Hard Luck Bears

From Cheese-E-Pedia

The Hard Luck Bears (originally referred to as the Country Bear Jubilee) was a predecessor show to The Rock-afire Explosion that was created in 1979 and first premiered at IAAPA. It was a successor to the Bear Country Jubilee in many ways, with its stage basis being an inspiration for the common 3-Stage used in various Creative Engineering shows.

In a timespan between 1980 and 2000, the Hard Luck Bears have been installed in numerous theme parks around the world with the first installation being Carowinds in Charlotte, NC (a relocation of the original show seen at IAAPA). The last operational show was in Fantasilandia, Chile (MundoMagico's show relocated), though has since been retrofitted to become “The Robotoons." The second Hard Luck Bears installation at Knoebels in Elysburg, PA still has the majority of figures and props in storage and around the park, currently the only other show to be confirmed to remain existent (but not operating).

Summary

"This is the debut year for the Hard Luck Bears as they begin their tour of the world with their dear sweet mother, Mama Granbags, spreading their own interpretation of 'culture' and decency. In this hilarious first performance our bears tend to stretch the definition of country music to include lovers of rock and classical styles in their mischievous antics behind Mama's back." - Entertainment 1980 Brochure

Characters

Billy Wilbur

(Voiced by Aaron Fechter) Billy Wilbur would be often seen as the "star" of the show. He is a dark brown (later light brown)-furred bear who played a guitar and typically had major roles in the shows. His character would go on to become Billy Bob Brockali for the Rock-afire Explosion.

Billy Bill

(Voiced by Burt "Sal" Wilson) Billy Bill is a grey-furred, baritone-voiced bear that would play the piano, "ticklin' the ivories" as Wilbur described once. The mechanism he utilized was a retrofit of Fats Gorilla from the Wolf Pack 5.

Billy Boy

Billy Boy is said to be one of the youngest of the four Hard Luck Bears (according to the Rockin' Billy Wilbur and the Bearcats showtape) that played the drums. Similar to Wilbur, he is a dark brown (later light brown)-furred bear. The mechanism he utilized was a retrofit of Dingo Star from the Wolf Pack 5.

Billy Bob

(Not to be confused with the Rock-afire Explosion's Billy Bob Brockali) Billy Bob is a black-furred, dim-witted bear that played a "washtub bass," and is the tallest of the four Hard Luck Bears. The mechanism he utilized was an advanced design of Boom Boom Bosko from Bear Country Jubilee.

Choo-Choo

A mute, small bear cub who bounced in a wash basket during the show. He would later be reused in the Rock-afire Explosion, being virtually unchanged, aside from his wash basket being replaced by a tree stump.

Pete and Repeat Thornsberry

Two bear brothers (referred to as cousins to the Hard Luck Bears in the Playcenter show and even Mama Granbags' sons in Orsi Show) who work at Smitty's Super Service Station. Pete (short, black-furred bear, sometimes with a cigar) is the eldest and is shown to have a wise, serious personality. His younger brother, Repeat (tall, brown-furred bear with an oversized wrench), is jokey and dim-witted by contrast. Pete utilizes an advanced design of Pierre Le Bear from Bear Country Jubilee, while Repeat is a retrofit of Wolfman from the Wolf Pack 5. They are both located on Stage Right (to the left of Center Stage) with the Smitty's Super Service Station set of backdrops (later reused for Billy Bob's stage in the Rock-afire Explosion).

Mama Granbags

The host of the show and mother of the four Hard Luck Bears. She is an elderly bear who is stern but means well when parenting her sons, especially preferring "civilized music" over "honky tonk".

Gooney Bird

(Voiced by Aaron Fechter) Gooney is a red-feathered (blue at Calaway Park) "looney" bird residing in a wooden barrel who often gets smacked in the face by Mama Granbags for being stupid and/or foolish. His character would become Looney Bird in the Rock-afire Explosion. Although his name was never mentioned in the original IAAPA showtape, it was mentioned in the custom showtapes produced for Knoebels.

Locations

Carowinds

Carowinds is an amusement park located in Charlotte, North Carolina, that has been in operation since 1973. It was once home to the "Honey Bear Bunch Family Reunion," which was a retrofit of the first Hard Luck Bears show from the 1979 IAAPA. The show opened at Carowinds around May 1980 in the park's former Harmony Hall theater, which its building currently now hosts the Boo Blasters on Boo Hill dark ride manufactured by Sally Corporation. On the 1980 Carowinds park brochure, the Honey Bear Bunch Family Reunion is referred to as the "Country Bear Show" and included an image of Billy Wilbur and Billy Bill in their unmodified, original forms taken at IAAPA in 1979. US-based food company General Mills sponsored this show as the "Big G" logo with the company name was printed on Billy Boy's kick drum front. It can be seen on the picture from a 1980 news article, but strangely not in the showbizpizza.com photos of this installation. In this case, it could be assumed that the sponsorship didn't last long and mentions of GMI were removed shortly after.

The names of the characters were as follows:

  • Granny Bell (Mama Granbags)
  • Samantha (Gooney Bird)
  • Pa Bell (Billy Bill)
  • Ma Bell (Billy Wilbur)
  • Na Bob (Billy Boy)
  • Billy Bob (Unchanged from Original Show)
  • Aunt Lullabelle (Repeat Thornsberry)
  • Uncle Jinglebell (Pete Thornsberry)

It is the only Hard Luck Bears show that has major mechanical differences compared to shows produced after (which were made to be more "standardized" and be compatible with parts from the Rock-afire Explosion). These did not have cylinders or other mechanical pieces that were separate from fiberglass body shells (with the exception of head mechs), as well as inconsistently-sized eyes and jaw lever pieces. Because the original masks for the IAAPA/Carowinds show did not meet the requirements for standardization and were unable to adjust in size with Rock-afire parts, this is the only set to use these original masks as all the characters (except for Repete Thornsberry and Mama Granbags) were required to have resculpted molds in order to fit the new size requirements for future installations. This show was also one of few installations to operate on the primitive Tone Decoder Control System, instead of a Rock-afire Explosion Control System as future sets would utilize.

Around 1982, a two-parter Harmony Hall production called "The Phantom of the Opry," spread across two operating seasons, reused the figures from the Honey Bear Bunch Family Reunion. In it, the Phantom character "murders" the bear characters, which reappear in the next operating season (1983) as ghosts. The fate of the figures are currently unknown, though Carowinds employees have claimed the figures were disassembled years ago.

Knoebels

Knoebels is an amusement park in Elysburg, Pennsylvania that has been around since 1926. In May 1980, just like Carowinds, a Country Bear Jubilee show would premiere there under the original given name and showtape. However, due to an alleged threat by Disney, the show's name was quickly changed to the Country Bear Show. Similar to Carowinds and previous shows, Knoebels' Hard Luck Bears ran off a Tone Decoder Control System instead of a modified RAE Grey Box system that newer sets received.

After premiering with the initial 1979 IAAPA show, three custom tapes were produced by Clutch (the band that produced soundtracks for early CEI productions and were instrumental in the development of the Rock-afire). These would include:

  • Country Bear Picnic at Knoebels Groves - The boys are given an invitation to play at the annual "Country Bear Picnic" in the Groves before they have to prove to Mama that they can perform first and do their chores afterwards. Pete and Repeat eventually join in on the shenanigans by performing When the Saints Go Marching In with the others before the show eventually ends. This tape reuses gags and characterizations from the initial 1979 show with different actors and songs. It also changed the setting of Pete and Repeat from Smitty's Super Service Station to Golden Arches Burgers (an obvious reference to McDonald's).
  • Hard Luck Bears Hoedown Hootenanny WingDing - Also similar to the previous tapes, this show reuses existing gags and jokes but with the plot of famous country singer Buck Owens making a possible guest appearance in the theater. However, since no clean copy of this tape currently exists and the only footage of this show is partial, there is minimal plot details in regard to it.
  • Rockin' Billy Wilbur and the Bearcats (officially titled Bear Show: A Musical Visit to the Rockin' 50's) - Being the final show produced for and used at Knoebels, the bears have decided to pull off a radio station-esque, variety-styled show themed around the "golden years" of rock n' roll from the 1950's. The characters would keep their original personalities, although modified to fit the new format and theme. Costumes and scenery would be drastically changed, physically speaking, as many of the country elements would be diminished in favor of "50's" styled aesthetics.

When the show was decommissioned in 1995, Billy Boy was repurposed as a figure in an electric chair seen in the Knoebels Haunted Mansion attraction, with a piece of black clothing covering his face mechanism. The others were mainly kept in storage in various areas throughout the park in varying states of disrepair. Pete and Repeat would be added into the park's history museum where they can be seen on display with show signage and various props from the show. The theater that originally housed the show would eventually become a "Lazer Runner" attraction, still operating in the park today.

Blackpool Pleasure Beach

Blackpool Pleasure Beach is a theme park in Blackpool, Lancashire, England that opened in 1896. A Hard Luck Bears installation would premiere there on September 10th, 1980. Councillor Daniel Colin Hanson (the Mayor of Blackpool at the time) and CEI Vice President, Gregory King, were in attendance for the grand opening. Upon its initial year, the original 1979 IAAPA soundtrack was used, with the characters wearing their traditional clothing commonly found on other Hard Luck Bears shows. Though by 1982, a custom showtape produced by Blackpool themselves and programmed by CEI would debut alongside new costumes for the characters and custom backdrops. All characters were renamed for this exclusive show (with the center stage characters additionally given British regions of origin), which include:

  • Grandma (Mama Granbags)
  • Looney Bird (Gooney Bird)
  • McVite Bear of Scotland (Billy Bill)
  • Bert Bear of Yorkshire (Billy Wilbur)
  • Paddy Bear of Ireland (Billy Boy)
  • Dai Bear of Wales (Billy Bob)
  • Wezley of Fleetwood (Choo Choo)
  • Bullet (Pete Thornsberry)
  • Gun (Repeat Thornsberry)

In the theater's lobby, a figure of Fats Abdomino from the Wolf Pack 5 (dressed in country clothing) could've been seen through the entrance windows with a piano, performing as guests walked inside. The lobby also contained arcade cabinets as well as a snack bar, with the theater boasting a maximum capacity of (approximately) 200 people per showing. When Blackpool's Hard Luck Bears was sent to the now-defunct Frontierland Western Theme Park in Morecambe (which was owned by the same family as Blackpool), it was given the alternative title of The Crazy Bear Show, presumably performing until that park's closure in 1999. The Fats figure was kept behind at Blackpool and relocated to the park's King Cotton Family Pub, where he was given the official name of "Fred." Fred would continue his performances in King Cotton up through 2010, when he was removed upon the pub's transformation into the Big Pizza Kitchen (which is currently standing to this day).

Playcenter

Playcenter was a former amusement park in São Paulo, Brazil that operated from 1973 to 2012. They received a Hard Luck Bears set under the name "Show Dos Ursos" in early 1981. The showtape was almost identical to the 1979 IAAPA show, albeit dubbed into Portuguese and with altered instrumentation exclusive for Playcenter. The characters were all renamed to appropriately suit Brazilian audiences as follows:

  • Mamãe Úrsula (Mama Granbags)
  • Papagaio Respondão (Gooney Bird)
  • Laurso (Billy Bill)
  • Tiburso (Billy Wilbur)
  • Dudu Urso (Billy Boy)
  • Murso (Billy Bob)
  • Ursinho Bebê (Choo Choo)
  • Nhõ Pita (Pete Thornsberry)
  • Repita (Repeat Thornsberry)

Unlike other installations, there would be custom props built for Playcenter's set. Smitty's Super Service Station would not be present in the Portuguese dub of the show. Instead, Pete and Repeat stand in front of a Playcenter-branded stand selling name-branded products (which were eventually removed). As a result, the lyrics of the Super Service song would be altered to instead refer to "chicken omelets." Pete and Repeat were also said to be cousins of the four centered bears here, and a moral of "don't mistreat animals" was added in. After approximately 17 years in operation, this set would be decommissioned, allegedly being destroyed by a flood in 1998. The theater would be promptly converted into a "Castelo Dos Horrores" walkthrough attraction afterwards, remaining that way until the rest of the park permanently shuttered in 2012.

MundoMágico

MundoMágico was an amusement park in Lo Prado, Santiago, Chile, which opened in 1983 and operated until 2000. A Hard Luck Bears show premiered with the rest of the park under the names Show De Osos and Jamboree Show, with its initial soundtrack being a Spanish dub of the 1979 IAAPA show. Similarly to Playcenter, the characters were all renamed to appropriately suit Chilean audiences as follows:

  • Mama Osa (Mama Granbags)
  • Oso Bill (Billy Bill)
  • Oso Willy (Billy Wilbur)
  • Oso Boy (Billy Boy)
  • Oso Bob (Billy Bob)
  • Pedro Goloso (Pete Thornsberry)
  • Repite Goloso (Repeat Thornsberry)

Costumed characters of Pete, Repeat, and Mama Granbags were fabricated for use in MundoMágico, with Pete occasionally appearing in Fantasilandia to this day. Despite being named Pedro in the original Spanish dub, Pete was ultimately given the name of "Oso Willy" (which had been used for Billy Wilbur in the dub). It is uncertain why this inconsistency occurred, though a likely explanation may have been confusion on the park's end. Upon MundoMágico's closure in the year 2000, the entire show was relocated to Fantasilandia (which shared the same management as the former). Throughout most of its lifespan there, cosmetics and configurations were modified, various soundtracks were produced (mainly deriving from original artist recordings), and was even moved into a park restaurant named "RestauranToon." However by 2018, the condition of the show was in major disrepair, which led to a restoration effort to completely retrofit the characters into becoming The Robotoons, in conjunction with Manada FX (a local Chilean firm). As of 2024, the figures were taken out of RestauranToon and placed outdoors by the "Space Zone Food Truck," currently on a static display.

Italia in Miniatura

Italia in Miniatura is a park in Viserba, Italy that has been operating since 1970. Ivo Rambaldi, founder of the park, was very impressed by The Country Bear Jamboree when visiting the Disney parks and thought a smaller-scale version of it could be very interesting for the people visiting his own. He would eventually buy a Hard Luck Bears set from Creative Engineering around 1980, making an official premiere in 1982 under the name Orsi Show. It was the second of two Hard Luck Bears shows to be sent to Italy, with the first set being unknown.

During the show's first years in the park, they used the original 1979 showtape, as there was no time to dub or customize a tape (as confirmed from footage dated 1991). Eventually, an in-house showtape was produced. Unlike other Hard Luck Bears showtapes, this would be formatted to have dialogue in between songs containing jokes or witty comments after a formal introduction was given by Mama Granbags. Renamed characters included:

  • Mama Italia (Mama Granbags)
  • Francesco (Gooney Bird)
  • Cesarino of Rome (Billy Bill)
  • Gennariello of Naples (Billy Wilbur)
  • Gino of Milan (Billy Boy)
  • Tognàz of Rimini (Billy Bob)
  • Bepi of Venice (Pete Thornsberry)
  • Salvatore of Catania (Repeat Thornsberry)

As listed above, each character (minus Granbags and Gooney) were given native Italian cities of origin, with their individual dialects each reflecting said native cities. After the formal introduction, each individual character would make comments or interact with others before their respective songs would play. For the finale, everyone unitedly sings "Va Pensiero" from the opera of Nabucco (an original artist recording) as the show ends with a great emphasis of unity within all of Italy.

The show would removed from the park by either 1993 or 1994. Cylinders were claimed to be recycled, being used for other animations seen at the park with everything else (cosmetics, frames, fiberglass shells) being promptly destroyed. There is a rumor that this set was sent to Gardaland after its time at Italia in Miniatura, though there is no evidence that suggests the case. The building that contained Orsi Show now hosts a Science Fun Fair exhibit.