Thursday, July 4, 2019

Disney's Sam the Eagle & the 1984 Olympics (**** Updated 2021****)

For this Fourth of July, let's go back to the summer of 1984, when the Olympic Games were being held in Los Angeles, California.

Actually, let's first go back four years earlier, to when the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee was deciding which local animation studio would get to design the Olympic mascot. Ultimately, the committee chose Disney. The following article appeared in the Winter '82/'83 issue of Disney News Magazine.

Disney artist, Bob Moore came up with the final design of Sam the Eagle. He had worked on such films as Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi. He also created the Orange Bird mascot for the Florida Citrus Commission in 1971 and co-designed the postage stamp honoring Walt Disney in 1968.

Sam the Eagle made his public debut, the day after the closing ceremonies of the 1980 Olympics.

As the 1984 Olympics got closer, he began appearing on a wide variety of merchandise. Below is just a small sampling of items.


Picture frames:


Ceramic Mugs:

Collector's Plates:

Plush toys:


Note cards:


Key Chains:

Cloisonné Pins:

Sam even appeared on corporate promotional items such as McDonald's, "When The U.S. Wins, You Win" contest.

Sam also starred in his own animated Japanese TV show, "Sam The Olympic Eagle" (The Disney Studios were not involved in the production).

The series ran for one year with a total of 51 episodes being produced (two episodes, per half-hour show). Today, the show is super hard to find, but two of the episodes are available on YouTube. Both of those episodes can be viewed here:

Some people reportedly confused "Sam the Olympic Eagle," with Marc Davis' "Eagle Sam," the audio-animatronic host of Disneyland's "America Sings" attraction. Since both are anthropomorphic versions of bald eagles, who both wear red, white and blue top hats, have the same name and were both designed by the same studio, it's kind of easy to see how that mistake could have been made.

Los Angeles has been chosen to host the 2028 Summer Olympic Games. Unfortunately, Sam cannot be used again as the mascot, since the International Olympic Committee prohibits the use of any Olympic mascot, past the end of the calendar year in which the Olympic games were held. In fact, any promotional materials, costumes, unsold merchandise, etc., bearing the image of an Olympic mascot, are supposed to be destroyed at the end of the calendar year.

Does this mean that the Sam costume below does not still exist? It seems like it should have been placed into a museum somewhere. And that makes me ask the question, of why there isn't an Olympic museum in Los Angeles? After all, Los Angeles was the location of two Summer Olympic Games (1932 and 1984). Squaw Valley (in California) has a museum to commemorate their hosting of the the 1960 Winter Olympics, so why doesn't Los Angeles have something similar?

In anticipation of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Disneyland hosted "Olympic Spirit Weekends." To read more about this event, you can click here for my post from last year: Olympic Spirit Weekends at Disneyland

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

****Post Update (July 24, 2019)****

Some of the souvenirs for the 1984 Olympics used the "Star In Motion" logo on them, instead of "Sam the Olympic Eagle." And in some cases, both were used (like on the ceramic picture frame shown earlier in this post). The "Star in Motion" logo was created by graphic designer, Robert Miles Runyan.

This particular pinback button, was a very common Olympic souvenir that year. Not only is the "Star In Motion" logo included on it, but it also uses the color scheme used at the various Olympic venues. There were other versions of the button available, with "Welcome" printed in different languages. This one is the Spanish version which reads, "Bienvenidos."

Here is another pinback button. This one shows the Olympic torch (multiplied by three) and the dates of the events.

Each of these large-size postcards uses the image of an "athlete," competing in a different Olympic event.

This first one shows a man throwing a javelin, superimposed over the flags of many nations:

This one shows a man throwing a discus, superimposed over a nighttime view of Downtown Los Angeles:

And this last one shows a runner, superimposed over a view of Downtown Los Angeles at sunset.

I mentioned the color scheme that was used at the various Olympic venues. Deborah Sussman is the artist who came up with the designs and color choices. The photo below, shows the entrance to the Los Angeles Colosseum, which is where the Track and Field events were held (and also the Olympic's opening and closing ceremonies).

This was the entrance to the Archery events, which were held at El Dorado Park in Long Beach.

Archery was the only 1984 Olympic event that I attended. Here is the front and back of my ticket, dated August 11th.

I even saved the parking ticket/receipt.

The 1984 Olympics had many corporate sponsors, with each one getting to claim that their product was the official airlines, car, film, soft drink, etc., of the Olympics. I saved this M&M's wrapper, which included the proclamation that it was the "Official Snack Food of the 1984 Olympic Games."

The candy would have expired in May of 1985....if I hadn't eaten it!

There was an "Official Music of the XXIII Olympiad" record album, which included the traditional "Bugler's Dream," composed by Leo Arnaud for the 1958 Olympics, as well as John Williams' "Olympic Fanfare and Theme" (which incorporates "Bugler's Dream into it's opening).

As the sticker on the shrink wrap stated, other songs which were written specifically for the 1984 Olympics, were included on the album. The artists involved were, Giorgio Moroder, Christopher Cross, Loverboy, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Bill Conti, Foreigner, Philip Glass, Toto, and Bob James.

The album also had this nice embossed gold seal affixed to the cover.

The back cover featured a photo of a gymnast on the balance beam.

If you would like to hear the John Williams track, you can listen to it on YouTube, by copying and pasting the link, below:

We will end this update with one more pic of Sam the Olympic Eagle. I really hope that at least one of these "Sam" costumes was saved!

****Post Update (July 24, 2019)****

I recently came across an issue of Los Angeles Magazine, from July of 2014. It was a "special edition," which covered "The '80s - The Decade That Changed L.A." There were a couple articles related to the 1984 Olympics, so I decided to add them to this post.

There are actually two articles here, and they are both continued on the next page. The article with the orange background is an interview with Deborah Sussman. As mentioned earlier in my post, she is the artist who came up with the designs and color choices for the 1984 Olympics.

****Post Update (March 9, 2021)****

I recently acquired a vintage issue of  Vacationland magazine, which had a more in-depth article on Bob Moore (creator of Sam the Olympic Eagle), so I'm adding it to this post!


 *****POST UPDATE***** (May 2024)

Here is one more "Sam the Olympic Eagle" item, which I recently came across.  This bag was given to me at the Consumers store, where I bought my very first 35 mm camera, back in 1985.  The Olympics were over by then, but the store was still using these themed merchandise bags, for purchases of Cannon products.  I have previously posted the very first Disneyland photos I ever took with that camera.