Silly Old Bear Still Beloved After Nearly a Century

The Asiatic Black Bear has the longest average lifespan of any bear species. They live between 25-30 years in the wild, more than 40 years in captivity.

However, one bear, the only one of his species that we know of, has lived an amazing 96 years.

The species, of course, is Pooh Bear, and its most famous (and only) member is named Winnie.

Winnie the Pooh has been charming and entertaining readers and audiences for generations, initially through author A.A. Milne’s books, later through the Disney multimedia universe.

Pooh’s popularity doesn’t wane, it seems, hence Disney’s Winnie the Pooh: The New Musical Stage Adaptation, which will be presented Feb. 18 in the Straz Center’s Ferguson Hall.

In this new musical stage adaptation, Pooh Bear and the gang are performed by actors manipulating life-size puppets of our favorite Hundred Acre Wood residents.

The bear first appeared, under his original name of Edward, in Milne’s poem Teddy Bear. His first appearance under the name Winnie-the-Pooh was in a Christmas story Milne wrote for the London newspaper Evening News.

Oct. 14 is the anniversary of the publication of Winnie-the-Pooh in 1926. Milne based most of the characters on his son, Christopher Robin Milne, and his stuffed animals. The younger Milne’s stuffed bear originally was christened Edward, but the boy renamed Edward Winnie so the toy would share a name with a black bear with that name at the London Zoo. Milne’s text was accompanied by E.H. Shepard’s illustrations, which capture the gentle whimsy of the stories.

The original stuffed animals that inspired A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh series.

Since then, our bear has been analyzed, anthologized and Disneyfied (which included having the hyphens dropped from his name). Pooh has morphed from a black and white, stuffed-animal sized creature into a bright, round, yellow animal, whose curiosity and craving for honey leads to all sorts of comic mayhem. (OK, a honey (or “hunny”) jar stuck on Pooh’s head may not qualify as mayhem but you get the picture.)

Pooh’s been celebrated in song, most notably in Kenny Loggins’ “House at Pooh Corner,” a not-quite-hit for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1971 (it peaked at No. 53 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart) but a staple of Loggins’ live show.

Loggins added a verse after becoming a father, retitling the song “Return to Pooh Corner.”

Pooh also was feted by San Francisco’s psychedelic pioneers Jefferson Airplane in a pair of songs, “The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil” and “House at Pooneil Corner.” Pooneil was Airplane guitarist-singer Paul Kantner’s merging of Pooh and songwriter Fred Neil (“Everybody’s Talking,” “Other Side of This Life”).

A late ’80s group of jangly power-poppers from Wales dubbed themselves Pooh Sticks, after the game described by Milne in the book House at Pooh Corner.

Asking someone to play pooh sticks can mean two things now!

Author Benjamin Hoff used Pooh and his friends to introduce Westerners to the Taoism belief system in his 1982 book, The Tao of Pooh. The book was on The New York Times‘ Best Seller List for almost a year.

Also making the Times’ Best Seller list was Winnie Ille Pu, a Latin translation of Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh. It’s the only book in Latin ever to have made the list.

A much more questionable take on the silly old bear is the result of the original copyright’s expiration. Pooh’s cuddly reputation is taking a hit thanks to Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, a low-budget horror flick in which Pooh and Piglet, abandoned by Christopher Robin, revert to feral beasts out for hunger-fueled revenge.

It’s the sort of sick joke favored by Mad magazine reading adolescents (not that Mad would stoop to anything this cheap or obvious), designed to make Pooh-loving little brothers and sisters cry. (That’s assuming anyone sees it – filming wrapped in May and no release date has been set.)

After watching that trailer, we can’t think of anything better to say than that of our silly old bear’s favorite catchphrase: “Oh, bother.”

Our bet is Blood and Honey is an anomaly and that any new Pooh offerings will keep our boy sweet and funny. There’s far too much mayhem and murder in our lives and art. Keep Pooh sweet, lovable and forever in search of honey. Er, hunny.

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