In the 1970s, after the tragic Munich Olympics in 1972, and the financially disastrous Montreal Olympics in 1976, there were not many cities that had an appetite for the 1984 Olympics. In fact, Los Angeles may have been the only real bid, and thus were able to extract significant financial concessions from the IOC. LA Olympic Committee head, Peter Ueberroth then kept costs low by getting corporate sponsors to contribute massively. In fact Corporate America played a huge role in bringing financial accountability and world-class production values to the Olympics.
In the case of the Olympic mascot, Ueberroth was able to rely on a trusted member of corporate America, Disney. While Disney was a bidder for the mascot design project, it was true that one of the member of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee’s executive committee was Card Walker, then chairman of the board of the Disney Corporation. Thus it was no surprise that Disney won the bid.
The design of the Olympic mascot was handed to legendary artist and publicity art director, Bob Moore, whose work has been seen in such films as Fantasia, Bambi and Dumbo. In the early stages of the design process, Moore and his team worked on ideas that would emphasize the sunny Pacific Coast environment and weather, or symbols of the state, California. As a matter of fact, they thought they could use the Golden Bear, which is California’s state animal…until they realized that following on the popular Moscow Games mascot, Misha the Bear, would be more than a small cold war embarrassment.
According to this detailed explanation of the development of the 1984 Olympic mascot from Mouse Planet, Moore’s team of 30 artists drew up animated versions of orange and palm trees, cactuses, bisons, snakes and turtles. Apparently, a beefed-up bison standing on two legs looked awkward and was abandoned. I suppose that was true for the humanoid cactus….
In the end, the bald eagle became the symbol of choice, with its associations to freedom, independence and fighting spirit. In fact, Sam the Eagle, as the mascot was eventually called, represented the very motto of the Olympic Games “Citius, Altius, Fortius”, which is Latin for faster, higher, stronger. How a “short, stubby, cuddly little eagle” as Mouse Planet describes Sam represents faster, higher, stronger is debatable, the idea that the stuffed toy would sell millions was not. As Mouse Planet explains, 43 companies ended up licensing to sell Olympic branded products. Sam the Eagle was featured on t-shirts, cups, pins, keychains, watches, picture frames, even Frisbees and spoons.
Sam the Eagle soared, as did the American Olympic Team, at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. Although Misha the Bear may have had a word or two for Sam the Eagle….