San Diego Chicken
The San Diego Chicken in 2009
Portrayed byTed Giannoulas
In-universe information
AliasThe Famous Chicken
KGB Chicken
NicknameThe Chicken
SpeciesChicken
GenderMale
OccupationMascot

The San Diego Chicken, also known as The Famous Chicken, the KGB Chicken or just The Chicken, is a sports mascot played by Ted Giannoulas.

History

Origin

The character originated[when?] in an animated TV commercial for KGB-FM Radio in San Diego. Writer, cartoonist, and actor Brian Narelle was working for Odyssey Productions and offered to animate an acrobatic chicken as part of a commercial contract bid. Narelle went on to direct and animate the commercial as well as create cartoon art for the campaign.[citation needed]

The San Diego Chicken with Gerald Ford during the 1976 presidential election
The San Diego Chicken with Gerald Ford during the 1976 presidential election

In March 1974, Giannoulas was hired to wear the first chicken suit; at the time he was a 20-year-old journalism major at San Diego State University. He was originally from Canada but had attended Hoover High School in San Diego.[1] The Chicken's first appearance was a KGB promotion to distribute Easter eggs to children at the San Diego Zoo. After his first appearance, Giannoulas, a lifetime baseball fan, approached the San Diego Padres front office. “I’ll bet I could get into games free in this get up,” he thought.[2] He was allowed to wander throughout the stands at Padres games, and if someone said "lay one on me," The Chicken would "lay" an egg containing a prize via his leggings. He soon took to the field and, he recalled, “discovered a side of my personality I did not know existed, almost a Jekyll and Hyde thing.”[2] Once on the field, he demonstrated a remarkable ability to mime, joke with players and umpires, and connect with fans. Padres’ attendance, which had been the lowest in the league, doubled that summer.

The Chicken, whose antics entertained steadily larger crowds, began to add appearances at concerts and sporting events, while continuing to perform at more than 520 San Diego Padres games in a row. The Chicken also appeared at many San Diego Clippers basketball games before the team moved to Los Angeles. San Diego sports reporter Jack Murphy described him as an "embryonic Charlie Chaplin in chicken feathers".[1]

Firing and afterwards

Conflict emerged between KGB Radio and Giannoulas, and he was fired on May 3, 1979. Another unnamed employee was hired to don a chicken outfit at a Padres game. Fans, many of whom were aware that Giannoulas was not in the outfit, booed the chicken loudly, forcing him off the field. After a lawsuit was decided in Giannoulas's favor in June 1979 by Judge Raul Rosado, Giannoulas was allowed to continue to perform in a chicken costume, although not the same one as the original.[3] His new persona, the self-styled "Famous Chicken", emerged from an egg at a "Grand Hatching" seen by 47,000 people at a Padres game at Jack Murphy Stadium on Friday, June 29,[4] as the sound system played the introduction to "Also sprach Zarathustra", the theme notably used in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Beginning in 1981, Giannoulas co-starred on the Saturday morning children's television series The Baseball Bunch, alongside noted Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench and Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda. The local Emmy Award–winning series ran for five seasons and featured The Famous Chicken as the comic foil to Bench as he attempted to mentor a fictional baseball team of Little League-aged children. In his 1984 review of the show, Miami Herald sports writer Bob Rubin praised Giannoulas' contribution to the series, writing, "The Chicken may be the most gifted physical comic since Curly, Larry, and Moe."[5]

The San Diego Chicken with President Ronald Reagan during the 1988 presidential election
The San Diego Chicken with President Ronald Reagan during the 1988 presidential election

Five years after a halftime incident at a Chicago Bulls' NBA game in January 1991, a Chicago jury ordered Giannoulas to pay $300,000 to a Bulls cheerleader injured when The Chicken tackled her on the basketball court.[6][7]

In 1998, the owners of the Barney & Friends children's television show on PBS sued Giannoulas for copyright and trademark infringement, over a sketch in which The Chicken engages in a slapstick dance contest against a Barney-like character. Giannoulas prevailed in the suit and recovered his attorneys' fees, based on the court's determination that his sketch was a legitimate parody, and therefore protected speech.[8]

The success of the Famous Chicken helped lead to mascots becoming widespread throughout professional sports, particularly Major League Baseball.[9] The Chicken was named one of the 100 most powerful people in sports for the 20th century by The Sporting News. The pop culture publication Spy referred to Giannoulas as the Laurence Olivier of sports mascots,[10] and The New York Times called him "perhaps the most influential mascot in sports history."[9]

Giannoulas was inducted in the Baseball Reliquary Shrine of the Eternals in 2011.[11]

Later activities

By 2015, The Chicken was reported to have made 5,100 appearances in 917 different facilities, 50 states, and eight countries, wearing out more than 100 chicken suits.[1]

As of August 2016, after 42 years of playing The Chicken, Giannoulas was still making appearances across the United States, albeit at a slower pace, performing at 11 ballparks in July and August of that year. He expressed uncertainty about how long he would continue, or whether he would appoint a successor. "It's not the end," he was quoted as saying, "but I can see it from here."[9]

Notable appearances

The Famous Chicken appears at the 2001 White House Tee Ball Initiative, a tee-ball game on the south lawn of the White House
The Famous Chicken appears at the 2001 White House Tee Ball Initiative, a tee-ball game on the south lawn of the White House

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c Jenkins, Chris (June 24, 2015). "The San Diego Chicken's still kickin'". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  2. ^ a b "The Chicken Who Saved Baseball". The Attic. Retrieved 25 September 2018.
  3. ^ "KGB Chicken wins". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). Associated Press. June 24, 1979. p. 6C.
  4. ^ "Chicken returns to his old roost". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). Associated Press. June 30, 1979. p. 1C.
  5. ^ Rubin, Bob (March 23, 1984). "Baseball Bunch: More Than Just Kids Stuff". The Miami Herald. Retrieved March 26, 2012.
  6. ^ "'San Diego Chicken' Lays An Egg". Chicago Tribune. May 2, 1996. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  7. ^ Likens, Terri (May 2, 1996). "Woman wins $317,000 from unwanted Chicken Dance". Associated Press. Retrieved March 7, 2019.
  8. ^ LYONS PARTNERSHIP, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Ted GIANNOULAS, doing business as Famous Chicken;  TFC, Inc., Defendants-Appellees, 179 F.3d 384 (5th Cir. 1999).
  9. ^ a b c Croatto, Pete (August 27, 2016) "The San Diego Chicken Heads into a Sunset", The New York Times
  10. ^ Zeman, Ned (December 1990). "American Kabuki: Celebrating the Underappreciated American Art of Performing in Really Large, Furry Costumes". Spy. Retrieved June 8, 2015.
  11. ^ "Shrine of the Eternals". Baseball Reliquary. Retrieved 2018-10-23.
  12. ^ a b Stone, Ken (July 4, 2015). "No Clucking: The Chicken Likes New Yorker Cartoon". Times of San Diego. Retrieved 5 July 2015.
  13. ^ "Joe West Gets San Diego Chicken to Appear for Milestone Game".

Further reading