I'd be pretty dumb if all of a sudden I started being something I'm not.
Against the rules, yes, Boo Boo. But I am a nonconformist bear.
Over the years some of us have wondered whether the smarter-than-the-average cartoon character quoted above owed something more than his name to the ever-quotable former catcher and two-time manager of the Yankees. There's that squat frame, the sidelong grin and what you might call a unique philosophical approach to life. It's true that the ursine Yogi never played much baseball in Jellystone Park, and you'd be stretching it to say that behind the plate Berra made pic-a-nic-basket catches. Yet, was the bear based on the ballplayer, and if not, how did the cartoon character get his name? The answer to the first question is no, although cynics might suggest that Yogi Bear's creators, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, would say that for fear of a lawsuit for trading on someone else's good name. But his creators sound plausible when they discuss Yogi Bear's birth.
"I wish to hell I had thought of 'Yogi Berra,' " says Barbera, now 72. "Unfortunately, it didn't happen that nicely." He and Hanna came at the name from the other direction: "We had the problem, what do you call a bear?" This was in 1958. Hanna and Barbera were in the process of creating their own animation studio and a cast of characters that would eventually include the likes of Huckleberry Hound, Snagglepuss, the Flintstones and the Jetsons. The process involved arranging names starting from A to Z in front of the name Bear.
June 17, 1984
Everyone at the studio—around 30 people—contributed. According to Barbera, they got down to the Y's and liked the sound of Yucca Bear. "He was one inch away from becoming Yucca Bear," says Barbera, "but the name Yogi came in and it seemed to fit him." Says Hanna, "When everyone heard it, they liked it. It just rolled off your tongue nicely."
The creators don't deny that they knew why the name sounded so natural. Barbera was born and raised in Brooklyn and, under the wing of five baseball-crazy uncles, often visited Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium. And though Hanna, 73, a native of Melrose, N. Mex., was no baseball fan, he admits, "Yogi Berra was so much in the news at the time that you knew the name whether you were a baseball fan or not." But Hanna insists, "To my recollection there was no attempt to draw from Yogi Berra at all." Not the short legs and the funny walk? The malapropisms? ("She lowered the broom on me!" the cartoon Yogi noted in an encounter with a witch.) "You can say that," says Hanna, "but after the name, everything else was just a coincidence."