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Announcing the Stan and Jan Berenstain Healthy Kids Foundation

We are pleased to announce the creation of the Stan and Jan Berenstain Healthy Kids Foundation. Formed by the Berenstain family to honor Stan and Jan’s memory, the Foundation is devoted to the funding of children’s health and well-being initiatives. Inspired by the childhood-celebrating and family-affirming message of Stan and Jan’s creative legacy, we are seeking out those who share our goal of providing for that most basic of all children’s needs: good health.

Initially funded by a contribution from the Berenstain Family, the Foundation will receive ongoing financial support from the publication of The Berenstain Bears’ Hospital Friends by Mike Berenstain, forthcoming from HarperCollins in April 2015. All author’s royalties from sales of this book will be donated directly to the Foundation.

This new book is a fulfillment of the long-cherished dream of adding a story about visiting the hospital to the Berenstain Bears series, which has for decades a source for children coping with new experiences and problems. When Mike Berenstain married Dr. Laura Diaz—pediatric anesthesiologist at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)—they immediately began making this dream a reality. With Laura’s help and CHOP’s sponsorship, Mike toured the hospital, interviewed staff and used sketches made in every medical department to create the book’s illustration.

The first project given funding by the Stan and Jan Berenstain Healthy Kids Foundation joins a medical mission with the spirit of art. Face to Face: The Craniofacial Program Portrait Project is a collaboration between CHOP, the Studio Incamminati School for Contemporary Realist Art, and the Edwin & Fannie Grey Hall Center for Human Appearance. Artists are commissioned to create portraits of young patients with craniofacial conditions to help them gain self-esteem and social resilience.

Of added interest is the historic connection between this art/medical project and Stan Berenstain’s service as an Army medical illustrator during World War II. His art recording operations on war wounds was donated to the Army Museum in 2010.

The collaboration between the creative and medical worlds has been furthered by the make-up of the Foundation’s board, consisting of members of the Berenstain family along with outside medical directors associated with The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Long term, the Foundation intends to meet the requirements to qualify as public foundation, maximizing its potential for growth and increased funding.

We hope that you will join us in supporting this exciting new undertaking growing out of the life stories and life’s work of Stan and Jan Berenstain.

For more information, to contribute to the Foundation, or to explore other ways to partner with the Foundation in its work, please visit our website or contact us at: general@berenstainfoundation.org.

Mike Berenstain      

Berenstain Bears On Stage

What’s It Like to Play a Berenstain Bear?

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Maura McColgan (pictured left with fellow castmate Joey Anchondo), an actress and rising senior at West Chester University, is a member of the Greater Ocean City Theatre Company for the 2014 Season. She recently played Sister Bear in the OCTC production of The Berenstain Bears on Stage.

 

What was your immediate thought upon finding that out you had been cast as Sister Bear?

I was so excited. I thought that Sister Bear would be a perfect role for me to play! She’s sassy, smart, and a very developed character. I had no problem getting myself into character because I was a lot like Sister Bear when I was a child.

 

How is playing an animal on stage—even a singing and dancing one—different than playing a human?

Playing an animal was probably the biggest struggle of the whole experience. To be honest, I kind of forgot that she wasn’t human because she is so personified! I did however try to add animalistic qualities to Sister Bear, like having her sniff the toy box that Papa Bear makes for her and Brother Bear in The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room [laughs].  I also growled when she was angry. Yes, playing a bear who is so much human was a little bit of a challenge! [Ed. Note: "They're kind of furry around the torso / They're a lot like people, only more so"]

 

How did acting in The Berenstain Bears on Stage compare to some of your past theater experiences?

Acting in The Berenstain Bears was very different from anything I have ever done before. We had only five rehearsals, all in one week! And then we performed four shows! Two in Ocean City, one at Stockton College, and one at the Cape May Convention Center. It was extremely fast paced but it was an amazing learning experience. It gave me confidence that I can learn things very quickly and perform successfully after only a few rehearsals. Specific to The Berenstain Bears, it was also my first time playing an animal! Even if the Berenstain Bears are very much human and go through human conflict to teach lessons. All the stories are very relatable.

 

The Berenstain Bears on Stage is based on five different Berenstain Bears stories: The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby, The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room, The Berenstain Bears and the Double Dare, The Berenstain Bears Tell the Truth and The Berenstain Bears Get Stage Fright. Which one of these was your favorite and why?

My favorite story to perform… that is a hard one. If I could pick one, it would be The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room. One of the songs in this scene is actually a rap where Brother Bear and Sister Bear rap about their messy room and what toys they have. That was pretty fun for us because it seemed so random to have a rap in a musical, but the composer sure had a sense of humor! It somehow worked and was genius. Probably the most epic part of the scene though involved a closet that Brother Bear (Joey Anchondo) and I had to strategically place all of the toys into so that when Mama Bear (Chrissy Hartzell) opened the door of the closet, a lever was pulled so the toys would all fall on top of her. It caused the audience to laugh hysterically every single time! It was a lot fun.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

I want to thank the Greater Ocean City Theatre Company for giving me my very first professional theatre experience this summer! It was extremely rewarding to see all of the little kids at the end of all our shows give us hugs and high fives. A few of the kids told me I was their favorite in the play, which, to be honest, means more to me than being told that my acting and singing was great for one reason: for that amount of time that I was on stage, I WAS Sister Bear to them. I was able to take them out of the real world and even after the play was over, I was still Sister Bear to them. When you are able to make a child that happy and feel that special to meet you because you inspired them, taught them a lesson, or look up to you, you did your job. I always believe that I do what I do for others, and children’s theatre is the most direct way that any actor can make a difference, in my opinion.

plaid

You Can’t Animate a Plaid Shirt

Putting book characters like the Berenstain Bears on TV is fun–
but you could call it hard fun.

This article was published in the February 27, 1981 issue of Publishers Weekly.

In our travels around the country on behalf of our eponymous bear books (27 titles, all from Random House), we have fielded many questions. These range from the straightforwardly curious (“Why do you draw just bears?” Answer: “We don’t–we also draw rocks, sunny dirt roads, trees, flowers, rainbows and even, on occasion, people.”) to the curiously straightforward (“How do you get along being together all the time?” Answer: “Ours is an old-fashioned Mom and Pop operation in which both partners do whatever needs to be done–writing, illustrating, cooking, bottle washing.”).

We find our work (and our bears) tremendously stimulating and enjoyable and, while we don’t always agree on every dot and line, we have managed to harmonize successfully over 34 years of working together as cartoonists-writers and for the past 18 as author-illustrators of children’s books. We do have one rule–a sort of unilateral veto–which has helped us over the humps. If one of us strongly objects to some point, project or approach, it is dropped without argument.

Not long ago a child asked us an interesting question, as children so often do: “Is it fun to do the bear books, or is it hard?” Our answer, after pondering a moment, was that it’s both–or to coin an evasion: it’s hard fun.

One of the more persistent and intriguing questions we have been asked over the years is, “Why don’t you put the bears on television?” The answer is that we finally have. After about eight years of trying with various degrees of unsuccess, we managed to make the jump from printed page to glowing tube with an animated special called The Berenstain Bears’ Christmas Tree, which was shown on NBC in December 1979.

The process of getting on television is very different from that of getting published. Stories abound of books which were submitted to 10, 20, even 30 publishers before finding acceptance. Not so in television. In the world of network television, it’s three strikes – NBC, ABC, CBS – and out. A curious aspect of our experience was that after we had proposed for years and had networks, producers and potential sponsors dispose, the TV situation opened up so abruptly that it was disconcerting – rather like reaching to open a door you didn’t know was automatic. In fact, our first bear special “happened” so quickly that the usual order of events – first the book, then the show based on the book – was reversed.

The experience of moving our bears from the relatively controllable world of print, where there are only two of us involved in the creative process, to the multitudinous world of animation was also somewhat disconcerting. The production of a half-hour animated special (a little more than 23 minutes of air time, actually) involves not only producer, director, composer and their associates, but phalanxes of animators, background artists, designers and such graphically named practical operatives as in-betweeners, inkers and filler-inners.

The first order of business after writing the show was casting the voices. To cast the four actors who would portray our Bear Family – overbearing Papa, forbearing Mama and Brother and Sister, the two bright little cubs who bear (ouch!) with both of them – we auditioned a grand total of 28 voices. One difficulty with casting voices is that there are people attached to them – most of them talented and appealing (the kids were especially delightful: composed, professional, with not a stage mother in sight) – and with more candidates than roles, there is a large rejection factor built into the audition equation. One of the things that made casting tricky was that our show was a kind of minimusical requiring actor-singers in all roles. The decisions, as it turned out, practically made themselves. There was a positively outstanding candidate for each role, and the show was cast.

Adding to our bemusement was the fact that all the kids who auditioned knew the Berenstain Bears books and in some cases brought – along with their tapes, photos and resumes – old battered books to be signed. Eight-year-old Gabriela Glatzer, who became Sister Bear and who is nothing if not frank, explained to us in a charmingly condescending manner that while she read at the fifth-grade level, some of her little friends were familiar with our books. When Ron McLarty, our Papa Bear-narrator and a real-life papa, informed us that our books were family favorites at his house, it restored our confidence just a bit.

One of the things that had gotten in the way of our earlier efforts to put our bears on TV was our determination that, for good or ill, success or failure, we were going to retain what in the entertainment world is called “creative control.” Our earlier discussions with a succession of tanned and powerful animation moguls left us with the clear impression that, while they were interested in the Berenstain Bears and their potential for attracting a TV audience, they were not very interested in having the bears’ overprotective parents looking over their shoulders.

Not so the talented experts of Perpetual Motion Pictures, the studio which is animating the bear specials. They seemed to understand our concern lest our bears not put their best face forward on TV and worked very closely with us in interpreting our characters for animation. Some minor changes were necessary – Papa’s yellow plaid shirt presented a problem; animating a plaid apparently presents horrendous technical problems and likewise the polka dots on Mama’s dress (though we did save the dots on her hat).

While the storyboard (a sequential picture version of the script showing all the principal scenes and actions) was being done by director Mordicai Gerstein, composer-musical director Elliot Lawrence was writing the music for the show’s three songs. Hearing our lyrics sung for the first time – in the stereotypical show biz scene in which the hoarse-voiced composer rasps out the song while pounding on a battered out-of-tune piano – was at least as big a kick as seeing the bears “come to life” on the Moviola machine.

Having operated as a Mom and Pop store for so long, it took us a little while to get used to the collaborative complexities of what is essentially a film enterprise. There were meetings, story conferences, character drawings, color tests, network approvals and – yes – artistic differences. In the case of the latter, all we can remember is one occasion when we overreacted to a suggestion that Papa wear a bow tie and suit at the Christmas dinner which closes the show. (The very idea of Papa even owning anything so effete as a bow tie!)

After about nine months (surely an appropriate gestation period for our bouncy new animated baby), 15,000 drawings and prodigious applications of TLC by all the collaborators, The Berenstain Bears’ Christmas Tree aired on NBC December 3, 1979. The show “won its slot” by a substantial margin, The New York Times said, and NBC said: “Let’s have three more shows.” And we and our partners are especially pleased and gratified that our first show has received two prizes: an international award from the Milan film and television festival, and a silver medal from the 23rd annual International Film and Television Festival of New York.

Our second special, a Thanksgiving story called The Berenstain Bears Meet Bigpaw, aired last November 20, again with gratifying results. Easter and Valentine’s specials are in production. Though our experience in helping to turn our printed page bears into talking, singing and dancing animated bears has been fun (hard fun), books remain our first love. With four new titles scheduled for fall publication and more being planned, we are absolutely married to the Berenstain Bears book series.

Television does make an interesting mistress, though.

http://www.berenstainbears.com

Memories of Stan and Jan

By Mike Berenstain

Stan and Jan in studio, late 1950s

Stan and Jan in their studio, late 1950s

     My parents used to watch the Sid Caesar show in their bedroom. This had started off as their studio, but when I came along, they needed another bedroom and so built a newer, bigger studio onto the house and converted their first studio into a bedroom. It was a bedroom with an enormous skylight in the roof. It also opened directly into the living room, separated from it by a large sliding door. The house was very modern, a very Fifties-Frank-Lloyd-Wrightish one-level, concrete slab house.

     My father used to sit down at the foot of the bed in front of the enormous console Motorola combined radio, hi-fi, television set and howl with laughter as he watched Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Howie Morris and Carl Reiner cavort across the screen. He’d howl then rock back and forth in paroxysms of laughter, gradually losing his voice as he ran out of breath. My mother sat back on the bed and laughed more conventionally. All this noisy hilarity often woke me and my brother, Leo, up. We would come wandering out of our bedroom trailing stuffed snoozer dogs, down the hall to the living room and into their studio bedroom, blearily complaining of the noise and point out that sleep was elusive under such conditions. The problem was always solved by an invitation to sit down at the end of the bed and enjoy the show.

     I didn’t really understand the humor of Your Show of Shows, besides, I was very sleepy. But I enjoyed it none-the-less. Mr. Caesar made some very funny faces and Miss Coca was somehow raucous, suggestive and sweet all at once. I particularly enjoyed Sid’s German Professor with his garbled made-up Teutonic gibberish.

     When it was over, I was duly tucked back into bed with snoozer dog to drift into dreams of Caesarish mirth. The house I remember in vivid detail. I think I could describe every square inch and not just the house, but the yard as well – every bush and flower and tree – and much of the neighborhood beyond.

     There is an excruciating immediacy about my memories of childhood which I find difficult to account for or to deal with. It’s as if my childhood was following close behind so that when I stop short or turn around, it bangs into me. It’s right there, always.

www.berenstainbears.com

Why Bears?

Treehouse and familyBears have been a staple of children’s books ever since Goldilocks decided to engage in a little illegal entry at an inadequately secured home in the woods.

Children’s book bears have ranged from the large and lumbering to the cute and cuddly.

The Berenstain Bears fall somewhere in-between. They are big – at least as big as people – and burly – they definitely weigh in on the “fully-packed” side. But they are friendly and funny. They have no fangs (just ask their dentist) and their claws have dwindled a little more than toenails. They walk on their hind legs, wear clothes, live in houses – albeit tree houses – and engage in wide range of human activities. They drive cars, play soccer, eat pizza, go to school and watch too much TV.

But, still, why bears?

The fact is that bears are a natural stand-in for people. They are something like people but not too much like them. They have rounded heads with eyes in front, they sometimes stand on their hind legs and they manipulate things with hand-like paws. We often say of large burly people that they are “bear-like.”

But bears are definitely animals. They have none of that unsettling mixed identity of monkeys or apes. Bears have their own distinct lineage. They are analogous to human beings without being like them.

Children are fascinated by large, powerful animals like bears. But they are threatened by them, as well. The role of bears as semi-human children’s book characters may help reassure children about their own position in the food chain.

Our contribution to the literary bear clan first appeared in the 1962 book, The Big Honey Hunt. This was an easy-to-read book devoted to slapstick comedy and rollicking adventure. The only thing on our bears’ minds, back then, was honey and their principal message was “watch out for angry bees!”

At first, they were a threesome – Mama Bear, Papa Bear and Small Bear. They received their official name, the Berenstain Bears, from editor, Ted Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss).
“It’s a vaudeville act,” he explained. “Like Murgatroyd’s Mules or Dugan’s Dogs.”

The Bears continued in this happy-go-lucky existence until 1974 when The Berenstain Bears and the New Baby appeared. The baby was Sister Bear. Small Bear graduated to Brother Bear.

In year 2000, with the birth of third cub, Honey Bear, the family group was complete. By the way, some folks assume that our bears’ last name is “Berenstain” as in “Papa Berenstain,” “Mama Berenstain,” etc. But “Berenstain” is actually our family’s last name. We always try to make it clear that they are the bears and we are the people!

www.berenstainbears.com

Excerpts from an interview with Stan and Jan Berenstain by Scholastic students – Part 2

Over the years, a number of questions have been asked many times about the Berenstain Bears. The following answers from Stan, excerpted from an interview with Stan and Jan a number of years ago, might answer some you have had …

New Baby1) Have you had an adventure like those of the bears in your books?
Yes, I can think of a number of books. The Bike Lesson is based on my attempt to teach our first son, when he was about five or six, to ride a bike. There are many others. The Berenstain Bears Go to the Doctor is based on our experience taking our two sons to the doctor. Many of our books are based on real experiences. One of our books is called The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby. That was based on our experience becoming new parents. We already had one son and the other one was on the way. Our son noticed that Jan’s lap had gotten a lot smaller. After the baby was born, he sat on his mother’s lap again and said, “Momma, you’ve got your lap back,” and that’s in that book. So the answer is that most of our books are based on experience – some more than others.

2) Are the little bear characters anything like you were when you were a kid?
I think so. Sister Bear likes to jump rope and is a lively little girl, just like Jan. I was an avid model airplane builder when I was young, and that’s one of Brother Bear’s hobbies. I think Brother Bear is a better athlete than I was as a child, although I was very enthusiastic. So yes, I think they are like us. I don’t think it was any grand plan, but it’s just worked out that way.

Mama's New Job Cover3) Where did the idea come from for Mama’s New Job?
That book is about ten years old. Many of the people we work with, editors and so on, are working mothers, so we’re very aware of that. About that time, feminism was very much in the public eye, and we read a statistic that about half of all the mothers in the United States had jobs as well as being wives and mothers. We thought it was an important subject, and we gave it a shot.

No Girls Allowed4) What gave you the idea to write the book No Girls Allowed?
That’s a good question. Jan, when she was a little girl, was about the only girl who lived on that street. She had two brothers and they did their best to shut her out. But Jan, being a very spirited girl, didn’t let them. So that’s where that came from.

5) How long have you been writing?
We’ve been writing pretty much since we were married about 54 years ago, but we weren’t writing for children. We were writing for adults. We’ve both been drawing since we were about 3 or 4 years old.

6) Do you both write and illustrate?
We both do both. That’s always been the case. We drew before we wrote. We met in art school. The writing followed the drawing, and we continue to do both. We think up an idea for a story first, then think up a cover and draw that first. Beyond the covers and titles, we write the story together, then rough out the pictures in a general way. I generally do the rough sketch, and then Jan does the beautiful drawing on art paper, then we share the job of coloring it.

7) What kind of tools do you use to illustrate your books?
We use pencils to begin with. We also use Flair pens, often different colors to color-code the layouts. Once we get past the layout stage, we use India inks and old-fashioned pens where you put the nib in the holder. We don’t like some of the new kinds of pens – partly because we’re old-fashioned and stuck in our ways, but partly because we think it’s important to be able to vary the weight of the lines and you can’t do that with the mechanical pens. For coloring, we use a liquid watercolor that comes in bottles, called Dr. Martin’s Dyes. They’re very clear, very transparent, very bright, and we love them dearly.

8) How long do you plan to continue writing Berenstain Bears books?
We’re going to keep on doing it until we get it wrong. That’s my standard answer.

Note:  Though Stan died in 2005 and Jan in 2012, their son Mike continues to create the delightful Bear adventures from his studio in Pennsylvania.

www.berenstainbears.com

Back Then … by Jan Berenstain

The following is the Introduction to Child’s Play, the Berenstain Baby Boom, 1946-1964, Cartoon Art of Stan and Jan Berenstain, by Mike Berenstain, published by Abrams, Inc., 2008.

Jan at about age 8

Jan at about age 8

When asked “What is art?” in the 1970s, cultural theorist Marshall McLuhan replied, “Art is whatever you can get away with.”  In Stan’s and my day, it wasn’t.  Talented art students in the Philadelphia area schools in the 1930s were singled out by discerning art teachers, mentored, and sent on for advanced instruction by accomplished artists at the city’s distinguished art schools.  Meeting for the first time at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts), we both were surprised and bemused that we would meet at all.  We came from different high schools – city and suburban.  Our backgrounds were different – Jewish and Protestant.  But we thought of ourselves as, simply, American and, primarily, as artists.

Comparing notes further, there was something more significant we had in common – our American childhoods. Stan and his sister and I and my brothers had the same toys, played the same games and sports, had the same lessons in school, had similar hobbies, read many of the same books, knew a lot of the same music, listened to the same radio programs and often went to the same movies and museums. 

Stan about 4 on his trike in front his father's Army-Navy store about 1927

Stan about 4 on his trike in front his father’s Army-Navy store about 1927

Making model airplanes from strips of balsa wood and tissue paper was a hobby of Stan’s.  He also recalled sending in box tops to get a Buck Rogers Rocket Gun, which, it turned out, was made of paper.  Among his other childhood recollections were stamping tin cans onto his shoes to make a racket while walking down the sidewalk, making a rubber band gun out of strips of inner tube, and sneaking into the back of the horse-drawn ice truck to snitch strips of ice during the long, hot Philadelphia summers. 

One of my chief hobbies was making clothes for my two dolls.  One doll was an infant with a china head.  If I dropped it while playing and it broke, being that it was during the Depression, it didn’t get a new one until Christmas.  My other doll was a “Mama” doll with enameled arms, legs, face, and head with curled (horse) hair, and a stuffed cloth body with a voice box that said, “Mama!” when bent over.  I had crayons and watercolors to draw and paint with, as did Stan, and colored modeling clay that after much modeling of various animals became blended into one color – a grayish brown.

Since my father was an expert carpenter, he was able to build elaborate playthings for us – things we wouldn’t otherwise have had in the hard times of the early 1930s.  There was a hand-painted oversize Monopoly board (the reverse side was a checker board) and an elaborate pinball game made out of nothing more expensive than plywood and nails.

When, after World War II, Stan and I married and became a cartooning team, we drew on our childhood memories of these toys and games, and of Depression-era back-alley play to create our first cartoons about child’s play.  When we became parents ourselves, we passed most of our childhood enthusiasms on to our two sons, augmented by many of the new books, toys, and games that appeared in the 1950s.  Renditions of these all found their way into our early art and cartoon work for books and magazines, renditions of toddlers Leo and Mike along with them.

This was long before we began to think about creating a family of bears as the subject of a series of children’s books.  Back then, our people characters were mainstays of the thriving family magazines that, along with movies and radio, were the principal promulgations of popular culture.  Magazines like The Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s had a combined weekly circulation of more than ten million and a readership of perhaps fifty million.  Along with such monthly magazines as Ladies’ Home Journal, Woman’s Home Companion, Good Housekeeping, and McCall’s, family magazine readership was huge. 

At the time, the Berenstain contribution to this pre-television world of mass communications was viewed as a contemporary chronicle of the universal experience of American childhood.  Today, it can perhaps be best viewed as an opportunity for a nostalgic journey back to the post-war world of Leo and Mike and their fellow Baby Boomers.

Child's_Play 2

Child’s Play, the Berenstain Baby Boom, 1946-1964, Cartoon Art of Stan and Jan Berenstain, by Mike Berenstain, published by Abrams, Inc., 2008

www.berenstainbears.com