Thursday, November 4, 2010

Rocky and Bullwinkle Creator Alex Andererson Passes On

Alex Anderson, who created the legendary cartoon characters Rocky and Bullwinkle, as well as Dudley Do-Right and Crusader Rabbit, passed on October 22, 2010 at the age of 90. The cause was Alzheimer's disease.

Alexander Anderson Jr. was born on September 5, 1920. He graduated from both the University of California, Berkeley and the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. In 1938 he went to work for his uncle, animator Paul Terry, at Mr .Terry's studio Terrytoons. During World War II he served in Naval Intelligence. Following World War II he returned to Terrytoons, working in both animation and editing. He had broached the idea of producing cartoons for television with Paul Terry, who rejected it out of hand. In 1948 Alex Anderson left Terrytoons and returned to San Francisco. It was following a car accident in which childhood friend Jay Ward was injured that he visited Mr. Ward. He broached the idea of producing cartoons for television and Jay Ward embraced the idea. It was in 1948 that they formed Television Arts Productions.

Their first project was a pilot film consisting of three cartoons: "Hamhock Jones (a Sherlock Holmes parody)," "Dudley Doright of the Mounties," and "Crusader Rabbit," under the heading of The Comic Strips of Television. Mr. Anderson did most of the writing, while Jay Ward contributed gags. Of the three cartoons, NBC greelighted only "Crusader Rabbit." Crusader Rabbit was the first cartoon made exclusively for television and proved to be a success. It ultimately ran on around 200 stations nationwide and ran for 195 episodes in its first incarnation.

It was following the success of Crusader Rabbit that Television Arts Productions began to float new ideas for cartoons, among these a storyboard for a proposed cartoon created by Alex Anderson called The Frostbite Falls Review. Among the featured characters in The Frostbite Falls Review were Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Bullwinkle the moose. At the time they were only two members of an ensemble that included such characters as Sylvester the Fox and Blackstone the Crow. The idea was that this group of characters was broadcasting their own show from their own television station. Ultimately The Frostbite Falls Review failed to sell. Sadly, NBC would not renew Crusader Rabbit in 1951.

Afterwards Alex Anderson took a job with the advertising agency Guild, Bascom, and Bonfilgli of San Francisco, while Jay Ward returned to real estate. It would be in 1956 that Crusader Rabbit would be revived, this time shot in colour. Unfortunately, after years of litigation involving NBC and Jerry Fairbanks Productions, Alex Anderson and Jay Ward would not be involved in the revival. Indeed, they ultimately wound up selling Television Arts Productions in 1957. Fortunately, this did not include the rights to characters other than those of Crusader Rabbit, so that Rocky, Bullwinkle, and Dudley Doright all remained the property of Alex Anderson and Jay Ward.

It would be in 1957 that Jay Ward Productions would be founded. Alex Anderson would not be a part of the new company. He did not want to move from San Francisco to Los Angeles and decided to stay in advertising. He would be a consultant on Jay Ward Productions' new series, Rocky and His Friends. Of course, Mr. Anderson would have an enormous impact on Jay Ward Productions. He created the original versions of Rocky and Bullwinkle, as well as the original version of Dudley Do-Right, three of the studio's most successful characters.

Unfortunately, as years passed it would be forgotten that Alex Anderson created the original Rocky and Bullwinkle and Dudley Do-Right. After watching a documentary on Jay Ward Productions in 1991 in which he was not mentioned at all, Alex Anderson sued the studio for the right to be acknowledged as the co-creator of Rocky and Bullwinkle. In 1996 a settlement was reached out of court whereby Mr. Anderson was acknowledged as "the creator of the first version of the characters." The settlement also included an amount of money, which by court order has never been revealed.

Certainly Jay Ward Productions owed a good deal to Alex Anderson. He was pivotal at the studio's predecessor, Television Arts Productions, and created its only success, Crusader Rabbit. He also created the original Rocky, Bullwinkle, and Dudley Do-Right. While Bill Scott would give shape to these characters, they had originated with Alex Anderson. Indeed, it was Alex Anderson while at Television Arts Productions who set the pace for all Jay Ward Productions cartoons. It was he who pioneered topical references in the cartoons which only adults would understand, as well as clever puns and elements of satire. All of this originated with the first run of Crusader Rabbit, much of which Alex Anderson wrote. It must also be pointed out that to a large degree all producers of cartoons made for television owe something to Alex Anderson. It was Anderson who thought of producing cartoons for television and broached the idea with Jay Ward. The cartoon they would produce, Crusader Rabbit, was the first cartoon produced exclusively for television. He was then a pioneer, to whom such animated studios as Filmation, Depatie-Fleming, Ruby Spears, TTV, and even Hanna-Barbera owe their existence. Without Alex Anderson, it may have been many more years before cartoons made for television would emerge.


Daniel said...

Well, I was worried at first that this article would not accurately portray our father's creative contribution "Crusader Squirrel" (ouch!). Perhaps it can be edited to "Crusader Rabbit."

But after the first paragraph, it appears to be spot on. Anyone who knew our father, Alex Anderson, knows full well the origin of the creative genius behind Rocky and Bullwinkle

Dan Kennedy

Mercurie said...

I must apologise for that error, Dan! It has since been corrected (I was typing at full speed after a long day's work--I was lucky I didn't also say "Rocky the Flying Rabbit)!" At any rate, your father, Alex Anderson, certainly deserves a lot more credit than he gets for the creation of Rocky, Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right, Crusader Rabbit, and Ragland T. Tiger! Without him, Jay Ward Productions would not have existed!