Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Little History of Brownie the Elf

Posted By on Wed, Nov 18, 2009 at 11:44 AM

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[I wrote this back in December 2006 for Uni Watch. It was actually my first piece as Uni Watch Intern, so naturally I chose a topic near and dear to my heart: Brownie the Elf. It's been almost three years since it ran and I'm sure there are plenty of people who never read the original post or simply don't know, or never wondered about, the history of our little elf. Reprinted with some minor edits for your edification.]

The story of Brownie the Elf the logo begins long before the Cleveland Browns adopted the little creature — long before the team even existed, in fact. "Brownies" date back to folklore, where they were elf-like creatures who helped out with household chores as long as you left them little goodies to eat (further background is available here, here, and here, and the cover illustration from a children's tale entitled "Brownie and the Cook" can be seen here). Palmer Cox was one of the first artists to illustrate Brownie on a consistent basis in his cartoons. He began drawing and using the elves in advertising work that he produced for different companies, including Kodak.

All of which brings us, finally, to the Cleveland Browns.

The association of the elf and the gridiron Browns begins in the late 1940s with Arthur McBride, who was the team's owner at the time. During a string of four incredibly successful seasons from 1946-49 (each of which resulted in an All American Football Conference championship), McBride sought to make his team more recognizable and marketable with music, parades, marching bands, and so on. He also asked for submissions for mascot logos, and after careful consideration chose Brownie as the new face of the team.

Brownie got an update around 1950 and looked like this until 1969. Alternate logos included an orange elf from 1950-69, and a halfback elf from 1960-69. After the Browns won the NFL title in 1964 (yes, it was that long ago, Cleveland fans), Brownie was often depicted with a crown signifying the team's achievement.

Even representatives from the Cleveland Browns are befuddled as to the exact origin, date, and key figures in the creation of the logo (which made its first appearance in an ad for tickets to the 1946 opening game against the Miami Seahawks). However, many of the earliest versions of the elf are credited to Dick Dugan, who became the sports cartoonist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and often depicted Brownie in battle against the team's opponents, like the Broncos.

Cleveland fans loved the athletically inclined little creature with pointed shoes, whose image could be seen adorning various publications and advertisements (from both the team and the public), such as in this 1949 Media Guide.

So, what do you do with a logo that the fans love?

Well, if you're Art Modell, you get rid of it. Apparently, Modell, who became the team's owner in 1961, was completely embarrassed by the elf and hated it so much that in the mid-1960s he began to phase it out. Yes, in addition to taking the team from Cleveland, Modell also was responsible for putting the lovable Brownie on the unemployment line.

Thankfully, when the Browns were resurrected in 1999, Brownie got a new lease on life. New owner Randy Lerner has made a big push to use the elf logo more and more for the organization. "I think it's a great anchor for our tradition and for the look and feel of the Browns," he has said. "But I also understand that there is something to freshening up the act, so I think that's a balancing act we're having right now."

As you can see from the team's sideline ponchos, the organization is using Brownie in more ways than just for merchandise sales (although it's clearly evident from the hats and shirts and fleeces that there is a definite push in that direction too). In fact, the Browns have used the elf logo on the 2006 Training Camp Patch celebrating the franchise's 60th anniversary, and a throwback elf logo appears on the front of their 2006 Media Guide (here's a close-up view). Fans have embraced Brownie, too — one guy has gotten permanent reminder of his allegiances.

While Brownie's revival is welcome news, there's one place that the elf should never appear, on the helmet (and thankfully, Lerner agrees). Paul Brown actually proposed this idea in 1953, but dismissed the idea after seeing mock-ups created by then trainer Leo Murphy. Good thing too, because the only thing that should ever be added to the team's helmets are uniform numbers, like the ones the team wore with for a throwback game against the Bengals.

We're generally pleased with Brownie's reappearance. It adds a great traditional aspect to the team's imagery, which meshes nicely with the more recent addition of the "Dawg" logo (but please, let's not have them mesh like this, ideas that belong in the same graveyard as this one).

Three other Brownie items of note:

• Brownie was also pressed into mascot duty by the St. Louis Browns baseball team just prior to their move to Baltimore (where they became the Orioles). During this brief run, Brownie appeared on the team's jersey sleeve , on the cover of the team's 1952 schedule, and even on the door to owner Bill Veeck's office.

• "Elf Brownie" is also the name of a typeface.

• Need a last-minute Christmas gift? Live near northeastern Ohio? You can get plenty of Brownie-related merchandise at the GPS Gift Gallery in Rocky River, Ohio, the self-proclaimed "Home of the Brownie Elf."

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