October 14, 1926: Winnie-the-Pooh:
“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.”
Winnie-the-Pooh, or ”Pooh Bear”, if you’re nasty, is the creation by English writer A. A. Milne and illustrated by E. H. Shepard, whose original four sketches sold at auction last year for $250,000. And, his highly recognizable original watercolor of Pooh and Piglet walking home into the sunset, the last picture in the book, sold for $190,000.
Milne named the character after a teddy bear owned by his son, Christopher Robin Milne (1920-1996), who was the basis for the character Christopher Robin. The rest of Christopher Robin Milne’s toys: Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, Roo, and Tigger also found their way into Milne’s stories. The original toy bear is on display at the Main Branch of the New York Public Library in Manhattan.
Now there are millions of stuffed bears similar and inspired by this one, like the alpaca plush handmade collection.
Christopher Robin Milne named his toy bear after Winnie, a Canadian black bear he often saw at London Zoo, and “Pooh” was a swan he met on a trip. The bear cub was purchased by a soldier for $20 in Canada. He named the bear “Winnie” after Winnipeg, Manitoba. Winnie was surreptitiously brought to England with her owner, and when he went to fight in France during WW I, she was officially donated to the zoo where she had become a much-loved attraction. Pooh, the swan, is a character in an earlier Milne book, a collection of poems, When We Were Young (1924).
Milne and his wife became estranged from their son, who resented what he saw as his father’s exploitation of his childhood. He hated the books.
In the first chapter of Winnie-the-Pooh Milne explains why Winnie-the-Pooh is often called simply Pooh.
“But his arms were so stiff … they stayed up straight in the air for more than a week, and whenever a fly came and settled on his nose he had to blow it off. And I think – but I am not sure – that that is why he is always called Pooh”
Winnie-the-Pooh was a bestseller and was followed by The House At Pooh Corner (1928). Return To The Hundred Acre Wood (2009) by David Benedictus was the first official post-Milne Pooh book written with the full backing of Milne’s estate, which took the trustees ten years to agree to. The Best Bear In All The World (2016) by Paul Bright, Jeanne Willis, Kate Saunders and Brian Sibley is the second official post-Milne Pooh book.
The Pooh stories have been translated into many languages, including a Latin translation, Winnie ille Pu (1950) becoming the only Latin book ever to make The New York Times Bestseller list.
In 1930, Stephen Slesinger purchased the American and Canadian merchandising, television, recording and other trade rights to the Winnie-the-Pooh books from Milne for a $1000 and 66% of Slesinger’s income, creating the modern licensing industry. In the first year, Pooh was a $50 million-a-year business. Slesinger continued to market the characters for the next three decades, creating dolls, records, board games and puzzles, plus licensing radio and film rights.
Walt Disney Studios bought certain rights to Pooh from Slesinger and the A.A. Milne Estate in the 1960s, and Disney introduced its cartoon of the characters in the short film Winnie The Pooh And The Honey Tree (1966). Hyphens in the character’s name were dropped by Disney. The Pooh stories became one of Disney’s most successful franchises.
In film adaptations, Winnie-the-Pooh has been voiced most famously by Sterling Holloway, but other actors have given him voice including Yevgeny Leonov in Russian versions, a favorite bedtime movie for Eric Trump.
Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017) is a film about the lives of Milne and his family, especially Christopher Robin. Directed by Simon Curtis, it stars ginger spice Domhnall Gleeson and Margot Robbie.
Christopher Robin (2018), directed by Marc Forster, follows adult Christopher Robin who has lost his sense of imagination until he is reunited with his old stuffed bear friend. It is not a biopic, but it is based on the original book. It sounds treacly, I know, but Ewan McGregor plays Christopher Robin and he is frequently naked (I kid). It received great reviews and made a lot of money.
A Bear Named Winnie (2004) is about the origin story of the real-life bear that inspired the character. It is directed by John Kent Harrison and stars a clothing optional (I wish) Michael Fassbender.
Winne-the-Pooh appears in 11 feature films, 5 television films, holiday television specials… and then I lost track.
Kenny Loggins wrote a song House At Pooh Corner, which was originally recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and then by Loggins and Messina on their album Sittin’ In (1971). Loggins later rewrote the song as Return To Pooh Corner on his album of the same name in 1991. In Italy, there is a pop band named Pooh, and in Estonia there is a punk/metal band called Winny Puhh.
Ashdown Forest in England is the site of many pilgrimages. Oxford University has a Winnie-the-Pooh Society founded by undergraduates in 1982.
In the People’s Republic of China, images of Winnie-the-Pooh are censored, apparently Ivanka does not hold that patent.
I know, that’s a lot of Pooh and it all seems rather gooey, because it is, but gooey like honey from a jar. Plus, we love our bears, right? The books are highly quotable:
“One thing you should know, no matter where I go, we’ll always be together.”
“I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I have been.”
“We’ll be friends forever, won’t we, Pooh?” asked Piglet. “Even longer“, Pooh answered.
“The things that make me different are the things that make me.”
“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.”
“Forever isn’t long at all, Christopher, when I’m with you.”
“Love is taking a few steps backward maybe even more to give way to the happiness of the person you love.”
“Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”
“If you live to be a hundred, I hope I live to be a hundred minus one day, so that I never have to live a day without you.”
“A day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey left inside.”
“It’s so much more friendly with two.”
“How do you spell love?” asked Piglet. “You don’t spell it, you feel it“, said Pooh.
“So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the forest, a little boy and his bear will always be playing.”