It is difficult to imagine now but there was a time when there was practically no intelligent, funny animation on TV. When I was a kid all that me and the mastodons could watch on TV was Hannah-Barbara mass-produced dreck, leavened with re-runs of the great Warner Bros. cartoons. Wonder why Scooby Doo has such a devoted following? It’s because it was one of the better kids shows on at the time – and it really is just a shade away from pure crap.
Rocky & Bullwinkle were the exception. They were to TV what Mad Magazine was to publishing – subversive, under-the-radar, smart and funny commentary on the grown-up world. Boris & Natasha made fun of the Cold War (I have a framed picture of Boris on the wall in the living room at Collateral Damage HQ). Sherman & Peabody made fun of history, Fractured Fairy Tales made fun of, well, fairy tales, Dudley Do-Right made fun of Canada. Of course they were actually making fun of everything in the world under the guise of laughing at these topics but that was part of the fun. (Dudley’s girlfriend, Nell, has a crush on Dudley’s horse!) Rocky & Bullwinkle’s Wossamotta U. stories are a send up of college athletics on a par with The Marx Brother’s Horse Feathers. In this golden age of The Simpsons, South Park, Harvey Birdman, King of The Hill and Futurama it is easy to forget how plain old horrible TV cartoons once were. Even the cartoons explicitly aimed at youngsters are better. I will happily sit down and watch Phineas & Ferb,Kim Possible, Arthur, Rugrats and more without feeling I am being insulted and condescended to as I was watching Hannah-Barbara shows.
While most people associate Rocky & Bullwinkle with Jay Ward
Mr. Anderson, who grew up in a cartooning family in California, was also the creator of Crusader Rabbit, which became television’s first animated cartoon series in 1949. He spent much of his career in advertising, and his role in creating Rocky and Bullwinkle was overlooked with time. He fought a long legal battle late in life to reclaim recognition as the cartoon characters’ artistic father. … Mr. Anderson and Ward grew up together in Berkeley, Calif., and formed a business in the late 1940s to pitch cartoon ideas to television. Crusader Rabbit, Rocky, Bullwinkle and Dudley Do-Right were among the characters they showed to studio executives before Crusader Rabbit was picked up. After Mr. Anderson’s other cartoon ideas failed to catch on, he joined a San Francisco advertising agency. Ward moved to Los Angeles, trying to sell TV studios on a Bullwinkle series.
Anderson took legal action after seeing a documentary about Bullwinkle that didn’t even mention his name. He won and in 1993 – four years after Jay Ward’s death — received a lump-sum settlement, along with a court-mandated acknowledgment as "the creator of the first version of the characters of Rocky, Bullwinkle and Dudley."
Bless you and thank you, Mr. Anderson.
AND ON A SADLY RELATED NOTE: RIP and thank you to Leo Collum, a cartoonist whose blustering businessmen, clueless doctors, venal lawyers and all-too-human dogs and cats amused readers of The New Yorker for the past 33 years, died on Saturday in Los Angeles. He was 68 and lived in Malibu, Calif. For a selection of his cartoons, click here.