The Soft and Cuddly Story Behind “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear” by Elvis Presley

President Theodore Roosevelt inspired the teddy bear when on a Mississippi hunting trip in 1902, he refused to shoot a black bear that had been cornered by his assistants. Upon reading about Roosevelt’s declining to shoot the bear, Clifford Berryman drew a cartoon in The Washington Post on November 16, 1902, satirizing the president’s unwillingness to shoot the bear. Subsequent Berryman cartoons featured smaller, cuter bears.

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Morris Michtom, a candy shop owner in Brooklyn, New York, saw the cartoon and created a tiny, soft toy bear cub and put it in his window with a sign saying, “Teddy’s bear.” People began requesting the bears, so Michtom and his wife Rose founded the Ideal Novelty and Toy Co. The bears became so popular the Michtoms wrote to “Teddy” Roosevelt to ask for permission to use his name and sent him a bear. The President displayed it at White House functions and brought it to campaign events. Soon, every kid wanted a teddy bear. The original bear is on display at the Smithsonian Institute.

When Elvis Presley rose to fame, a rumor started that he liked teddy bears. Fans began sending him the stuffed animals. He amassed hundreds of teddy bears. It also inspired two Philadelphia songwriters to write a song for the singer’s next movie. Let’s take a look at the story behind “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear” by Elvis Presley.

A Teddy Bear for Elvis

After the success of Love Me Tender, Elvis was back in Hollywood to film his follow-up Loving You. Kal Mann and Bernie Lowe wrote “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear” based on a rumor about the famous singer’s fictitious fascination. Presley recorded the song along with its flip side, the film’s title track, at Radio Recorders in Hollywood on January 22, 1957. The personnel included his regular backing musicians—guitarist Scotty Moore, bassist Bill Black, drummer D.J. Fontana, and vocal group The Jordanaires. It is unknown who played the piano. The song would not be released until June 11, a month before the film. 

Oh, baby, let me be, your lovin’ teddy bear
Put a chain around my neck and lead me anywhere
Oh, let me be (oh, let him be)
Your teddy bear

Lonesome Cowboy

Filming began in February for a Paramount movie originally titled Lonesome Cowboy. Hal B. Wallis produced, and Hal Kanter directed Presley, who portrayed Deke Rivers, a character that echoed real life. He’s a truck driver-turned-singing star who has to fight off the girls who want a piece of him as well as their boyfriends who want the rest of him. He must navigate the murky waters of show business. Of course, Elvis falls for a girl singer in the band who gets fired, but they end up together and everyone is happy.

I don’t want to be your tiger
‘Cause tigers play too rough
I don’t want to be your lion
‘Cause lions ain’t the kind you love enough

No. 1

“(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear” hit the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 on July 8, 1957, the day before Loving You was released. This created the perfect synergy for the film’s promotion, which in turn further promoted the single. Kal Mann and Bernie Lowe started Cameo-Parkway Records in 1956. Besides “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear,” they both had a hand in writing “Butterfly” and “Fabulous” by Charlie Gracie; “Let’s Twist Again,” “Limbo Rock,” and “Popeye the Hitchhiker” by Chubby Checker; “Wild One” and “The Cha-Cha-Cha” by Bobby Rydell; “Bristol Stomp” by The Dovells, “Mashed Potato Time” by Dee Dee Sharp; and “Teen Age Prayer” by Gale Storm.

Baby, let me be around you every night
Run your fingers through my hair
And cuddle me real tight
Oh, let me be (oh, let him be)
Your teddy bear

“Tell ‘Em Ol’ Dewey Sent Ya”

Dewey Phillips was the Memphis disc jockey who first played Elvis on the radio when Sun Records founder Sam Phillips brought the recording of “That’s All Right” to WHBQ and urged him to put it on the air. Calls poured in, and the record was played repeatedly. When he brought Elvis into the studio, Dewey Phillips interviewed the young singer and asked him what high school he attended. This was his way of telling the audience the singer was white. Phillips was a motormouthed host who played rhythm & blues and often talked over the songs and delivered his own commercials. His tagline was “Tell ’em ol’ Dewey sent ya.”

Elvis and Dewey Phillips were forever connected as the singer’s career took off. When Elvis began his movie career, Phillips went out to Hollywood to visit the rock ‘n’ roller on the set of Loving You. Elvis was thankful to the DJ for all he had done, but Dewey was a bit out of his element in California. Elvis took Dewey to see Sammy Davis Jr. at the Moulin Rouge and when they introduced Elvis, the spotlight swung around to find the singer just as Dewey jumped up and said, “Dewey Phillips, Memphis, Tennessee.” Elvis was embarrassed, but he chalked it up to Dewey being Dewey.

Before Phillips returned to Memphis, Elvis played an advance copy of “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear.” The record was still weeks from being released, but unbeknownst to Elvis, Phillips took the record home with him and began playing it on the air immediately. RCA Victor was furious, manager Colonel Tom Parker was upset, and even Elvis was disappointed. The headline in the Memphis Press-Scimitar would read “These Reports True — Elvis and Dewey Had a Falling Out.”

Just want to be your teddy bear
Put a chain around my neck and lead me anywhere
Oh, let me be (oh, let him be) your teddy bear
Oh, let me be (oh, let him be) your teddy bear
I just want to be your teddy bear (ooh)

The Ideal Toy Co. went on to make many dolls, including Betsy Wetsy, Shirley Temple, and Judy Garland. In 1979, Erno Rubik brought his “Magic Cube” to the company, which started selling it as Rubik’s Cube the following year.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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