! I’ve read that the Zooniversity programs end in July, and I hope that they start up again in the near future. I really am sad that I only stumbled upon the eloquent Teddy Bear so late in their season. Teddy Bear is the program’s most famous goodwill ambassador, even though he doesn’t exhibit goodwill when he is busily protecting and devouring his food. But Teddy Bear knows how to command attention, and he rivals superstars like Elvis Presley, Elton John, and KISS with the way he can toy with a crowd! (And all of those public figures have plush-pal counterparts!)
Found as an orphan in a barn in West Texas, Teddy Bear has a heart-tugging origin story, and his articulating antics are scene stealing. Fed sweet potatoes as a treat for performing well when he’s on the road, meeting and greeting his fan base, Teddy Bear would be a phenomenal cute, cuddly plush pet. I know that many companies do make plush porcupines, and I can imagine that many of these were scooped off the shelves and dubbed “Teddy Bear” after his really big YouTube video went all Kim Kardashian. (Yep, he and the booty-licious business babe practically broke the Internet with the number of combined views they both received. Teddy Bear alone has more than 35 million YouTube views, and almost 35,000 subscribers to his channel.)
I’d love to see a company manufacture an official Teddy Bear plush line of collectibles. Like Grumpy Cat, Boo (the world’s cutest dog), and the Princess of Beverly Hills (a very pampered pooch), Teddy Bear has an online presence, has a mama-manager (another thing in common with the Kardashians), and possesses that indefinable “It” that separates a co-star from a leading man.
Yes, we’ve had the “strong, silent” type as a movie star that evokes the Wild West and the Texas frontier. Think John Wayne and Gary Cooper. But Teddy Bear is much more modern, much more contemporary and “with it.” Blessed with a seemingly furry and hairy face, he’s a nonstop talker and a comical ham who loves to get applause. More Robin Williams and Dennis Miller (legendary talkers) than Charles Bronson or Jason Statham (near-mute action heroes), Teddy Bear is a talkative knave. In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, parlance, he’s a lumbersexual: part hipster and part metrosexual.
Teddy Bear is a natural-born star, and I wonder if Toy Fair 2019 will announce the arrival of his likeness as a collectible licensed brand. If so, I’m sure Teddy Bear will chitter, chatter, and chat away about the development. I hope if he is made as a plush pet that he comes with an accessory of corn or sweet potato. The only advice I can give is that if it’s removed from his paws, his doll version should squeak and squeal away. Teddy Bear, the mascot of Zooniversity, speaks his mind!