Saturday, 4 July 2015

A Subliminal Moose

Jay Ward’s writers didn’t waste time.

‘Rocky and Bullwinkle,’ ‘Dudley Do-Right,’ ‘George of the Jungle’ and ‘Super Chicken’ may have been the funniest cartoons on TV. For one thing, they didn’t fill seven minutes like a theatrical cartoon or what Hanna-Barbera was putting out. The cartoons were half the length. That allowed Ward’s great writers to come up with joke after joke after joke, one quickly after the other, with the cartoon ending before the audience got worn out.

We don’t write much here about the studio’s cartoons because Keith Scott said it all in his book The Moose That Roared. Anyone who has ever laughed at a Jay Ward cartoon should own the book. Ward’s publicity team put together stunts that may have been crazier than anything in the cartoons. And they also made sure the press was told someone was available to be interviewed. Here’s Bill Scott talking with a syndicated columnist in 1960. The theme of “the network won’t publicise us” was not unusual in media interviews. And if you’re wondering about references to Marvin Miller and Louis Nye, Ward had several projects in development that never panned out. Super Chicken finally got on the air a number of years after Ward’s team came up with it; Nye was involved in the original version, if I recall.

This version of the column appeared in the Binghamton Press on August 20, 1960.

Rocky Is 'Subliminal' Cartoon

Special Press Writer
THE Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw TV cartoons are big hits and receive ample publicity. Grownups know about them and many watch the series with their kids. That's fine, but there also happens to be another expertly made cartoon series featuring a squirrel and a moose, called Rocky and His Friends, on the ABC network, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:30 p. m.
Rocky and His Friends is called a "subliminal" cartoon series by its producers Jay Ward and Bill Scott, because apparently nobody has ever heard of it, though Rocky has been on the air since last November. General Mills, the sponsors, do not seem to care about publicizing it end are apparently happy about all the kids who do watch the show, because the publicity budget hasn't increased.
But the sponsors did try something. Rocky and Friends was put on at a later time, 7:30 p. m., in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the squirrel walked off with a whopping 30 rating. By a simple deduction the producers feel that with a time change and a little publicity, Rocky might jump into the limelight. However, no changes are in sight.
As long as the sponsors are happy, Ward and Scott are in business and trust to kids' word of mouth to turn Rocky into a draw. Their main problem is just to get the cartoons out and they go about it in a strange but commendable way.
For instance, their animating plant, with 70 workers, is situated in Mexico City. The idea, of course, was to put out shows at a lower cost. The writers think up the stories in Hollywood and the animators do the drawing below the border.
The funny thing is that it is working, not perfectly, but working. Co-producer Scott says the plant is turning out an adequate product. "It's like the story of the talking dog," Scott explained. "The wonder is not what it says, but that it talks at all.
"When we began down there," Scott continued, "the artists were wonderfully polite. Of course, they could turn out this staggering amount. Because of lack of experience there were pitfalls. Retakes were needed, but this is slowing down and the politeness and friendliness are still on a high level."
Says Scott, a former writer for Mister Magoo, Gerald McBoing-Boing and Bugs Bunny: "If we had a brilliantly trained crew, it would still require a miracle to maintain the output we really need. But we don't hire only people we like. We've even turned down money."
Scott maintains most of the people in the cartoon industry like each other. He feels it's an industry in which the kidding is on a kind level. There are a lot of "kooks" in the business, but they have big hearts.
"First of all, the people in the cartoon industry are smart," said Scott. "Secondly, they're doing satisfying work and have a chance to compete. Another pleasant thing about it is there is nothing on film that we did not put there. In no other business do you have such absolute control."
With the success of Huckleberry Hound and other cartoons, Scott feels that the TV cartoon industry can only grow. He only wonders where the new talent is going to come from.
"It should come from the kids who draw funny jokes in school magazines," said Scott. "But I haven't met any for a long time. I think those boys have become shoe salesmen or have gotten into public relations. We need them."
Most of the staff members of Jay Ward Productions have put in time at UPA, Disney, or one of the movie cartoon outfits. Co-producer Jay Ward created the first TV cartoon series, Crusader Rabbit, director Pete Burness handled many Magoo shows for UPA, and director Bob Cannon won two Academy Awards plus those from Venice, Cannes and Edinburgh.
Probably the most familiar thing about the Rocky shows is the voices. The nervous voice of Edward Everett Horton cheerfully takes over at times. Hans Conreid, Marvin Miller from The Millionaire series, Don Knotts and Louis Nye from the Steve Allen Show can be heard. Besides these names, add the two most talented "voice men" in Hollywood, Daws Butler and Paul Frees.
"Butler and Frees have as much control of-their pipes as a jet pilot does with his intricate plane," says Scott. "They never stop learning. Both sit home with tape recorders and listen to voices on TV. The next day a perfect imitation is forthcoming."
This kind of talent does seem to be wasted at 5:30 p. m. But still, better a "subliminal" show than none at all.

1 comment:

  1. Voice talent? And not a word about the incomparable June Foray? The voice of Rocky, Natasha, and all those fairy tale princesses and fairy godmothers?

    And what about Bill Scott's voicing of Bullwinkle?

    I totally agree with the comments about Daws, Frees, and the others--but face it, without June Foray and of course Bill Scott there wouldn't have been a Rocky show.

    Happy 4th of July!