How a Bull Moose, a Bear, and a Beetle Gave Elvis a Hit Song

On February 15 in 1903, the first Teddy bears appeared in a toy store window.  The name for the bears was inspired by the man who was the president of the United States.

Morris Michtom, who owned a toy store, had written a letter to President Theodore Roosevelt asking permission to use the name “Teddy” for his bears. The president gave his approval. Other toy makers soon followed Michtom’s lead in naming stuffed bears, leading to the popular Teddy bear.

The Inspiration for the First Teddy Bear

The stories of the details about the event that inspired Michtom’s letter vary somewhat.  But it is clear that Michtom got the idea from President Roosevelt’s encounter with a bear.  While hunting in Mississippi in 1902, President Roosevelt, who would later found the Bull Moose Party, showed mercy to a bear.

Some stories today claim the bear was a cub tied to a tree, but it more likely was an old bear. Either way, the incident illustrated another side of Roosevelt. Political cartoonists portrayed the event by illustrating a cub, showing the tough Roosevelt as a softy at heart.

“(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear”

The most famous song about Teddy bears was released more than five decades later in 1957.  That year, a rock icon showed his softer Teddy bear side.

Elvis Presley sang “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear” in the movie Loving You (1957), his second film and his first in color. The song went to number one on the charts that year.

“Boll Weevil” And Its Connection to “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear”

Kal Mann and Bernie Lowe wrote “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear,” but part of the inspiration for the song came indirectly from an insect. Wikipedia and other sources report that the song’s roots go back to a traditional blues song, “Boll Weevil.”

In “Boll Weevil,” a boll weevil talks to a farmer, threatening the cotton crop while looking for a home. The song has been around since at least the 1920s, and it may have its origins in Roosevelt’s time.

One of the most famous early recordings of “The Boll Weevil” was by Lead Belly in the 1930s.

Can you hear “Teddy Bear” in Lead Belly’s song? If not, listen to singer-songwriter Brook Benton‘s version of “The Boll Weevil Song,” which became a hit in 1961.

Now you hear it, don’t you? And now you know, how a bull moose, a bear, and a beetle helped give Elvis Presley a hit song.

Cartoon by by Clifford Berryman via public domain. What are your favorite songs about bears and bugs? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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