That gentle comic strip possum who lived for 27 years in the Okefenokee Swamp, Pogo, will soon be a major motion picture. And at the urging of his friends -- including Churchy LaFemme the Turtle, Albert the Alligator, Mole, Deacon Mushrat, P. T. Bridgeport and Miss Mam'zelle Hepzibah -- Pogo may this year be drafted for the presidency.
"But he hasn't declared his candidacy," cautions Kerry Stowell.
"Albert the Alligator may be forced to thrust the true, blue-eyed son of Georgia out front," predicts Marc Chinoy.
Stowell and Chinoy are the two owners of a Washington film animation company, Stonwar Enterprises, that has obtain the rights from the estate of cartoonist Walt Kelly to produce a movie about Pogo. The plot is still secret, though it is suspected Pogo will make a bid for the presidency since Stowell and Chinoy recently opened a campaign office for Pogo. And sources who prefer to remain unnamed say Pogo's campaign will be officially kicked off in the coming weeks. Further evidence: if current negotiations with distributors go well, the first Pogo movie will be released this summer, just about the time presidential politics reach their fever pitch.
For more than a year now, Stowell, Chinoy and a staff of 35 specialists in animation, sculpture and filmmaking have been working quietly in Crystal City offices to bring Pogo to the silver screen. Elaborate, miniature sets and hand-made clay characters are the stars of the $2 million production. Providing voices for several of the characters are Jonathan Winters, Vincent Price, Ruth Buzzi, Stan Freberg, Arnold Stang and Jimmy Breslin.
At the time of cartoonist Kelley's death in 1973, 420 newspaper around the world published Pogo daily. The popularity of Pogo and his friends stemmed from the strip's clever combination of contemporary politics and good-humored fun set in the context of a Georgia swamp that saw its share of scoundrels, sharpies and snake-oil salesmen.
In 1952 and 1956 a tongue-in-cheek campaign to run Pogo for president marched under the banner "I Go Pogo," despite the swampland hero's reluctance to engage in anything more ambitious than fishing.
Pogo's wisdom, as well as Kelly's cliche, "We have met the enemy and he is us," are part of American folklore; at a Carter-Mondale campaign dinner last momth, for example, Vice President Walter Mondale told supporters America had a wonderful president in Jimmy Carter. Continued Mondale: "The great American scholar Pogo once said, 'We face unsuperable opportunites.' And we do."
"A week doesn't go by that Pogo's name doesn't come up," says Chinoy, who began discussing Pogo at a dinner with Stowell a year and a half ago. The next day they were in New York dining with Kelly's widow, Silby Kelly. Four days later she endorsed the idea of a Pogo movie.
"Pogo's viewpoint is one of open-minded ness and fair play," says Chinoy, who knows the little fella would rather be catching fish than getting famous. "But as the Mole and the Deacon say, 'Calvin Coolidge fished his way into the White House.'" CAPTION: Illustration, no caption, Copyright (c) 1979 Estate of Walt Kelly; Picture, no caption, By Bill Snead