The Country Bear Jamboree was originally intended by Walt to be placed at Disney's Mineral King Ski Resort which he was trying to build in the mid 1960s. Walt knew he wanted some sort of show to provide entertainment to the guests at the resort, and he knew he wanted the show to feature some sort of bear band. The project was assigned to Imagineer Marc Davis. Davis, together with Al Bertino came up with many bear groups, including bear marching bands, bear mariachi bands, and Dixieland bears. One day Davis was working on drawings of the characters in his office. Walt Disney walked in and saw the drawings and laughed because he loved the characters. On Walt's way out he turned to Marc Davis and said "Good Bye", which Walt was known never to say. A few days later he died on December 15, 1966. It was the last time Marc saw Walt.
After Walt's death, plans for the show still carried on. The bears would be featured in the resort's Bear Band Restaurant Show, and it was decided that they would have a country twang. But while plans for the show progressed, plans for the ski resort did not. Instead, the Imagineers working on the project decided to place the show in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in time for its grand opening in 1971. Imagineer X Atencio and musical director George Bruns created songs for the bears to sing.
On October 1, 1971, The Country Bear Jamboree opened its doors in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. It received so much good feedback that Imagineers immediately planned to make a replica of the show to be placed in Disneyland on March 4, 1972. The addition to the show in Disneyland, inspired a brand new land appropriately titled Bear Country. Because of the tremendous popularity of the show in Walt Disney World, excess capacity was added to the Disneyland incarnation in the form of two identical theaters, each housing a copy of the show in its entirety. Tokyo Disneyland received another ‘copy’ of the show and it opened with the park (like Magic Kingdom’s) on April 15, 1983.
This attraction was originally sponsored by Pepsi-Cola and Frito-Lay for a few years. Not only did the show mention their sponsorships, but at the beginning, Henry even mentions part of Pepsi's old slogan at the time ("You've Got a Lot To Live; Pepsi's Got a Lot To Give!") by saying, "Just refrain from hibernatin' and we'll all enjoy the show, 'cause we've got a lot to give." When Pepsi's sponsorship of the attraction was dropped, only the mention by Henry of its sponsorship was dropped, but such was not the case for his introduction that included part of the slogan.
In 1986, the Vacation Hoedown debuted at Disneyland and Walt Disney World. To supplement the change, the DL attraction was renamed the Country Bear Playhouse. Attendance struggled during the Vacation Hoedown's run in Florida, so for the Magic Kingdom's 20th anniversary in 1992, the original show returned to rotate with the Christmas show as it had since 1984. There were rumors of bringing the Vacation Hoedown back to Disney World in the summer of 2002, but it never happened.The Country Bear Playhouse at Disneyland closed on September 9, 2001, to make room for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh on April 11, 2003. Rumors of the Disneyland Country Bear attraction being rebuilt in the Grizzly Peak Recreation Area of Disney's California Adventure have surfaced from time to time and some Cast Members have even admitted to it possibly happening. However, the attraction's return has yet to be made official.
During the holiday season, the bears still performed their Christmas Show in Florida through 2005. It hasn't returned since then, but is rumored to return in the future. The Country Bear Christmas Special was the first time an attraction at any Disney theme park became interchangeable during the year. The Country Bear Vacation Hoedown was added a year later. Both the Country Bear Christmas Special and The Country Bear Vacation Hoedown were created, directed and animated by Dave Feiten and Mike Sprout. The Tokyo Disneyland version of the attraction still features all three versions of the show at different times of the year.
In the fall of 2008, the WDW attraction underwent a major rehab to receive much-needed technical upgrades, including a new sound system and refurbished animatronics of the characters.
The show is basically a continuous string of short country songs sung by the various bears. As each bear sings their song, a curtain opens to reveal them, except in the case of Wendell (who rises from the stage), Teddi Barra (who descends from the ceiling), Gomer (who ascends from the stage), and The Sun Bonnets (who also rise from the stage itself).
The show begins with Max, Buff, and Melvin telling Henry to get on with the show. Henry then asks Gomer to give him a "little intro", and then the jamboree begins. The show features a great cast of characters from small bears, to be bears, from bears that come from the ceiling, to ones that rise from the stage:
Henry- The "MC" of the show, Henry is a welcoming and friendly brown bear. He wears a grey top hat, starched shirt front, and a string tie. It is implied that he and Teddi have some sort of backstage romance.
Liver Lips McGrowl- Liver Lips is perhaps the funniest-looking bear. He gets his name from his very large lips. He is a brown bear and plays the guitar.
Wendell- Wendell is a hyperactive golden brown bear who plays the mandolin. He wears a blue bandanna around his neck and a light brown hat. He also has a massive overbite and buck teeth.
Terrence (aka Shaker)- A tall bear with tan fur (in the Disneyland version his fur was grey), Terrence wears a miner's cap and plays the guitar.
Teddi Barra- Teddi Barra is a unique bear because she never appears on stage. Instead she descends from a hole in the ceiling on her swing, which is decorated with pink roses. She is a brown bear and wears a blue hat with a pink feather as well as a long pink boa around her neck.
Ernest- Ernest is a brown bear who plays the fiddle. He wears a derby and a red polka-dot bowtie around his neck. He was voiced by Van Stoneman from October 1971 until July 1975, when his vocals were rerecorded by Randy Sparks.
Big Al- Big Al is the fattest bear. He is grey with a light grey belly and wears a tan hat and a red vest. He plays an always out-of-tune guitar and is voiced by Tex Ritter.
The Sun Bonnet Trio
- Bunny- Bunny stands in the center of the stage. Because she and her sisters are triplets, they all have brown fur and wear matching blue bonnets and dresses.
- Bubbles- Bubbles stands to the audience's left between Gomer and Bunny.
- Beulah- Beulah stands to the audience's right and is voiced by Peggy Clark.
Gomer- Gomer never sings but instead plays his piano, which has a honeycomb on top of it. He is considered Henry's right-hand bear. He is tall and brown and wears a collar with a blue tie.
The Five Bear Rugs
- Zeke- Considered the leader of The Five Bear Rugs, Zeke plays a banjo and taps on the dishpan with "a real ol' country beat". He is a grey bear with glasses who wears a grey top hat. He was voiced by Dallas McKennon from October 1971 until July 1975, when Randy Sparks rerecorded his vocals.
- Zeb- Zeb is brown bear with a light brown stomach. He plays the fiddle as well as wears a bandanna around his neck and a miner's hat.
- Ted- Ted is a tall, skinny bear who blows on the cornjug and plays the washboard. His fur is brown, and he wears a vest with a brown hat.
- Fred- The biggest of the five bears, Fred ironically plays the smallest instrument: the mouthharp. He is a brown bear and wears blue jeans held up with suspenders as well as a striped red and white tie.
- Tennessee- Tennessee Bear plays the thang, which has only one string. He is brown and wears a red bandanna (blue in the Disneyland version) around his neck.
Baby Oscar- Oscar appears with The Five Bear Rugs, but plays no instrument. In fact, he never says a word, aside from mumbling "uh-huh" during the Vacation Hoedown (in which he is dressed as a Cub Scout). He is a brown bear and always has his teddy bear to keep him company. In the 1971 album, it is mentioned that Zeb is his father.
Rufus- Rufus is not a performer, but instead runs the projections and lights. He is never seen, but can be heard from time to time running backstage, constantly out of breath.
Though named Country BEAR Jamboree, there are some other characters that aren’t bears that make the show a classic:
Buff- Buff is considered the leader of the animal heads and is also the largest. He is the head portion of a buffalo and is voiced by Disney legend Thurl Ravenscroft.
Max- Max is the head portion of a stag and is voiced by Peter Renaday.
Melvin- Melvin, a moose head, is the Dopey of the animal head trio. He often makes good-natured jokes and is voiced by Bill Lee.
Sammy- Sammy is Henry's raccoon pal who cuddles around Henry's top hat. He acts like a coonskin cap for Henry. He is voiced by Bill Cole.
A tribute to the Disneyland Jamboree is made in their version of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in the form of Max, Buff, and Melvin.
Our final pins we will be taking a look at are an Walt Disney Imagineering Series featuring posters for the acts featured in the Country Bear Jamboree.