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Pedigree and Paws: Muffy VanderBear and Gloria Vanderbilt are sisters under the skin...and fur! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephanie Finnegan   
Tuesday, 26 June 2012 09:18
Walt Disney and his most famous creation, Mickey Mouse, have an enduring, enviable place in America pop culture.
In his youth, Mickey Rooney was America’s number one box office draw.
As he got older, Mickey Rooney began to spin a tale of being the original inspiration for the Mickey Mouse character.
Come to think of it . . . Mickey and Mickey do look alike!
Gloria Vanderbilt grew up in front of the spotlight, and graced the covers of many top magazines of her era.
Known for her creamy complexion and dark tresses, Gloria V was the frequent subject of photographers and portraitists.
Today, Gloria is best known as the designer of Vanderbilt jeans and the proud mom of Anderson Cooper.
The VanderBear clan is all about fashion and philanthropy. They look good while doing good!
Well dressed and well traveled, Muffy VanderBear looks splendid in her Indian sari.
Able to pull off even the most ruffled outfit without appearing ruffled, Muffy VanderBear is a fabulous fashion-plate.
At North American Bear, kids have the chance to design and three-dimensionalize their own monsters in the “Make My Own Monster” line.
From mice to monsters, Disney has something for everyone! And so does North American Bear.
Walt Disney and his most famous creation, Mickey Mouse, have an enduring, enviable place in America pop culture.
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At one point this year, my family and I will be making our trek for the first time ever to the “Happiest Place on Earth.” No, I’m not talking about Las Vegas after a compulsive slots player hits a big payout (“Louie, I’ve got three cherries in a row!”), or Hershey Park when a chocolate lover sees silver-foiled candies dancing and cavorting on stage (“Louie, there are three Kisses kicking in a row!”). Nope, I’m talking Disney and the Magic Kingdom—a destination I’ve visited in the past but never with my kids. I am hoping this vacation will be all it is cracked up to be—after all, it’s been seven years in the waiting! (Yep, I haven’t had a vacation in seven years. Call me a bit “stressed.”)

What is so amazing about Disney is that my kids will be meeting the mascots in person and will, hopefully, respond to them in some Kodak moment worth capturing. (I know that at ages 7 and 9 they are too old to believe, but still I’d love for them to show some kind of great photographic reaction to greeting Buzz Lightyear and Woody for the first time.) It is overwhelming when toddlers come face-to-kneecap with giant Minnies and enormous Goofies, but I think my children will handle it with aplomb.

Interestingly, the backstory of how Mickey Mouse came to be is up for debate. Screen legend and noted raconteur Mickey Rooney claims that he was the inspiration for the rascally rodent. Rooney maintains that he was scampering around a studio backlot and a young animator (Walt Disney) saw him and was delighted with is antics. Thus, a tiny, playful, ever-whistlin’ mouse by the name of Mickey was hatched—forgive the biological misnomer.

Disneyphiles, of course, dispute this. However, I think it makes a lovely story. And even if it’s not true—I actually saw Rooney regale a panel of celebrities, Burt Reynolds, Ricardo Montalban, and Dom DeLuise with this tall tale—it warms the heart to think that a onetime big movie star, an accomplished businessman, and an American original finds his connection to Mickey Mouse so darn important that he’s willing to brandish the story on television, in front of a live audience, with pride and joy and excitement on his face. (Full confession here: though I don’t usually champion lying, I have to make the exception for a really good storyteller and fabulist. Mickey Rooney is one of those compelling speakers. When he finds a hook, he runs with it—authenticity be damned!)

Now, what does this have to do with teddy bears? Well, I actually know Muffy VanderBear. I won’t say she is a great personal friend of mine, but I have had lunch with her; had tea and scones; visited her at her home; met her son, Anderson; went to her gallery opening; and interviewed her a half-dozen times.

“Nonsense,” I hear you all crying. “How can that be?”

My own son and daughter charged me with that complaint as well. They looked at Muffy, and then they looked at me, and they realized a well-dressed, well-groomed bear would never pal around with the likes of me!

But what I am really talking about is the inspiration for Miss Muffy. Sort of like Mickey Rooney and his glomming onto the Disney dream, I, too, am hitching my wagon to the NABCO star. (

Back in the late 1990s and into 2000, I had the good fortune of meeting Miss Gloria Vanderbilt, designer, artist, author, businesswoman, and member of America’s onetime wealthiest family. Though there is no direct lineage between Gloria V and Muffy V, there are lots of similarities. (

Both the beautiful heiress and the hairy beauty have similar names, pedigree, wardrobe selection, and world travels. They both enjoy flirtations with the arts and are always on hand for philanthropic gestures and fund-raising galas. Plus, their taste in couture fashion, accessories, costumes and general gorgeousness is an inspiration for woman and beast! Any Teddy collection gains several notches for style and panache with a Muffy in its midst.

I explained to the children that VanderBear is a pun—a play on words. Muffy is a very common preppy or upper-crust socialite name. Muffy VanderBear is the ursine answer to the Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian of her day. (Though that’s not really fair—it’s more like the Nicky Hilton and Kourtney Kardashian of her time. Muffy and Gloria weren’t troublemakers of such a high order as the more notorious sibs.)

Linking this chain of connections (“Six Degrees of Separation”), by knowing Gloria Vanderbilt, and thus Muffy VanderBear, I also, therefore, am connected to North American Bear’s “Make My Own Monster” line, which means I am also connected to monsters in general, which leads me to “Monsters, Inc.,” the Disney flick.

Then—with my sixth and last crucial move—that means I am connected to Mickey Mouse, too, the clown prince of Disney World, where we are going sometime in 2012! Hooray!

So, you see, I can forgive Mickey Rooney for his very public desire to be affiliated with a small critter and a big dream. I’m tying my own key to the kite string of Muffy VanderBear and watching my cachet soar.