Even Smokey Bear Needs an Agent

Host Liane Hansen speaks with Max Farrow about his rather interesting job. Mr. Farrow is the program manager for the Smokey Bear licensing program for the U.S. Forest Service. Anyone who wants to put Smokey on their product has to go through Farrow first.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

With his yellow park ranger's hat and blue jeans, Smokey Bear is the well-recognized symbol of forest fire prevention. There's lots of Smokey Bear paraphernalia around: T-shirts, posters, stuffed animals. But if you want to put Smokey's picture on your product, you have to apply for a license from the U.S. Forest Service. And that application will be reviewed by Max Farrow. He's the guy in charge of the Smokey Bear's image, and he's in the studio.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. MAX FARROW (Smokey Bear Licensing Manager): Hi, glad to be here.

HANSEN: What kind of requests have you turned down?

Mr. FARROW: Well, required to turn down anything that involves alcohol, tobacco and firearms, whatnot.

HANSEN: So what is your criteria? What do you look for in order to say yes?

Mr. FARROW: Every product has to carry a wildfire prevention message. Although I brought this for you. This is an example of what happens when the licensing program manager does not do his job. They've got this Bic lighter poster by - back in 1979 - it has Smokey standing on the sign that says, Please, flick your Bic carefully in my woods. I think this is probably the most egregious example of what we're not supposed to do.

HANSEN: Have you ever let one slide?

Mr. FARROW: I probably shouldn't tell you if I had. There was a couple of episodes of The Simpsons where Smokey appeared.

HANSEN: Is that the one where Homer had a bear phobia?

Mr. FARROW: That was one of them, yes. Homer develops a bear phobia and then he has this hallucination with all the bears, you know, marching at him menacingly, one of which was Smokey. And there was another Simpsons episode where Bart is at a national park and he comes upon an interactive animatronic Smokey Bear, you know, robotic exhibit. And the bear says, Only who can prevent forest fires? And there's two buttons on the front of the bear marked You and Me. And Bart presses the You button and then Smokey says, You pressed you, referring to me, that is incorrect. The correct answer is you. And then Bart starts kicking the heck out of the robotic bear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Did you do anything about it?

Mr. FARROW: No. To tell you the truth, I really love The Simpsons. Personally, you know, I'd hate to have to go after those people.

HANSEN: Why do so many people get the name wrong? I mean, people say, oh, Smokey the Bear. It's not Smokey the Bear. It's Smokey Bear.

Mr. FARROW: It is Smokey Bear. And there is a reason for the people's problem with the name. It goes back to the original licensed song about Smokey Bear. I'll read it to you.

With a ranger's hat and shovel and a pair of dungarees, you will find him in the forest always sniffing at the breeze. People stop and pay attention when he tells them to beware, because everybody knows that he's Smokey the Bear.

They added the the in the middle of his name just because they need that extra beat. That one little alteration back in 1952 continues to cause us problems to this day.

HANSEN: Max Farrow is in charge of the Smokey Bear Licensing Program for the U.S. forest service.

Thanks a lot for coming in.

Mr. FARROW: Oh, you're very welcome.

HANSEN: This is NPR News.

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