In a new and daring Salient exclusive we send Mark Taylor to spend time with some of our generation’s most influential and reclusive icons.
During the holidays I was given the assignment of following the much loved Cookie Bear around for an afternoon. The following is a rare insight into one of New Zealand’s most media-shy bears.
It’s 2:30pm and I knock at his door. He is in bed and tells me to let myself in and put the jug on while he has a shower. I see him in the fur for the first time. His sheer size is impressive and it’s obvious he works out, with a number of rowing machines parked in his living room. Cookie Bear has been a marketing dream for Griffins, his geniality and love of the lens has made sure that his owners’ cookie jar is always far from empty. If people thought the millions of dollars earned from the ovens in Manurewa benefit our economy, think again. Griffins was bought out by French dairy giant Danone in 1992 who have not missed the opportunity to exploit the big bear. If Cookie Bear was paid for the number of times his face appeared on biscuit packets around the country, he would not be living in a two bedroom house in Blenheim, he insists. His house, he tells me is “in a state of rotation”.
“I am slowly turning it into a pig sty,” he says.
I couldn’t really tell if he was joking or not his spare room is completely plastered in mud. As for the human element, he welcomes most, but always keeps his guard up. The human-bear relationship is for him, love-hate.
“They love you when you’re like all cuddly and friendly but as soon as you get pissed off at something, they treat you like you’re a fuckin’ killer, and want to put a dart in you and lock you up.”
It appears that Griffins have managed to lock this fellow down though, and he admits naivety has its consequences.
“I am 14 years into a 21 year contract. I was young when I signed and I just agreed to all the biscuits I could eat. Fuck, what bear wouldn’t?
“It’s pretty simple. I just eat whatever they [Griffins] give me. Last month it was Mallow Puffs and this month it’s Toffee Pops. As long as I stay in shape, they don’t bother me too much,” he says.
The rowing machines don’t actually get any use; they are one of his “other” projects ⎯ twice a week he hosts Biking Bingo evenings. He admits to keeping his weight down by smoking a twist of tobacco a day, tobacco growing also being one of his “other” projects.
On enquiring further, and even spreading a couple of thick pleasantries, I gleaned a little of his childhood background. Cookie Bear was born Kirk Charles Ivory on the island of Zanzibar in the seventies. His early hours were traumatic with both his mother and father passing away during his birth. He spent most of his early childhood among a group of French Jesuit nuns who used him as a guard dog and fed him, you guessed it, chocolate biscuits. He has golfing great Jack Nicklaus to thank for his freedom and following stardom. A chance meeting with Nicklaus resulted in a couple of promo appearances on the Australian PGA and the rest is history.
“I owe everything I got to Jack, I still keep a picture of him in my wallet,” Ivory sighs. “He’s one human I’d never eat.”
This is as soft as the big bear would get, for, as 3 o’clock rolled around the bottle of port came out. He hadn’t told me about his insatiable thirst for the Douro Valley nectar, a lasting legacy of his cold nights outside at the convent. Declining his offer of a drink might have put me on his “wish to eat” list so I reluctantly accepted. I was interested in his plans for the rest of the day, but obviously, this was it. For the next hour he berated his employers who earlier in the year made him prance around with pink umbrellas in showers of hundreds and thousands. As he cranked on I took in the scene. A crunching layer of discarded Griffins biscuit packets carpeted the kitchen floor, with numerous smiles and big inviting eyes of the Cookie Bear glancing up at me. I tried to see the same bear sitting opposite me, but all I could see in the uncommercial reality of this kitchen was a drunk and embittered Kirk Charles Ivory.
A woman’s touch to the place was obviously missing, but he fends off that subject with a large cloud of smoke in my face. Charming. I think that I liked Cookie Bear before I knew who he was. Upon asking to use the bathroom he becomes irritated and openly rude.
“What is it with you humans and the need to know where a bear shits? Fuck, give it a rest, so I shit in the woods, big deal, dump dee doo, have you seen the size of my arse? I would swallow one of your porcelain potties…”
3:39pm. I thanked him for his time and let myself out while he boomed some of the crudest remarks ever to cross these ears, too crude to stain this page. I will think twice now about interviews with biscuit mascots far past their use by date. I can’t say I was happy to meet the bear behind the bear, more disappointed, disappointed that my cheerful and jolly image of the Cookie Bear I carried through childhood had been befouled.