San Diego Chicken-Holy Roller
- Published: 17 April 2015
- The character originated as an animated TV commercial for KGB-FM Radio in San Diego. Writer, cartoonist, and actor Brian Narelle, star of John Carpenter's film Dark Star, was working for Odyssey Productions and offered to animate a wacky acrobatic chicken as part of a commercial contract bid.
Narelle went on to direct and animate the commercial as well as create cartoon art for the campaign. In March 1974, Giannoulas (who was a student at San Diego State University) was hired to wear the first suit for a promotion to distribute Easter eggs to children at the San Diego Zoo. The chicken would wander throughout the stands at Padres games and if one said "Lay One On Me" the chicken would lay an egg via his leggings containing a prize. A redesigned suit followed that more closely resembled The Famous Chicken today.
The Chicken, whose antics entertained steadily larger crowds, moved on to features at concerts and sporting events (appearing at more than 520 San Diego Padres games in a row), The Chicken also appeared at many San Diego Clippers games before the team moved to Los Angeles. Conflict emerged between KGB Radio and Giannoulas, and the latter was fired on May 3, 1979. Another unnamed employee was hired to don a chicken outfit at a Padres game. Fans, many of whom were aware that Giannoulas was not in the outfit, booed the chicken loudly forcing him off the field.
After a lawsuit was decided in Giannoulas's favor in June 1979 (by Judge Raul Rosado), Giannoulas was allowed to continue to perform in a chicken costume (though not the same as the original costume), and his Chicken emerged from an egg at a "Grand Hatching" seen by 47,000 people as the introduction to "Also sprach Zarathustra", the theme used in 2001: A Space Odyssey, played.
Beginning in 1981, Giannoulas co-starred on the Saturday morning children's television series The Baseball Bunch, alongside Johnny Bench and Tommy Lasorda. The Emmy Award winning series ran for five seasons and featured The Famous Chicken as the comic foil to Bench as he attempted to mentor a fictional baseball team of Little League aged children. In his 1984 review of the show, Miami Herald sports writer, Bob Rubin praised Giannoulas' contribution to the series writing, "The Chicken may be the most gifted physical comic since Curly, Larry and Moe."
In 1998, owners of the Barney the Dinosaur children's character sued Giannoulas for copyright and trademark infringement, over a sketch in which the Chicken engages in a slapstick dance contest against a Barney-like character. Giannoulas prevailed in the suit and recovered his attorneys' fees, based on the court's determination that his sketch was a lawful, legitimate parody.
The success of the Famous Chicken helped lead to mascots becoming widespread throughout professional sports, particularly Major League Baseball. The Chicken was named one of the 100 most powerful people in sports for the 20th century by The Sporting News. The New York Times referred to Giannoulas as "the Lawrence Olivier of sports mascots."Currently, the Chicken continues to make appearances annually across the United States