A Bear Grows in Brooklyn: Portraits of Rosie, a Furry Star of the Forties

Rosie the bear rehearses with comedian Lew Lehr -- known for his catchphrase, "Monkeys is the cwaziest people" -- New York, 1946.
Tony Linck—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Rosie the bear rehearses with comedian Lew Lehr -- famous at the time for his catchphrase, "Monkeys is the cwaziest people" -- in New York, 1946.
Animals
'40s

It simply would not fly today, of course: parading a 250-pound bear through the streets of New York, stuffing her into a taxi, plying her with booze — these sorts of things would likely be frowned upon in 2013. Besides the fact that most folks realize that a heavily muscled creature out and about in the naked city might be a recipe for sudden carnage, there’s also a widely shared perception today that hauling around a performing bear, in the city or elsewhere, is downright cruel.

But in the mid-1940s, an entertainment impresario named Stanley Beebe routinely walked his ursine star, Rosie, through Gotham, shuttling her to gigs at recording studios and live-performance arenas, and by the looks of the photos in this gallery the only reaction this behavior elicited from the vast majority of New Yorkers was delight.

[MORE: See the photo gallery, "A Squirrel's Guide to Fashion."]

In an August 1946 issue of LIFE, in which some of these pictures first appeared, the magazine introduced its readers to “a talented young actress” who “makes a career grunting over the radio.”

Her name is Rosie and she is an accomplished radio actress whose specialty is appearing as a bear on audience-participation shows which depend upon a shrieking crowd in the studio. She also supplies occasional bearish grunts and snorts for other programs and does a roller-skating performance for television shows. Rosie makes as much as $100 for an appearance, which is a lot of money for a 10-year-old bear.

Rosie, who comes from a histrionic family, was born in Brooklyn of Russian bear extraction and brought up in carnivals and animal shows all over the U.S. Her extensive experience has taught her a lesson not learned by most performing bears. Unlike her less tractable furry colleagues, Rosie seems to have come to the realization that by resigning herself to some of the inexplicable acts of human beings she can lead a happy and unperturbed life in the worried bustle of New York City.

[MORE: See the photo gallery, "LIFE With Mike the Headless Chicken: Photos of a Famously Tough Fowl."]

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