We all know that iconic scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie, certain that his wish for a Red Ryder B.B. gun has gone unanswered, finds that final package hidden behind the desk which turns his dismay into utter delight. Now imagine yourself on Christmas morning as a child, hoping against hope for the baby doll you’d seen in a catalog. You find it under the tree. Gleeful, you pick up the doll and give it a hug, only to have it growl in your ear, “I’m Smokey the Bear.”
That’s probably not where you thought this story was headed, but that’s the shock Christmas day of 1955 had in story for little boys and girls. On Thursday, 22 December 1955, the Malden Evening News reported a creepy voice box mix-up in an Atlanta, Georgia toy factory that assembled talking dolls. Talk about a nightmare before Christmas! Read on for the full scoop.
“Doll Factory Error To Startle Some Girl Christmas Day
ATLANTA, (UP)—A toyshop mixup threatened today to ruin some little girl’s Christmas because a dainty doll that is supposed to say a goodnight prayer will instead growl a fire prevention rhyme in a bear-voice.
The mixup occurred in a toy factory commissioned to manufacture talking models of Smokey, the bear used on posters by the U.S. Forestry Service in its fire prevention campaign.
The same factory also makes a petite little doll equipped with a voicebox that says gently:
‘Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
God bless Mommy,
God bless Daddy,
The prayer and the voice are much different from the sounds created for Smokey, the forest service teddy bear.
It growls in a gruff voice:
‘I’m Smokey the Bear, I’m the Smokey the Bear.
‘Running and looking for smoke in the air.
‘I warn careless people and tell them “take care.”
‘Please prevent forest fires, says Smokey the Bear.’
The South Carolina Forestry Commission ordered 96 of the stuffed bears for use in its fire prevention campaign. The first of the 96 Smokey Bears to arrive in the commission office was immediately tested. It created pandemonium by uttering in a childish voice:
‘Now I lay me down…’
Regional employes [sic] speculated that the toyshop mixed the voice boxes earmarked for the Smokey Bear and the dolls.
One of the bearlike voice boxes was sure to end up in one of the dainty ‘praying’ dolls, they calculated.”
After some research, it seems that the two dolls mentioned in the story were manufactured by the now-defunct Ideal Toys. The praying doll was probably Ideal’s Patti Prays doll.