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Around the Valley

'Sebastian is a rock 'n' roll bear.'

June 08, 1988|T. W. McGARRY

Rotten job, traffic jams, overdue bills, love life down the toilet, lonely misery, wasted existence.

No alternative but to trudge on, carrying the broom behind the Elephant of Life. You're dying? Who cares? It's crowded here anyway. Leave the keys to the Porsche and only whimper during the commercials.

Well, your teddy bear cares.

But fat lot of good that is. You're an adult. You can't go around taking solace from your teddy bear.

Wrong again, Bunky.

There are people who do this, and they are organized. They get together in groups, take their teddies to dinner and sit them up at the table and introduce them to their friends. These are adults, ranging from the jeans-and-running shoes 20s to middle-aged burghers in tweed; sleek career women and muscular, mustachioed men in plaid shirts and billed caps.

The demand has done to the market for Ursus Stuffus Theodoris what the fall of the Shah did to Encino real estate prices.

In Burbank a few nights ago, 93 of them filled a banquet hall for the monthly meeting of the Bear Enthusiast's All Round (catch the initials) Club. The hall was a-crawl with bears, sitting with their owners at dinner tables.

The club, which started with 13 members six years ago, now claims about 200, according to founder Ann Baxter of Glendale, who is not a famous actress. And there are other local groups, and national organizations too.

On a side table were entries in the "Ted. E. Bear for President" contest, for which owners dressed their teddies and mounted them in a campaign tableau. The mother bear starring in "Mom, apple pie and the American flag" held a real, teeny-tiny apple pie someone had baked to fit her furry little paws.

The head of the room was chockablock with 180 square feet of bears owned by Paul and Rosemary Volpp of Buena Park. Even in a crowd in which many owned dozens of bears, often worth thousands of dollars, the Volpps were held in awe.

They have an estimated 4,000, including many antiques, a collection worth about $100,000, at least to someone who really likes teddy bears.

The Volpps, semi-retired from an earthmoving equipment business, are famous throughout the bear world for their "Beary Merry Christmas," when they fill their house with thousands of teddies, posed in little groups, and conduct public tours.

The 200 to 300 bears, black and brown and white and tan, ranged from 2 inches to 4 feet high. They were dressed as nurses or cowboys or soldiers or fishermen in little red rubber boots, or wore a French painter's beret or a bobby's helmet. Some held helium balloons. Others rode an antique wagon.

"Are you worried about them?" someone asked.

"Oh no, these are traveling bears," Rosemary replied. "They love to get out and around."

Sitting on the speaker's podium were Bo and Dearheart, the Sean and Madonna of the teddy world, Bo in a black frock coat, Dearheart in a blue silk dress trimmed in white lace.

"They're famous all over the country," enthusiasts explained. They are particularly rare 85-year-old antiques, and stories about them appear frequently in bear-world media such as Teddy Tales. They will be on the cover of the next edition of Teddy Bear and Friends wearing Mickey Mouse ears, to advertise the first World Teddy Bear Convention, in December at Disney World.

Rosemary said she bought her first bear in 1982, "a dear little aviatrix in goggles--Amelia Bearhart," by a designer "who makes a well-known series of celebrity bears, including Kareem Abdul-Jabear and Libearace."

Friends snickered. "But I had the last laugh. I paid $42 for that bear and the last one that sold this year went for $1,000."

Gene and Robin Fellner of South Pasadena sat with Sebastian, a black bear with a headband bearing the name "Ozzy" in the twisted alphabet-from-hell letters used by singer Ozzy Osbourne. "Sebastian is a rock 'n' roll bear," Fellner, 44, a bearded data processor, explained.

After dinner, members introduced their bears, describing personal qualities ("a tough bear with a tattoo and a two-day growth of beard and an ear all chewed from a fight") and fine points of physique and fashion.

"I found a hat for Ophelia in an antique store. Well, actually, six hats and a purse."

"These are bears of the highway, who have their own maps."

"Mine has a 1941 hand-painted silk necktie."

"Mine has a belly button."

Stephen Eberhart of Reseda, 49, a math professor at Cal State Northridge and a past club president, brought six furry friends in a tote bag to share his dinner table.

"Part of the reason I'm in this is to find out why I'm in this," he sort of explained. "These are generous, sharing people who give you things, even if they are silly and take their bears to lunch."

The club helps support Five Acres, an Altadena home for violent children. It bought seven VCRs last year and also buys birthday presents, guided by written requests the children leave with "the birthday bear."

A sample of "Dear Birthday Bear" letters contained requests for a skateboard, GI Joe doll and "a Walkman with tapse."

Any of them ever ask for teddy bears?

No, Baxter replied wistfully. They don't.

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