Thursday, April 6, 2017

Underdog Character Designer Joe Harris Passes On

Joe Harris, who served as the character designer and storyboard artist at television animation studio Total Television (better known simply as TTV), died on March 26 at the age of 89. TTV produced such classic animated series as King Leonardo and His Short Subjects, Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales, Underdog, and The Beagles. Wile at advertising agency Dancer Fitzgerald Sample Mr. Harris also created Trix cereal's advertising mascot the Trix Rabbit.

Joseph Benjamin Harris III was born on January 5 1928 in Jersey City, New Jersey. He served in both the United States Navy and the United States Marines. He attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and after graduation joined Dancer Fitzgerald Sample as an illustrator. He worked on accounts ranging from Bounty paper towels to General Mills cereal.

It was in the late Fifties that Joe Harris created the Trix Rabbit to sell Trix cereal. He not only drew the storyboard for the animated commercial, but also created the cereal's tagline that would last for decades: "Silly rabbit! Trix are for kids!" The Trix Rabbit was introduced in television commercials in 1959.

It was also in 1959 that Dancer Fitzgerald Sample employees W. Watts Bigger, Account Supervisor on General Mills and Corn Products/Best Foods accounts, Chet Stover, copy supervisor on the General Mills account, and Joe Harris, who was then supervisor of animation for the General Mills account, were approached by a superior who told them that General Mills wanted to sponsor a television programme for children. The three men, along with Treadwell Covington (who worked at a direct mail agency) then founded Total Television, known simply as TTV for short.

Joe Harris would serve as the character designer, a storyboard artist, and a producer on all of TTV's programmes. TTV entered the production of animated cartoons with King Leonardo and His Short Subjects. Debuting on NBC on October 15 1960, it was only the network's second Saturday morning cartoon (after Hanna-Barbera's The Ruff & Reddy Show). It was followed in 1963 by Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales and then in 1964 by TTV's most successful cartoon Underdog. Underdog proved to be a phenomenal success. It ran for nine seasons on NBC and CBS and went onto a very successful syndication run. In 1965 an Underdog balloon was introduced to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, where it was flown annually for literally years. A good deal of Underdog merchandise has been produced to this day, including a lunch box, games, comic books, Little Golden Books, and much more.

TTV's final cartoon would be The Beagles, which was centred around a rock band made up of two anthropomorphic dogs. Sadly, it would prove less successful than TTV's previous efforts. The Beagles lasted for only a single season on Saturday morning, from 1965 to 1966. It was in 1969 that General Mills dropped its sponsorship of TTV. Without the money from General Mills, TTV closed up shop.

After TTV closed down, Joe Harris returned to the advertising industry. Still later he illustrated and wrote the children's book, The Belly Book.

Joe Harris certainly made lasting contributions to American pop culture. The Trix Rabbit is not only still featured prominently on boxes of Trix, but he still appears in commercials to this day. The characters he designed at TTV may have had an even more lasting impact on popular culture. Klondike Kat, Tennessee Tuxedo, Commander McBragg, and, particularly, Underdog would all figure prominently in the childhoods of multiple generations of Americans. To this day Tennessee Tuxedo and Underdog remain two of the most famous characters to emerge from American broadcast network Saturday morning cartoons. As character designer and storyboard artist at TTV, Joe Harris had a good deal to do with their success.

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