The Two Faces of Teddi Berra

You say “Two Faces of Teddi Berra” in public, and the connotation is you’ve got a bear with some serious mental problems. Like maybe one day she’s the quiet neighbor upstairs. The next day she’s on trial for beheading a deer, a moose, and a buffalo. Like a twist ending to the Goldilocks story, where we find out all three bears were really just one. The kind of bear who needs a tacked on Alfred Hitchcock ending to explain just what caused her to go a little mad.

Do you still hear the swings creaking, Clarice?

But Teddi really is a nice gal. She just happens to be one of the few Country Bears that owes an awful lot of herself to some real life influences. Like her song, for instance. Her show-stopping number, Heart We Did All That We Could isn’t a CBJ original. In fact, most of the songs in the show are legit little ditties from the hillbilly dance circuit.

I’m one of those fans that has complained in the past about Disney taking the lazy way out when it comes to music, specifically Food Rocks and the Enchanted Tiki Room Under New Management. It always felt cheap to take some 80s pop songs and hand them over to a cast of robotic parrots. I mean, what is this, Chuck E. Cheese? The Sherman Brothers were too busy counting their money to take a crack at it?

Yet I would give a pass to Country Bear Jamboree, mainly because I’ve never heard these songs before, outside of the Magic Kingdom. All this really proves is that I have limited knowledge of music. It’s kind of a catch-22. When your favorite genre in iTunes is Theme Park Music, it can sometimes come as a shock when you find out Hoop De Doo was not actually written for the classic dinner show of the same name.

Also, American Adventure’s Two Brothers was written in the 1950s by some guy named Irving Gordon, and a major theme from the Magic Kingdom fireworks show was apparently taken directly from an old animated movie about a wooden puppet.

At least that Fort Wilderness show had the good sense to steal its chorus from an older tune. Teddi Berra’s song is surprisingly current — or would have been in 1971. Heart We Did All That We Could was actually a Billboard Country Top 20 hit in 1967, just four years before Country Bear Jamboree opened. It was performed by Jean Shepard, a lifelong member of the Grand Ole Opry and just this year was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame (and whose official website looks like it was created about the same time she was topping the charts).

Which means that if you get her to autograph a picture of Teddi Berra, the “HOF” tag will raise its eBay value considerably.

But Jean Shepard isn’t Teddi’s only influence. Her mannerisms and costumes are ripped off straight from one of vaudeville’s (and Hollywood’s) biggest stars. Mae West was a saucy, sultry performer, and blessed with two of the most desirable assets in show business: Double entendres.

She even had a famous line: “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?” from the 1933 film She Done Him Wrong. The line is usually misquoted as “Why don’t you come up and see me sometime?” which not so coincidentally is Teddi Berra’s last line in the show (Henry follows it with “Soon as I find a ladder I’ll be right up.”)

But it’s not just the line. It’s the entire get-up. Still don’t think Teddi Berra owes a lot to Mae West?

One of these women sprang from the fertile imagination of Marc Davis. The other is a robotic bear.

The Walt Disney Company apparently had a major obsession with Mae West. Mae appeared as herself in the 1933 short Mickey’s Gala Premier, and was said to bear more than a passing resemblance with Clara Cluck:

… as well as Pinocchio’s pet fish Cleo:

Perhaps the most fun is a dead-on caricature of West as the femme fatale Jenny Wren in Who Killed Cock Robin?

With all these bird versions of Mae, it’s a wonder she didn’t show up in the Enchanted Tiki Room. But I guess we can consider ourselves lucky to have the teddy bear version.

Teddi Berra photo by Loren Javier

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5 thoughts on “The Two Faces of Teddi Berra

  1. @Melissa, thank you! I had originally titled this Three Faces of Teddi Berra, because I knew the swing influence had come from somewhere, but it had slipped out of my memory, and all my googling couldn’t save me. I think I was stuck on searching for “swing singer”, which kept turning up big band references.

  2. Don’t forget the real life star whose name she puns on! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theda_Bara

    I think Clara Cluck is more of a riff on popular operatic singers of the era than she is a specific reference at West, who didn’t have the sort of voice for singing at all. Also, Mae is remembered nearly totally today for My Little Chickadee, a western where she does appear in huge hats and feather boas, but in many films she wore contemporary costumes, such as in She Done Him Wrong, which was one of her first big breakout hits.

    More than a Mae West reference, I think what Teddi is modeled after and what West is remembered for doing are portraits of the same type of character – a show girl from several generations ago. Consider that similar imagery also appears in Davis’ Gay 90s segment of America Sings.

    She’s really a huge amalgamation of lots of different iconic “showgirl” concepts. Davis added her huge.. posterior. You can make up your own mind about that one!

  3. @Sugarglider, you can take some solace in that there are probably like three people on the entire planet that are as savvy as FoxxFur!

    But I still maintain that Teddi is more than just a casual West reference. To me, she is unequivocally a Mae West caricature, as evidenced by that last line — but I also admit that West herself was an amalgam of other saloon hall stereotypes, and there are many influences at play.

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