Suspended Animation Extra
Yogi Bear’s name was inspired by Lawrence “Yogi” Berra who was a famous baseball catcher and later coach and manager known for his malapropisms and unintentional witticisms.
Berra threatened to sue Hanna-Barbera because of their character’s name being too similar to his own but never followed through with the action. Berra told a newspaper in 1963, “Television is big enough for both me and Yogi Bear. I was going to sue the Yogi Bear program for using my name until somebody reminded me Yogi isn’t my real name — it’s Lawrence.” Berra’s obituary in 2015 by the Associated Press initially said that Yogi Bear had died.
Yogi Bear’s Honey Fried Chicken
With the success of Kentucky Fried Chicken, other entrepreneurs tried their own versions. Yogi Bear’s Honey Fried Chicken was a popular fast food restaurant chain that debuted in the early 1960s.
South Carolina restaurateur Eugene Broome came up with a honey-infused chicken that became locally popular. Initially, Broome wanted to partner with performer Jackie Gleason and his popular catch phrase of “How sweet it is!”
Gleason wasn’t interested but the phrase remained. Broome happened to see Yogi Bear on television and made the connection that bears loved honey. He contacted Ed Justin who was H-B’s merchandising supervisor and was able to attain a license for the use of the character.
The new restaurant’s logo included a roadside neon sign representing a big, smiling Yogi Bear holding a chicken leg. Broome marketed it as being less greasy than KFC. The store’s original location was in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Memorably, the food locations featured a ten foot tall statue of Yogi Bear clutching a huge chicken drumstick. Boo Boo, Cindy and Ranger Smith were roughly six feet tall.
Those statues were created by Steve Dashew of American Fiberglass, a company that turned out thousands of large advertising commercial statues including Big Boy in the 1960s and 1970s for various businesses.
The local chain became popular and expanded into twenty locations with others in Charlotte, Rocky Mount, and even various locations in Florida.
Noticing what was happening, Hardee’s restaurant company paid a million dollars in 1968 for a partnership to try and expand its market share. Unfortunately, it paid little attention to the acquisition and seemingly bought the franchise simply for the rights to the honey flavor infusion that Broome had developed.
By 1971, the Yogi Bear’s Honey Fried Chicken locations were faltering. Hardee’s stopped expansion of further outlets and all but one location closed by the late 1970s.
A single Yogi Bear’s Fried Chicken venue still remains open in Hartsville, South Carolina. They still serve fried chicken gizzards and livers as they originally did in addition to the traditional fried chicken offerings. George Atkins took over the restaurant in 2003 and negotiated that he could continue to use Yogi Bear but only for that one restaurant.
As the restaurants closed, some of the large fiberglass statues of Yogi Bear and his friends ended up being dumped on vacant land near Interstate 95 near Halifax, North Carolina.
Yogi Bear Graveyard
That dumping ground behind the Oasis truck shop, west side of highway 903, overgrown with weeds and behind a fence became the Yogi Bear Graveyard. It no longer exists because in 2008 the area was cleared to build a new truck stop.
The owner of a Jellystone Park campground in Halifax had bought some of the statues from the closing Yogi Bear Honey Fried Chicken restaurants to use at the campground and its miniature golf course. When that campground closed, the statues were dumped.
As word spread, it became an accidental tourist attraction with those who love Roadside America to trespass and take photos.
As the weather and sun took its toll, the statues suffered damage and became a depository for waste. Besides Yogi, Boo Boo, Cindy and Ranger Smith there was a four foot high fiberglass igloo shaped dome that was Yogi’s “cave”.
Several of the statues were rescued and now stand outside a private residence in Rocky Mount. There is also one at the remaining Yogi Bear’s Honey Fried Chicken in Hartsville, South Carolina.
When American Fiberglass closed, many of its molds, including the ones used to make the statues for Yogi Bear’s Honey Fried Chicken, were bought by a company located in Bladenboro. So there is always the possibility that the statues or variations of them could appear once again.
Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park
Today, there are 85 Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park campgrounds in 30 states and three Canadian provinces, making it the second largest campground franchise in the country.
The concept was the brainchild of Doug Haag from Wisconsin, who owned an advertising firm in Manitowoc. In the summer of 1968, while Haag was driving down a local highway he saw all the cars pulling trailers and packed with families. He thought if there was a destination campground themed to the entire family it would serve a need that was not being addressed.
Haag decided to make the idea a reality and partnered with a friend who was a local contractor. Together they purchased 30 wooded acres in Wisconsin for about $3000 or roughly $100 per acre.
Haag thought, “In order to draw campers, we needed a clever and recognized name for our campground. My partner and I and our families had many discussions about names. Paul Bunyan, Lewis & Clark, Hiawatha, Pocahontas, Robin Hood, sports stars, and historical figures. We went through them all, but nothing seemed to fit.”
One cold Saturday morning in January of 1969, Haag’s three young children were watching cartoons in another room and he heard Yogi Bear talking about all the campers who were coming with their picnic baskets.
He immediately made an appointment with the Vice President of Screen Gems, then licensor of the Hanna-Barbera characters. He traveled to their New York City office and presented his campground concept with a few hand-drawn sketches and a lot of enthusiasm.
The executives in New York City told him they had approved a campground idea proposed to them featuring one of their other popular cartoons, The Flintstones, and it had flopped.
Haag argued that the Flintstones were not about camping but that Yogi Bear was and that convinced them. They made a deal for six percent of all gross sales at each park in exchange for Haag using the name and images of Yogi and his cartoon friends at the park.
The land that Haag and his partner bought off Sand Bay Road became the first Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park. The rest of the winter was spent making signing and building a Yogi Bear statue out of chicken wire and plaster.
He even negotiated with the president of Hardee’s that now owned the Yogi Bear Honey Fried Chicken restaurants to purchase left over Yogi Bear themed merchandise from a promotion that had just ended.
Construction on the park began in April 1969 and the campground opened on July 4, 1969.
As Haag recalled, “There was no way we could have imagined the chaos that was to happen that opening weekend. Three times as many people as we had sites for came to camp! We allowed them to set up in the field nearby, in the playground, etc. – anywhere they could find room!”
Leisure Systems Inc. that took over the franchise from Haag works directly with Warner Brothers to source and create custom products, most of which are exclusive to Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts.
Jellystone Park annually offers over 500 customized resale souvenir products from the expected T-shirts, mugs, and magnets to its wildly popular plush line. They also offer custom Yogi Bear and friends ceramics among other high end items.
When I relocated to Orlando, Florida in 1995, I visited a Jellystone Park campground on Turkey Lake Road and in the store purchased two Yogi Bear head-shaped plastic mugs similar to the ones offered by Dell Comics. That campground no longer exists.