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As Smokey Bear turns 68, a look at his career [Video]

August 10, 2012|By Patrick Kevin Day
(U.S. Forest Service )

Smokey Bear, the mascot of the U.S. Forest Service, is planning to tour NASA's  Johnson Space Center in Houston on Friday to celebrate his 68th birthday.

The bear, tasked with warning all Americans about the dangers of forest fires, will record a new public service announcement at NASA to air on NASA Television later this month.

Smokey is the longest-running public service announcement campaign from the Advertising Council Inc., which also did the crash test dummies and United Negro College Fund PSAs.

In all those years, from 1944 to the present, Smokey has evolved from a drawing to a guy in a bear suit to a CGI presence in numerous PSAs based on his famous catchphrase, "Only you can prevent forest fires." (Updated in 2001 to "Only you can prevent wildfires.")

In 1952, Eddy Arnold recorded a song called "Smokey the Bear" for a government PSA. The song became a hit and launched children's books and other merchandise naming the character after the song, not his actual name.

For this early Smokey Bear PSA, the Ad Council borrowed footage from the 1942 Disney animated hit "Bambi." Bambi was used for the first year of the government's forest preservation campaign, but it had to create Smokey when Disney reclaimed exclusive rights to Bambi. In this ad from 1964, Smokey is inserted into the film footage.

This '60s-era PSA featured an animated bear with the voice of Washington, D.C.,  radio personality Jackson Weaver, who voiced the bear for 45 years. The boy's voice is provided by a young Bill Mumy, star of the classic sci-fi series "Lost in Space."

Often, Smokey made just a cameo appearance in a PSA that featured other big-name celebrities, such as this PSA from 1968 that seeks to scare potential fire-starters into being more careful by recruiting "Twilight Zone" creator Rod Serling.

In the 1970s, the ads grew more creative with their use of the iconic bear. In this one from the 1970s, some of Smokey's more uncouth relatives show up in suburbia to wreak a little havoc.

As pop culture has changed, Smokey has remained remarkably consistent. Though the animation may improve, the square-jaw, straight-ahead message has remained the same. Take this PSA from 1994, which starts with a nice fake-out.

With the prevalence of computer animation, it makes sense that the current incarnation of Smokey abandons ink and paint in favor of pixels.

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Join Patrick Kevin Day on Google+ or Twitter. Email: patrick.day@latimes.com

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