A look back at the man behind the moose, Bullwinkle J. Moose, that is.
By: Legacy Staff
7 years ago
Rocky and Bullwinkle creator Alex Anderson died Oct. 22, 2010 at age 90. We take a look back at his career and the lovable moose and flying squirrel he's remembered for.
Alex Anderson was born in Berkeley, California, Sept. 5, 1920. He attended both the University of California and the California School of Fine Arts, and got his start in animation by serving as apprentice to animator Paul Terry. Terry produced animated shorts for 20th Century Fox and was the creator of "Terrytoons," whose best-known characters include Mighty Mouse and Heckle & Jeckle. Terry also happened to be Anderson's uncle.
After serving as a Navy intelligence officer during World War II, Anderson approached his uncle with the idea of doing short animation films specifically for television. Terry declined for fear that his employers at Fox would drop him if they found out he was developing for TV; the studio saw the new medium as a big threat.
Anderson then took the idea to his boyhood friend and former fraternity brother, Jay Ward, who was working in real estate. The two founded Television Arts Productions, and Anderson converted his parents' garage into an animation studio.
Anderson and Ward pitched NBC on the idea of a half-hour of animated shorts featuring the characters Crusader Rabbit, Rags the Tiger, Dudley Do-Right, Bullwinkle the Moose and Rocky the Flying Squirrel. The network passed, believing there wouldn’t be an audience for long-format animation. NBC did, however, buy some Crusader Rabbit cartoons to insert into children’s shows.
In 1950, "Crusader Rabbit" thus became the first animated show made specifically for TV. Ward and Anderson made 152 episodes of the cartoon during its run.
But Ward couldn’t so easily give up on the ideas he and Anderson had been working on, particularly the show Anderson had envisioned centered around a group of cartoon animals producing a show for TV, one that would include parodies of popular films and television shows.
Ward moved to Los Angeles, hired new writers and cartoonists and, in 1959, was able to sell the new show with sponsorship backing by General Mills. However, they would pick it up only if Anderson – creator of the characters – was involved. Problem was, Anderson did not want to move from the Bay Area to Los Angeles. As a compromise, Anderson agreed to become a creative consultant, while Ward and his team took over all writing and production.
"The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show" debuted on ABC Nov. 19, 1959. As the lead-in for American Bandstand on Tuesdays and Thursdays, it became the highest-rated daytime network program.
While the pun-filled, clever writing received raves, the show’s animation was often criticized as substandard. Animated in Mexico to cut costs, it was perhaps the first instance of cartoon outsourcing (now a common practice in animation) and Ward later admitted it caused a host of quality control problems.
In 1961, NBC bought the show and moved it to Sunday nights, but if suffered in the ratings by going head-to-head with "Lassie." NBC cancelled the show in 1964, though it later appeared in syndication. To date, the show has aired in 100 countries. Recurring segments you may remember include "Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties," "Fractured Fairytales," "Peabody’s Improbable History," and "Aesop & Son."
Characters created by Anderson and developed by Ward have also been featured in films including 1992’s "Boris and Natasha," 1999’s "Dudley Do-Right," and 2000’s "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle." None performed well critically or commercially.
Prompted by viewing a 1991 documentary on "Rocky and Bullwinkle" that made no mention of his role in creating the characters, Alex Anderson sued Jay Ward Productions. An out-of-court settlement was reached recognizing Anderson as the creator and awarding him an undisclosed financial sum.
The show had a big influence on future entertainment mavens. Director Steven Spielberg told the New York Times that, "It was the first time that I can recall my parents watching a cartoon show over my shoulder and laughing in places I couldn’t comprehend."
"The Simpsons" creator Matt Groening, who has cited the show as a big influence, said, "From watching that show when I was a kid, it was one of my fantasies to grow up and have my own cartoon show. It was a big influence." In fact, the "J" in Homer J. Simpson is a tribute to Bullwinkle J. Moose and Rocky J. Squirrel.