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This article by Phyllis Maguire was prepared for the November 13,
2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Storybook Bears’ Empire
Nike. Xerox. Berenstain.
At first glance, the last name in this series of famous brands may
seem out of place. After all, Stan and Jan Berenstain, the 79-year-old
husband-wife author-illustrator team, have lived in the same Bucks
County community since 1976 and have only one full-time assistant
between them — hardly the hallmarks of grasping business moguls.
But consider the fact that they have written more than 230 books
the Berenstain Bears, an often bumbling, always endearing ursine
known to every American who’s had any relationship with a child in
the last 40 years.
Consider too that their books have sold more than 280 million copies
and have spawned prime-time TV shows, as well as a Saturday morning
cartoon series with brisk video sales and distribution in 50 different
countries. Factor in the McDonald’s Happy Meals, theme park
games, dolls, and candy, as well as the commercial tie-ins with Texaco
and Kellogg’s, and the daily TV series that will debut next year on
Add them all together and you have an instantly identifiable,
successful global property. But according to a jovial Stan Berenstain,
in a phone interview from the couple’s home in Solebury, Pennsylvania,
their empire grew out of a fortuitous partnership with a savvy editor
and the couple’s own desire to be together.
"We weren’t thinking about anything," he says, "except
making a living and having fun."
This fall, the Berenstains added two new achievements
to their long roster: They published an autobiography entitled
A Sunny Dirt Road," a reference to the famous Bear Country address
they created, and are enjoying their first museum retrospective at
the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown. The exhibit, which
features more than 180 pieces, chronicles their long evolution in
magazine illustration, book publishing, and animation.
The Berenstain brand started with two city kids who loved to draw.
The artists, who have been married since 1946, didn’t grow up on a
sunny dirt road, but in Philadelphia during the Depression where they
each had parents out of work and families that moved repeatedly.
They met on their first day of art school at the Philadelphia Museum
School of Industrial Art. Their budding romance took a detour during
World War II when Stan became a medical artist, working for plastic
surgeons in an Army hospital in Indiana, while Jan became a real-life
"Rosie the Riveter." She eventually made the couple’s
rings out of aircraft aluminum.
Stan sold his first gag cartoons while still in the military, line
drawings with one-line captions, New Yorker style. When the two
after the war, they launched themselves as a husband-wife cartoonist
team, settling on family cartoons (of humans!) as their niche. They
hold the record for the most cartoons in any single issue of the
Evening Post — six — and created two dozen cartoon covers
Magazine work led to cartoon humor books with titles like "Marital
Blitz" and "Have A Baby, My Wife Just Had a Cigar," with
the authors drawing on their own experiences as a couple and as
They also had a regular cartoon feature called "It’s All in the
Family" in McCall’s — but realized by the end of the 1950s
that big changes had come to magazine publishing.
"TV was just starting to crush magazines at that time,"
says. "Magazines still had great circulation, but the advertising
pie didn’t expand enough to accommodate all the dollars going into
Just about that time, their older son asked for "McElligot’s
for Christmas, introducing his parents not only to the work of fellow
cartoonist Dr. Seuss, but also to the idea of doing children’s books
Several publishers turned down their first effort, but then they
a contract with Dr. Seuss himself, Ted Geisel, the editor of Random
House’s new "Beginner Books" line. They arrived at Geisel’s
New York office to find the individual pages of their submission —
"Freddy Bear’s Spanking," their first work featuring a family
of bears — tacked up on his office walls. They learned that Geisel
had served his own World War II stint making patriotic films with
director Frank Capra.
"Capra was very much a practitioner of the technique of
which Ted picked up from him and we picked up from Ted," says
Berenstain. With the pages displayed, Geisel — (who "thought
we had a good beginning and end, but no middle," Berenstain
— could zero in on the parts of the story that needed work.
"When you look at a book as a series of pictures, you can readily
see whether or not the story is `moving,’ " Berenstain says.
can see that the story is not advancing much in the third picture,
for instance, or there may be too quick of a transition between the
fourth and the fifth pictures."
Geisel also suggested that they "script" their story,
it cast with human actors who would lend the characters distinctive
personalities and mannerisms. After many rewrites, "Freddy Bear’s
Spanking" transmogrified into "The Big Honey Hunt"
Papa Bear (with his trademark blue overalls) and son, Small Bear.
The book incorporated a paradigm — Papa Bear giving his son a
valuable lesson by way of a bad example — that the authors have
used repeatedly to great success. Writing it, the fledgling authors
kept Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper in mind in the father-son roles.
Following the book’s publication in 1962, Geisel warned
them not to consider doing a series, which would only become "
`a millstone around your necks,’" the Berenstains report in
a Sunny Dirt Road." And he insisted they stop doing books with
bears, a genre Geisel claimed was already — with Yogi and Smokey
— too crowded. Fortunately, while the Berenstains took pains to
create a new penguin character, "The Big Honey Hunt" was
big sales. At their next meeting with Geisel, the editor waved aside
their penguin entry, reversing course and ordering them to follow
up their "Honey Hunt" sales with another Bear Country saga.
Their second book, "The Bike Lesson," featured two Geisel
gimmes. The editor changed their byline from "Stanley and
to "Stan and Jan," which they’ve kept ever since.
And he put a promotional box proclaiming "Another Adventure of
the Berenstain Bears" on the book’s cover, pointing out that the
moniker — which he said suggested a vaudeville act — would
help sell books.
"He changed the nature of what we were doing," Berenstain
says, "from a normal author-illustrator team to creating a
They did more than a dozen titles with Geisel, then branched out in
1973 into slim paperbacks about first-time experiences for the Bear
Family children — going to the dentist, having a sleepover,
in trouble at school. Many "First Time" story ideas came from
the Berenstains’ own children and grandchildren.
"We thought at the time that maybe we’d do five or six of
Berenstain says. "At last count, we’ve done more than 60."
Their "First Time" books are the centerpiece of their media
empire, with more titles on the way. The Sunny Dirt Road residents
are about to buy their first computer — and have the first death
in the family, although only a goldfish will succumb.
Editors and readers have urged the authors to tackle
tougher subjects — like divorce — in their books, but they
have demurred. "We don’t think divorce is very funny and most
of our books are funny, so we haven’t tried to do that," says
Berenstain, pointing out that there are no shortage of excellent books
on tough topics for children.
"Our vision in life isn’t to instruct people about a particular
thing like death or cancer or divorce or auto accidents," he
"Our mission in life is to keep going down the sunny dirt road,
because that’s what our life’s about." Introducing such a topic
in Bear Country would be "like wanting Ginger Rogers and Fred
Astaire to play Romeo and Juliet," he says. "That might have
worked if they’d danced."
In truth, the Bears have confronted their share of thorny topics in
"The Berenstain Bears and the Drug-Free Zone," "The
Bears No Guns Allowed," and "The Berenstain Bears and the
Sinister Smoke Ring," a vigorously anti-smoking book suggested
by former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.
The authors even penned "The Berenstain Bears and the Big
("Mama, what’s God?") that Berenstain says he was reluctant
to do, worried that "Jerry Falwell would picket our house."
Instead, even the evangelical press gave the book a good review —
although one reviewer pointedly asked why it was the first time the
Bear Family had gone to church in 30 years.
"Well, they’ve gone to the supermarket only once too, and to the
dentist only once," Berenstain points out. "Once is
The characters’ signature blend of wisdom-in-humor, as well as their
reliance on family and community, are modeled on the authors’ own
tightly-knit lives; sons Leo and Michael, one a writer and the other
an illustrator, have now joined their parents’ publishing dynasty.
The Berenstains’ eventful 60-year career is extensively documented
in the Michener Museum exhibit that includes their earliest artwork
as well as their most recent work, with original drawings and
The exhibit also features videos and a game board where museum
play the game pieces, as well as hands-on stations for drawing bears
and gag cartoons. The authors themselves will be at the museum on
Sunday, November 24, for a public interview and book signing session.
Not bad for a couple of kids from Philadelphia. But then, "if
you hang around long enough," Berenstain notes cheerfully,
are going to notice."
— Phyllis Maguire
James A. Michener Art Museum, 138 South Pine Street, Doylestown,
215-340-9800. The authors’ first retrospective, organized by the
Rockwell Museum and curated by David Leopold. Show coincides with
the publication of "Down a Sunny Dirt Road: An Autobiography"
(Random House). Admission $10 adults; $7 students. To January 12.
Sunday, November 17, 2 to 4 p.m.
Sunday, November 24, at 1 p.m. ($20).
& Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Wednesday evenings to 9 p.m.
609-924-6700. Jules Schaeffer Retrospective with more than 30 found
object-welded sculptures, assemblages, monoprints, and works on paper.
Gallery is open weekdays, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. To November 14.
of decorative and functional weavings by Princeton artist Armando
Sosa. A native of Salcaja, Guatemala, Sosa weaves his dreams on
looms creating scenes of soccer games, bullfights, and kite flying.
Open by appointment during school hours, show runs to December 20.
Nassau Street, 609-921-6748. "From Tow Path to Bike Path:
and the Delaware and Raritan Canal," an exhibition on the history
and creation of the canal, the life of death of its workers, and
environmental and preservation issues. Open Tuesday to Sunday, noon
to 4 p.m. Show runs to March, 2003.
Dining room show of original paintings by Livy Glaubitz. Part of
benefit the Medical Center. Show may be viewed daily from 8 a.m. to
7 p.m. To November 13.
"One World, One Love," a vibrant show of art, crafts, and
jewelry featuring work by two area artists: ceramics by Erica Barton
Haba and glass art by Ed Steckley. Also on exhibit, hand-painted
silk, paintings, ceramics, and other arts from the Caribbean. Open
Fridays and Saturdays, 1 to 6 p.m., and Sundays 1 to 4 p.m. To
Jorge Armenteros, owner of Little Taste of Cuba, introduces
Cuba," a show of contemporary Cuban folk art. To December 31.
Building 4 Suite J, Lawrenceville, 609-896-0732. The foundation
established to promote Ibero-American art inaugurates its gallery
program with a solo show featuring 24 paintings by Spanish artist
Juan Manuel Fuentes. Show runs to November 24. Gallery is open to
the public by appointment, Wednesday to Friday, 1 to 8 p.m., and
and Sunday, 10 to 3 p.m.
Created by area neurosurgoen Ariel Abud and his family, the foundation
plans to promote the contemporary arts of Spain, Latin America, and
Central America. The foundation plans to award stipends to three to
four artists each year, with an invitation to travel to the U.S. and
exhibit work in the Lawrenceville gallery.
609-298-6970. Group show by Eugene Maziarz, Joe Kassa, and Ed DeWitt.
Open Thursday to Saturday, 4 to 8 p.m.. Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. To
Exhibition of works by members and their guests including Selena
Peter Roos, Robert Borsuk, Ken Kaplowitz, William van der Veer, Nancy
Ori, and Frank Magalhaes. Techniques range from platinum prints to
manipulated Polaroids. Open Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To
In the Broad Street Antiques Center, a gallery featuring the oil,
pastel, and watercolor paintings of Olga Holroyd. Open Wednesday to
Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
"Sky Flowers," paintings by Hartini Gibson. Open Tuesday to
Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. To December
Road, 609-921-3272. "Oil and Water," an exhibit of watercolors
and oils by Diana Wilkoc Patton and Larraine C. Williams. The artists
will be at the galleries painting, weekends through December 8.
reception is Sunday, November 17, 1 to 4 p.m. Open Tuesday to Friday,
10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 4 p.m.
"Recent Paintings" by Stephen Kennedy. Apprenticed to
Nelson Shanks during the 1970s, the Fort Washington artist is best
known for his commissioned portraits. Gallery is open Wednesday to
Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To November 30.
Branch Station, 908-725-2110. Annual juried members show featuring
award winners Erena Roe, Gary Briechle, and Liz Mitchell. Juror was
Barbara Madsen of Rutgers Mason Gross School of the Arts. Gallery
hours are Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday, 1
to 4 p.m. To January 18.
Lawrenceville, 609-296-0334. Garden State Watercolor Society sixth
annual Associate Member Juried Exhibition, judged by Betty Stroppel
and Ed Baumlin. To November 22.
609-292-6464. "Cultures in Competition: Indians and Europeans
in Colonial New Jersey." Show traces the impact of European
on the native Indians’ way of life after 1600. "Searching: New
Jersey Photographers and September 11," works by Stanley Brick,
Donna Clovis, Donald Lokuta, and Phil McAuliffe; to November 24.
hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.; Sunday noon
to 5 p.m.
from the Collection;" "New Jersey’s Native Americans: The
Archaeological Record;" "Delaware Indians of New Jersey;"
"The Sisler Collection of North American Mammals;" "Of
Rock and Fire;" "Neptune’s Architects;" "The
"New Jersey Ceramics, Silver, Glass and Iron;" "Historical
Archaeology of Colonial New Jersey;" "Washington Crossing
in Focus: Watercolors from the Henry and Rose Pearlman
an exhibition of 16 rarely-seen works on paper by the precursor of
modern painting. Organized by Laura Giles, associate curator of prints
and drawings, the exhibition celebrates the publication of the first
scholarly catalogue on these watercolors which span the entire range
of Cezanne’s career. On long-term loan to the museum since 1976, the
works are rarely shown due to their sensitivity to light. To January
Also "Beyond the Visible: A Conservator’s Perspective;" to
January 5. "Lewis Baltz: Nevada and Other Photographs," an
exhibition of recently acquired photographs and series by Lewis Baltz;
to January 19. "Earth’s Beauty Revealed: The 19th-Century European
Landscape;" to January 12. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.
to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Highlights tours every Saturday at 2
609-258-3184. "Unseen Hands: Women Printers, Binders, and Book
Designers," a Milberg Gallery exhibition curated by Rebecca Warren
Davidson. Show runs to March 30, 2003.
School, Robertson Hall, 609-258-1651. "After September 11,"
an exhibition that explores how the work of area artists has been
influenced by the events surrounding September 11, curated by Kate
Somers. Artists represented: Robert Beck, Eleanor Burnette, Thom
Crawford, Alan Goldstein, Margaret Kennard Johnson, Amy Kosh, Ken
McIndoe, Barbara Osterman, Margaret Rosen, Ludvic Saleh, Sheba
and Madelaine Shellaby. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 9 a.m.
to 5 p.m. To December 1.
609-620-6026. In the Hutchins Gallery, Annual Faculty Exhibition with
Brian Daniell, Allen Fitzpatrick, Jamie Greenfield, Leonid Siveriver,
William Vandever, and Ed Robbins; to November 2. Also opening
a Teaching Collection: New Acquisitions in Photography," to
18. Gallery hours, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to noon; and 1 to 4:30
p.m.; Wednesday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon.
609-586-4800, ext. 3589. "The Faculty," paintings by Mel
of his MCCC colleagues. To November 7.
Library Place, 609-497-7990. "Mountain Tops," an exhibition
of miniature landscape sculptures of natural stones and sand by
Brower, poet, sculptor, and seminary faculty member emeritus. Gallery
hours are Monday to Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday 2 to
8 p.m. To November 30.
Faculty Group Show by 26 full-time and adjunct faculty members in
painting, ceramics, photography, sculpture, graphic design, drawing,
and video. Open Monday 3 to 8 p.m.; Tuesday, noon to 3 p.m.;
1 to 8 p.m., and Thursday, noon to 3 p.m. To November 21.
609-895-5589. "This and That: The Art of Michael Ramus," a
retrospective show featuring the paintings, drawings, and
of the Princeton-based artist. Gallery hours are Tuesday through
11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. To December 17.
Brunswick, 732-932-7237. Exhibitions include: "Paul Signac: A
Collection of Watercolors and Drawings"; to January 19.
Cover Design, 1920s to 1930s: The Graphic Face of the
and Stalinist Periods"; to March 30. "Sonia Delaunay: La
celebrating the accomplishments of the key figure (1885 to 1979) in
the development of 20th-century abstraction; to December 28.
Also "Yurii Dyshlenko: Abstraction, Modernity, and Mass
to January 12. "The National Association of Women Artists
at Rutgers," to December 8. "Ben Shahn: The Rilke
to December 31. Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to
4:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Spotlight tours every
Sunday at 2 and 3 p.m. Admission $3 adults; under 18 free; and free
on the first Sunday of every month.
609-397-0275. "Prints, Paintings and Progression," group
by Bette Baer, Laura Blasenheim, Merle Citron, John Marcus, Lola
and others. Gallery hours are Monday to Thursday, 1 to 9 p.m.; Friday
1 to 5 p.m.; and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To November 22.
609-773-0881. November group show by Robert Allen, Connie Campbell,
Sheila Coutin, Wendy Gordon, Daniele Newbold, Jeane Nielsen, Nancy
Shelly, and Sandra Young. Open Thursday to Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.
To December 1.
Shared show of works by artists Peter Petraglia and Leonard Restiva
featuring an eclectic blend of realistic, impressionistic, and
paintings. Gallery hours are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 11 a.m.
to 6 p.m. To December 1.
"Another Woman’s Dream," a group show of works by Stacie Speer
Scott, Kim Robertson, and Angela Del Vecchio. Open Thursday to Sunday,
noon to 5 p.m. To December 2.
609-397-5679. Bob Beck’s "Excursion" series, part of his
Road series, painted on site in Maine, Washington, D.C., and Bucks
County. Also featured is his Mississippi River series painted in
aboard a working tow-boat pushing barges from St. Louis to New
Open Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 5 p.m., and weekdays by
To November 17.
Fall exhibition features New Jersey artists, Alexander Farnham and
Charles McVicker. Farnham, a noted landscape painter, is known for
his interest in patterns of light and shadow. Open Wednesday to
noon to 5 p.m. To November 17.
"A Celebration: Our Land and Its Bounty," a one-man show of
watercolors by Don Patterson. The artist has been elected to the
Watercolor Society, National Watercolor Society, and is an honorary
life member of the Philadelphia Water Color Society. Open Tuesday
to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays, noon to 4 p.m. Closed Monday.
To November 30.
Tom Kelly, Jack Knight, and Isabella Natale, an introspective and
humorous show by three area artists. Also "Crowns: Portraits of
Black Women in Church Hats" by Michael Cunningham. Museum hours
are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.
To November 10.
609-586-0616. Fall/Winter Exhibition. In the Museum, new work by glass
artist Dale Chihuly, to April 6, 2003. In the Domestic Arts Building,
work by winners of 2002 Outstanding Student Achievement in
Sculpture Award, to January 10, 2003. Regular park admission $4 to
Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., year round; Sunday
is Members Day. Adult admission $4 Tuesday through Thursday; $7 Friday
and Saturday; and $10 Sunday. Memberships start at $55.
609-252-6275. "Up the River, Now" an exhibition of works by
contemporary painters in the Delaware Valley area. Artists include
Elizabeth Augenblick, Joseph Barrett, Robert Beck, Malcolm Bray, Tom
Chesar, Anne Cooper Dobbins, Suzanne Douglass, Evelyn Faherty, and
James Feehan. Open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; weekends and
holidays, 1 to 5 p.m. To December 1.
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