Winnie-the-Pooh isn’t the abandoned acclaimed — or partly-clothed — bear with ties to Winnipeg. For a while in the 1940s and ’50s, he wasn’t alike the best beloved.
The affection, instead, was directed at a mop-topped misfit cub alleged Punkinhead.
Born on a action lath in Winnipeg’s West End, Punkinhead came from the pen of cartoonist Charles Thorson.
The buck with the acquainted knickers became a mid-century phenomenon, a admired attribute from the babyish boomer generation and a battling to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
“To say Punkinhead took off is an understatement. He was featured in a adventure about the little buck who ends up arch the [Santa Claus] array and in a dozen added little books,” Roy MacGregor wrote in a Globe and Mail commodity in 2007.
The Punkinhead abstraction took basis in 1947, when admiral at the Toronto address for Eaton’s department abundance absitively to booty a folio from U.S.-based banker Montgomery Ward.
Eight years earlier, in 1939, the closing had alien the apple to Rudolph through colouring books accustomed out anniversary Christmas to allure shoppers into its store. The aerial reindeer became a wildly acknowledged business mascot.
So Eaton’s came up with the abstraction of a teddy buck who would be Santa’s favourite little helper. They took their adventure idea to Thorson, addition they knew well.
From 1914 until 1934, he had been chief illustrator for the Eaton’s catalogue, as goods were all hand-drawn. At that time Thorson worked for Brigdens of Winnipeg Ltd, a clear architecture firm, which produced the catalogue.
When he larboard Brigden’s in backward 1934, Thorson became an innovative amount in the development of action in the United States. He moved to California to try his duke in cartooning and was assassin on the atom by Walt Disney himself.
During his time south of the border, Thorson eventually advised and developed characters at about every above Hollywood action flat afore animate to studios in Miami and again New York.
He would dream up and draw the characters in a ambit of poses and again flat animators would accompany them alive.
Among his creations are Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Snow White and six of the Seven Dwarfs (the seventh, Dopey, was added later), Sniffles the Mouse, Little Hiawatha and added than 100 characters and creatures for an blighted animated TV alternation alleged The Stone Age. That action would eventually be produced as The Flintstones.
He additionally redesigned Popeye and the Raggedy Ann and Andy characters.
After his U.S. sojourn, Thorson — who acquired the moniker of Action Charlie — alternate to his bearing burghal of Winnipeg in 1946. He settled into a rooming abode in the West End and and was attractive for work just as Eaton’s was hatching its amulet idea.
Working with the Eaton’s adventure outline, Thorson designed the buck and came up with the name — a appellation of amore he acclimated for his own son.
The a mop-topped cub debuted in 1948 in the story Punkinhead: The Sad Little Bear, a hard-luck account with able echoes of the origin story of Rudolph, who was mocked and abandoned for his light-up nose.
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Punkinhead lived in Bear Land but stood out due to a shock of floppy, ginger-blond hair. The unruly ‘do wouldn’t break down, no amount how abundant he approved to glossy it back.
He was jeered and ostracised and larboard alone.
Then aloof before Christmas, Santa and his aggregation of fairies, gnomes, clowns and elves were on their way from the North Pole to Toyland (Eaton’s) when they fabricated a pit stop for some honey soda drinks at Buck Land.
One of the clowns in Santa’s accessible array overindulged and was stricken with a roaring belly ache.
Santa angry to the bears to acquisition a last-minute replacement. They approved to ample the role but the clown hat kept slipping off the velvety bland active of the bears. All of them except for one. Punkinhead’s bond of hair kept it in place.
From that moment, he became an important part of the Santa Claus Parade, aboriginal actualization in the Toronto accident — the better Christmas parade in North America — in 1948.
Punkinhead was a accident success and became a above affection in Eaton’s parade in Winnipeg as well. Cheers for the little buck calmly akin those for Santa, and anon Punkinhead was answer to the accomplished contour atom in the array — in the sled as as Santa’s sidekick.
His image became a all-over allotment of Eaton’s Christmas announcement for the abutting decade. His angel was on aggregate and acclimated to sell millions of dollars account of merchandise.
It was branded on high chairs, agitation horses, hats, watches, babyish canteen warmers, bibs, bedside lamps, pyjamas, balls, ablution towels and bowls, snowsuits, sweaters, slippers and abundant more.
There were posters and TV commercials, and Eaton’s alike created a song about him and awash recordings of it.
A alternation of Punkinhead belief were arise every year until 1959, and accustomed to kids who visited Santa at Toyland in the department stores.
Punkinhead was the best acknowledged announcement appearance in Canadian retail history, according to The Canadian Encyclopedia.
And of course, there were teddy bears. The originals were fabricated in England — specifically for Eaton’s — of mohair, blimp with accomplished copse shavings, and adapted with bottle eyes, a bunch of furry hair and little shorts.
Those originals, produced from 1948 until the mid-1950s by a aggregation alleged Merrythought, accept become collectors’ items, selling between $1,200 to $2,000 and as aerial as $5,000, according to a Maclean’s annual commodity from March 2003.
Unlike the constant attraction of Rudolph, who has become built-in in the Christmas season, Punkinhead’s address eventually faded.
He continued to arise in the Santa Claus array until 1982, when Eaton’s concluded its affiliation with the event. It had been advantageous for the array from the alpha — 1905 in Toronto and 1909 in Winnipeg — but could no best allow it.
Eaton’s briefly active Punkinhead in 1992 as the retail behemothic struggled to win aback its chump base, which had dwindled from the store’s heydays.
The homesickness didn’t advice much. The 130-year-old aggregation declared defalcation aloof seven years later. Its assets were purchased by Sears, which ran a cardinal of food beneath the Eaton’s banner until 2002 when the cast vanished.
As for Thorson, he absent out cashing in on his creation. He was a man with a history of poor decisions and afire bridges with employers — including confronting Disney, again quitting over a abridgement of screen credits for his work.
Though he could acceptable accept retired on Punkinhead royalties, Thorson had awash the absorb to Eaton’s for $1 in 1949, according to the University of Manitoba Archives and Special Collections, which contains abundant of his work.
In fact, Thorson was abandoned complex in the illustrations and adventure account for the aboriginal three Punkinhead booklets afore his atmosphere got the best of him, arch to an unceremonious parting means with Eaton’s.
According to Gene Walz’s book, Cartoon Charlie: The Life and Art of Action Pioneer Charles Thorson, the artist was bashed during a affair at the Fort Garry Hotel and got into an altercation with an Eaton’s executive. Thorson threw a bite and was promptly fired.
In 1952, bottomward on his luck and attractive for work, Thorson designed Elmer the Safety Elephant for the Toronto badge department’s traffic-safety program.
He struggled to acquisition action assignment above that and eventually accomplished his career area it began — in Winnipeg accomplishing announcement that appeared on billboards, magazines, newspapers and TV.
After retiring, he moved to Vancouver to be afterpiece to his son in 1956. He died there decade after at age 75.
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