October 12, 2018

Today marks the 29th an:niversary of the death of Jay Ward, the creator/producer of the immortal cartoon series, “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle”. After earning his MBA at Harvard, Ward went into real estate but developed a fascination with the emerging medium of television. In the mid-1950s he produced a comic strip pilot for NBC featuring the story’s hero, Crusader Rabbit, and a bumbling Canadian Mountie named Dudley Do-Right.    

Ward soon became engaged in a legal battle involving the character of Crusader Rabbit. After losing his case, Ward moved on to a new project called “The Frostbite Falls Revue” featuring an eccentric group of characters including two minor players named Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose.  The revue  morphed into “The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle” which premiered in 1959 and ran for five years under several different titles. The show was extremely popular in reruns and became syndicated in 1973.

With the exception of “Bugs Bunny and Friends” it’s difficult to think of any cartoon series that was as brilliant as Ward’s creation. The episodes were spoofs of old movie serials and featured ingenious plots and memorable villains. The show possessed sophisticated as well as low-brow humor and hilarious but sometimes cringe-worthy puns. The series provided commentary on contemporary society including the military, the Cold War, and big business. The show was not afraid to poke fun at the television industry and its advertisers. When Pottsylvanian spy, Boris Badunov, schemed to control the world’s economy by counterfeiting cereal box tops, the show’s sponsor General Mills forced the producers to put a quick end to the theme. This may have led to the following cartoon exchange:
Bullwinkle: You just leave it to my pal Rock. He’s the brains of the outfit.
General: And what does that make you?
Bullwinkle: What else? The executive.

The characters were always ready to make fun of their own show:
Rocky: [recognizing Boris’s voice] That voice. Where have I heard that voice before?
Bullwinkle: In about 365 other episodes. But I don’t know who it is, either.

The writers of the innovative show doubled as the voices. Bill Scott was the voice of Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right, Fearless Leader, Mr. Peabody, and Mr. Big. June Foray provided the voice of Rocky and every female including Natasha, Nell, and all the assorted witches and princesses in “Fractured Fairy Tales”. The narrator of the Rocky and Bullwinkle episodes was none other than William Conrad who would go on to play the heavy-set title character in the detective series, “Cannon”. Yes, it was Cannon who spoke such classic lines as “Be with us next time for “Below Zero Heroes” or “I only have ice for you”. Paul Frees was the voice of Boris Badunov whose name was inspired by 16th century Russian Tsar Boris Godunov.

In 1989, Jay Ward died of kidney cancer at the age of 69. Despite being the creator of the beloved series, Ward rarely sought publicity and left us with no memorable quotes. In lieu of quotes from Ward, we’ll settle for some of the great lines from his masterful creation:

Rocky: Don’t you know what an A-bomb is?
Bullwinkle: Certainly, A bomb is what most people call our show.
Rocky: I don’t think that’s very funny.
Bullwinkle: Neither do they, apparently.

Rocky: Bullwinkle, I’m worried.
Bullwinkle: Ratings down in the show again?
Rocky: No.
Bullwinkle: That’s odd.
Rocky: I’m worried because there have already been two attempts on your life.
Bullwinkle: Oh, don’t worry. We will be renewed.
Rocky: I’m not talking about the Bullwinkle Show.
Bullwinkle: You had better — we could use the publicity.

Finally, as William Conrad would say: “Be with us next time for” Crash Drive” or “Oedipus Wrecks”
Or, how about: “The Cliff Hanger” or “Taken for Granite”
Or maybe: “Boris Bites Back” or “Rebel without a Pause”

Have a great weekend.
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