Before the costumed antics, Oski was a cartoon.
When Warrington Colescott was an art editor at The Daily Californian in 1941, fellow student William C. Rockwell ’48 came to him with a request that would change Cal spirit forever. Rockwell wanted to create a silly-looking school mascot based on some of Colescott’s newspaper cartoons to replace the unruly live bears that had been used up until that point. The two designed bear masks with three different facial expressions for different situations: a goofy grin, an indifferent look, and an angry glare. Rockwell wanted to name his character “Algy,” but Colescott dissuaded him, suggesting he use “Oski” because of the popular “Oski Wow-Wow” yell.
In a lecture called “A Few Thoughts about My Life in Art,” Colescott described the Oski from his cartoons as a cynical creation meant to be a funny loser. This was a fairly accurate portrayal of the football team at the time, which was coming off a 4–6 season in 1940. In a recent interview, Colescott elaborated, explaining that the cartoon Oski would appear in the sports pages of The Daily Cal on Fridays and Mondays. “He had the hots for this young lady named Rosy Bowl. He was after Rosy Bowl, and each week he had to face off against someone else. There was an Indian (Stanford) and a husky and so forth. The simple story was that Oski didn’t do very well that year, and every Monday he would be beat up, destroyed one way or another, but still in pursuit.” The costumed Oski creation was supposed to cheer up fans after each loss.
On September 27, 1941, a three-dimensional Oski made his Memorial Stadium debut at a game against St. Mary’s College with his size 54 yellow sweater, blue trousers, white gloves, and size 13 ½ football shoes. During the game, he led cheers, flirted with the ladies, waved at kids, performed along the sidelines, and walked across the beams of the goal posts at halftime. The game ended in a 31–0 Cal victory.
Well loved for nearly 70 years since then, it’s fair to say that Colescott and Rockwell’s creation is no longer a loser.