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.


K. Martinez said...

I wish we knew who the other two organizations were that that competed for designing the 1984 Olympic mascot. Was it Warner and Hanna-Barbera?

My favorite in today's post is the last pic of the "Sam the Eagle" costumed character. You can tell it's Disney designed by the big head. Would've definitely made a wonderful roam-around character at Disneyland.

Besides "Sam the Olympic Eagle" and America Sings' "Eagle Sam" there's a third known as "Sam Eagle" from the Disney owned "The Muppets". That's a lot of eagles named Sam connected to Disney which I assume is in reference to Uncle Sam.

Did you actually buy any 1984 Olympic merchandise at the time?

Nice post! Thanks, TM!

Andrew said...

Hello TokyoMagic, I found your blog from the list on Gorillas Don't Blog. Looks like some cool stuff here!

I enjoyed this post very much. What a variety of merchandise! I wonder if the same amount will be produced for the 2028 Games, and even more so wonder if Disney will design the mascot.

America Sings looks amazing. It's sad that there were only ever two shows for a Carousel Theater produced for the U.S. parks.

TokyoMagic! said...

Ken, I bet you are right about the other two animation studios. Who else could it have been? Filmation? Trans Lux?

I love that Sam character costume, too. I hope at least one of the costumes survived. I'm assuming that there was more than one made.

I forgot about the Muppets' "Sam Eagle." However, Disney can't say they created him. Maybe they should add an eagle named Sam to both their Marvel and Star Wars franchises. They could even take the animatronic Eagle Sam from America Sings and add him to one of the new rides in Wookie World!

As for Olympic merchandise, I bought a lot of it at the time. I have a plate, mug, picture frames, plush, buttons, pins, postcards, stickers, note cards and the official "soundtrack album." I think a lot of people got caught up in "Olympic fever" while it was here in California.

TokyoMagic! said...

Andrew, thank you! I am glad that you enjoyed this post. I just recently found your blog, thanks to Ken Martinez' comment the other day on GDB. I read some of your posts and I really like what I've seen so far. I wanted to go back and read more and I also wanted to comment, but it has been a very busy week! I do plan to go back and read more of your posts however, and I am also adding you to my "Blog List."

That is a good question about whether or not Disney will be involved in creating the Olympic mascot for 2028. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. The Eagle was such a good choice for the mascot in '84. I wonder how they could top that?

Chuck said...

Actually, there's already a Sam in Disney's Marvel franchise, although he's a falcon rather than an eagle.

And I love this post. I still have - somewhere - the 1984 Olympics sweatshirt my aunt & uncle, who lived in Claremont at the time, got me for Christmas 1983.

And McDonald's gave away a lot more food than they had anticipated with their "When The U.S. Wins, You Win" contest thanks to the Soviet Union's tit-for-tat boycott of that year's games.

Major Pepperidge said...

TokyoMagic!, I had NO idea there was a “Sam the Olympic Eagle” cartoon series! How nuts. And I always did wonder if there was a connection between the eagle in “America Sings” and the Olympic mascot, even though they look different. It is a real shame that they can’t reuse Sam for the 2028 games, it would be neat to bring him back and tell his story from 1984, or something.

I am impressed at all of the merchandise that you collected, presumably just because of the Disney connection (?). Or were you caught up with “Olympics Fever”? I lived in Pasadena at the time, and they did some of the games at the Rose Bowl, and remember the colorful Olympics graphics that were placed around the area. I can’t remember what sport they did at the Rose Bowl, but at some point I was invited to go, and couldn’t for some reason lost to time (in other words, I was drunk, ha ha).

Fun post!

Major Pepperidge said...

Hey, they could reuse Sam the Olympic Eagle, but just put a "Lone Ranger" mask on him! BRILLIANT? OR BRILLIANTEST?

TokyoMagic! said...

Chuck, I did not know there was a falcon named Sam, in the Marvel Universe. So now they just need a feathered character by the name of Sam, in their Star Wars franchise....maybe a Sammy-Swan Kenobi?

I remember the Soviet Union retaliating, for us boycotting the 1980 Olympics, but I never thought about how that could affect the McDonald's contest in 1984. I'm sure they were able to afford it though, even if they didn't like it!

TokyoMagic! said...

Major, my purchasing of Olympic souvenirs didn't have anything to do with the Disney connection. It was just a matter of me being caught up in the "Olympic Fever." That and the fact that Pic 'N' Save carried quite a bit of the official merchandise and at a pretty low price.

I only went to one Olympic event and that was "Archery" at El Dorado Park in Long Beach. That is where I purchased that cloisonne pin of Sam with the bow and arrow. I remember the special pastel colors and graphics being used on signage at and around the various events. I also remember them used on temporary replacement signs for certain freeway off-ramps. In fact, the 5 freeway's off-ramp for the Harbor Blvd./Disneyland exit had such a temporary sign, because there were Olympic events being held across the street, at the Anaheim Convention Center.

I like your idea of reusing Eagle Sam and just putting a "Lone Ranger" mask on him. Maybe they could even have Johnny Depp's "Tonto" be his sidekick!

Chuck said...

While they don't call him "The Falcon" in the movies, the character was in the last two Captain America films, the last three Avengers films, and the first Ant-Man movie. And sure, why not a Sammy-Swan Kenobi? It's not like the Star Wars franchise hasn't already had its share of silly, shark-jumping characters (Jar-Jar Binks, anyone?). I envision him looking like Hawk from the second season of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

I have a friend from junior high who went to the 1984 Olympics specifically to see the archery competition; I wonder if you two ran into each other (if so, I hope you both said "I do beg your pardon, sir" and tipped your hats). My friend, who would have been 15 at the time, was a very talented archer and was on a first-name basis with his idol, Darrell Pace, the American who won the Men's Gold Medal that year.

And the "Lone Eagle" idea is BRILLIANTESTIEST.

TokyoMagic! said...

Chuck, I never watched Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, but I remember clicking by it and seeing a scene here and there. Wow, I had no idea there was a character that looked like that! Out of the Marvel movies you listed, I have only seen the first Ant-Man movie, and I don't remember that character. I will have to look for him the next time I watch that film....or any of the other films that you listed. I saw the first Captain America and I knew there was a second one, but I didn't know there was a third! I'm WAY behind on my Marvel films. I've enjoyed the Marvel films which I have seen so far, but there are so many that I have missed. I better hurry and catch up before Marvel Land opens at DCA. I hear it's going to be just as great as Star Wars Land. ;-)

I wonder if your friend and I were there on the same day! I only went to that one Olympic event. I had a friend who worked at Sears and could get the tickets at the "Ticketron" in the Sears basement (and maybe at a discount, too), and I seem to remember that Archery was either the only event that he was interested in going to, or maybe the only event that there were still tickets available for.....I can't remember which, now.

I'm probably going to add an "Update" to this post, because I have since found a photo of the VERY colorful and very "'80's" entrance to the Olympic Archery Event. I'm also pretty sure that I can dig up my ticket from that day and the program that they were handing out. I originally intended this post to be just about "Sam the Olympic Eagle," but I do have some other Olympic souvenirs which don't include him. Remember the "Star in Motion" logo for the '84 Olympics? That was used on a lot of souvenirs, as well.

Melissa said...

I remember that McDonald's contest! I won several sandwiches.

TokyoMagic! said...

Melissa, I can't remember now if I won any food from McDonald's, back then! When Disneyland had their pre-Olympic promotion and contest, they also gave out scratcher game cards. I won a one-day ticket to the park, and a "U.S.A." Olympic pin......that I do remember!

JG said...

WOW. Another deep dive post here.

Thanks Tokyo. I love these.

The LA Olympics were just over when I joined the architecture firm where I had all my LA projects. We were not located in LA, but we partnered with a firm in Santa Monica that developed a lot of the temporary structures used in the Olympics. I had a temporary desk in their office on 3rd St. Mall when I was in town for projects. Our work was Santa Monica, Brentwood, Bel Air, Westwood, Beverly Hills and Holmby Hills, so a good location for us.

My boss scooped up a "sonotube" (a large cardboard tube concrete form used for round columns, like a big paper towel core) that had been painted up and used as a column supporting a sunshade at one of the venues. We had that in our office for many years.

My LA Bicentennial 1781-1981 poster is hanging over my desk right now.

Great graphics and memories of that era.

Thank you!!


JG said...

This one >>


TokyoMagic! said...

JG, thanks....I'm glad you enjoyed the post. That's pretty cool that your boss got one of the large cardboard tubes/supports. I have a picture that shows large temporary columns holding up a sunshade, just like you described. As I mentioned to Chuck, I want to do an update to this post with some additional pictures, so I will include that one because it is of the entrance to the archery event, which I went to.

I love that L.A. Bicentennial poster! I really like the fact that they used the Pan Pacific Auditorium on it. That was such a cool structure. It's too bad that it wasn't saved. At least we have somewhat of a copy of it at two Disney theme parks. I have an Los Angeles Times "supplement" that was included with the newspaper back in August of 198O, acknowledging L.A.'s Bicentennial. I guess they sent it out early, since the city's bicentennial wasn't until the following year. I scanned a few pages and posted them back in 2010. I really should go back and post the entire supplement....or at least more of it. Maybe in two more years for L.A.'s 240th birthday! In the meantime, here a link to that old post: Los Angeles' Bicentennial

JG said...

Hi Tokyo, thanks for that link.

I loved the old PP Auditorium front, but not being based in LA, I never got to visit it. I had a project close by for a while and would drive by to admire it.

I would love to see the photo of the archery entrance to see if the columns matched my memories. As I recall the one we had in the office, it was pretty garish, but very much in the '80's theme, John Jerde' style design (think Horton Plaza in San Diego).

Here is a photo of some of them.

Now that I think about it, looking at these pics, I think we had two. The black and white one with orange tips and the green one with the red base across from it both look familiar, but it has been a long, long time.


TokyoMagic! said...

For anyone who is following the comments for this post, I just added an update with more souvenirs from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics!

JG, thanks for the link to that photo! It looks like the yellow columns with purple and teal stripes were used for an information booth, at the Olympic archery events. And the black and white striped columns, appear to have been used outside of the Los Angeles Colosseum.

As for the Pan Pacific Auditorium, I also admired it from afar, while driving by. I did finally stop one day to photograph it, but unfortunately, that wasn't until after it had "mysteriously" caught fire. The burnt and collapsing remnants of the facade were a very sad sight to see. :-(

Peppermint Snowdrift said...

I used to have at least one item with Sam on it, but I never realized that he was a DISNEY creation! Cool! :)

TokyoMagic! said...

Peppermint Snowdrift, I don't think I realized that "Sam" was a Disney creation, at the time of the Olympics. At some point after I read about it, it did make sense to me. Sam does look like he came right out of the Disney Studios.

TokyoMagic! said...

For anyone who is following the comments for this post, I just acquired an issue of Vacationland magazine from 1984, with a more in-depth article on Disney artist, Bob Moore (creator of Sam the Olympic Eagle). The article has now been added to the end of the post!

Jowar said...

Sam the Olympic Eagle had similar design elements to Winnie the Pooh with the Hunny pot above his head. In the case of Sam he had the red and white striped hat with the 5 gold Olympic rings on his hat band.

After the Summer of 1984, Sam made appearances with the Amateur Athletic Foundation. I didn't realize the name has now been formally changed to the LA84 Foundation. There is a sports museum and library housed at the Foundation's headquarters. I have attended events there.

TokyoMagic! said...

Jowar, you are right, the Sam the Olympic Eagle costume is similar to the old Winnie the Pooh costume, with the performer's head up inside the hat/hunny pot.

Thanks for that info about the LA84 Foundation!

Anonymous said...

There were two Sam the Olympic eagle costumes made, and I have one of them. The head is almost as big as me : )

TokyoMagic! said...

Anonymous, that is pretty darn cool! I wonder who has the second costume? I think you should just randomly show up at some of the Olympic events in 2028 (when they return to Los Angeles), wearing your costume! ;-)