Product mascots have certainly changed over the years, and today’s icons associated with our favorite products bear no resemblance to the ones that first appeared in television ads years ago.

Most did not stand the test of time, while a few have remained ingrained in our collective memories.

My early memories of television and product mascots include a distinctive episode that I found utterly confusing at the time.

Our family watched the variety shows of the era like I love Lucy and The Jackie Gleason Show, and television commercials were often live productions associated with the show.

The weirdest, to me anyway, was the appearance of a less than four-foot-tall bellhop who belted out “Call for Phillip Morris.” I never could figure exactly why he was calling for a name associated with cigarettes.

Turned out he was, and Johnny Rovantini worked for the tobacco giant for more than 40 years serving as its living trademark in print, radio and television commercials.

Those elaborately produced commercial live spots provide a stark contrast to our heroes of the day. Let’s face it, a gecko talking to a crab is amusing, but I’m not sure I want either associated with my company — but it works.

One of those icons that has remained fresh and vital throughout the decades has his beginnings before television, but still attained national recognition.

Smokey Bear turns 75 this month, and, truth be known, the years have been kind to the sharp-dressed bear.

Smokey also is unique in that his creation was not brainstormed at some ad agency conference table, but was inspired by actual events.

When Forest Service workers arrived at a fire in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico, they discovered a badly burned three-month-old bear cub.

New Mexico game warden Ray Bell and his wife nursed the cub back to health. They named him Hotfoot Teddy.

The small recovering cub captured the emotions of a nation, and Forest Service officials quickly realized the value the cub could provide as a spokesman of sorts for fire prevention.

Renamed Smokey, the bear was flown to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., where thousands flocked to see the national icon.

Throughout the decades, the Smokey we associate with forest fire safety has undergone major transformations, but his message has remained clear. “Only you can prevent forest fires” is a warning that, when delivered by a bear, seemed to hit close to home.

For millions, Smokey represents the beauty of our nation’s outdoor wilderness and the importance of preserving these national treasures.

For 75 years, Smokey has diligently delivered the message, and, with any luck, his timely delivery will never get old.

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