Saturday, 6 February 2016

Jay and Bill on Moose and Squirrel

Parody, satire, a quick pace and terrific acting made the Jay Ward cartoons the best made for TV.

Ward and Alex Anderson started out making Crusader Rabbit cartoons in the early ‘50s. Anderson created the characters but, somehow, Jerry Fairbanks ended up with control of the cartoons—then lost them when a mortgage deal with NBC went sour. Anderson dug into his bag of unused characters and a few of them were adapted by Ward and Bill Scott into a new series called Rocky and His Friends in 1959.

The success of The Flintstones on ABC in 1960-61 had other networks jumping on the cartoon ride to prime-time ratings. NBC grabbed Rocky, changed the name to The Bullwinkle Show, told Scott and Ward to boost the adult content and put it on the air—opposite CBS powerhouse Lassie. Bullwinkle was funnier than Lassie but got cancelled anyway. Fortunately, it survived for years on weekend mornings on ABC.

If you don’t have the book The Moose That Roared by Keith Scott, you should get it. Keith goes into amazing detail about all the Ward shows, both broadcast and proposed. He quotes from all kinds of newspaper stories and magazine articles published when the shows were airing. I’m too lazy to look it up but I’m pretty sure he quoted from the piece below, the cover article from the January 1962 edition of TV Radio Mirror. Here’s the whole article.


There's one star this season who is a big jump ahead of his competitors in getting laughs from the oft-unrealistic situations of TV comedy—because he's unreal himself: Funny, fictitious Bullwinkle J. Moose, who leaped to fame on the popular cartoon series Rocky And His Friends and now has star billing on his own Bullwinkle Show each Sunday.
Real or unreal, it's only natural that the inimitable cross-eyed moose is a veritable fountain of funniness. He's the brainchild of the zaniest pair of behind-the-camera laugh-provokers ever to hit Hollywood. The general tenor of madness that surrounds everything connected with the show was evident at its gala premiere. Everybody who is anybody in the film capital received formal, engraved invitations and a pair of tickets to widely separated seats to accommodate couples who weren't on speaking terms! As guests arrived at the theater's red-carpeted entrance, the most famous stars were met with stony silence. But the lesser-known members of the press were saluted with wild applause and cheering—supplied by an off-stage sound track. Each was greeted at the microphone by a master of ceremonies nattily attired in white tie, tails, Bermuda shorts and sneakers.
The Bullwinkle Show (including its rib-tickling, pomposity-pricking premiere) is the proud preparation of Jay Ward Productions, a firm built around Jay Ward and Bill Scott. Remarkably similar in looks, build, age and an anything-for-a-laugh approach to life, this Tweedledum-Tweedledee pair are hard to pin down to specifics. When someone does manage to get them settled together for any brief period, he comes away with the impression of having witnessed a game of table tennis—with himself as the ball.
The best description of the two is the one they give of themselves: "I look like the guard on a losing football team of ten years ago," says Jay. "I remind people of the meat-and-poultry man at the A & P," says Bill.
San Francisco-born Jay is a graduate of the University of California and the Harvard School of Business. While selling real estate in 1947, he came up with the idea for Crusader Rabbit, sold the show to TV, then returned to the real-estate business. In 1957, he created Rocky—and, this time, gave up the business world for good.
Bill reversed Jay's eastward trek. Born in Philadelphia, he went West to the University of Denver. After graduation, he went on to Hollywood, worked on "Bugs Bunny" and "Daffy Duck," graduated to writing and producing Time For Beany (one of TV's first hit puppet shows), then moved to the "Mister Magoo" series and the "Gerald McBoing-Boing" show, which won an Academy Award as best cartoon of the year.
Jay Ward Productions consists of a host of creative talents, including six other writers, five directors, a spate of animators and some of the most able delineators of various voices in show business, including Paul Frees, Hans Conried, June Foray, Mel Blanc, Louis Nye, Don Knotts, Charles Ruggles, Bill Conrad, Alan Reed and Walter Tetley.
It should not be surprising to learn that the firm has no president. "We're all vice-presidents," Jay and Bill announce. In the same straight-faced manner, they go on to discuss the man they consider most important to their organization—Ponsonby Britt, chairman of the board. "We needed him," says Jay, producing a prepared biography of their esteemed leader. "He had the money. He's head of the Widows and Orphans Benevolent Fund."
A harried publicity man hastens to explain that there is no such person as Ponsonby Britt, that he is just a name dreamed up by the kookie pair for a gag. "We decided to invent him because we thought the enterprise needed a touch of class," Bill admits.
Like Rocky And His Friends, from which it sprang, The Bullwinkle Show is classified by the network as a "children's show"—a fact which puzzles its producers. "We feel it's adult humor, but NBC can't understand the jokes, so they think it's a children's show."

Nye, Knotts and Blanc were cast in a version of Super Chicken (Blanc in supporting roles) for syndication around 1960 that didn’t sell. Reed was a co-star of Hoppety Hooper but by the time the show finally got to air, he was too busy with The Flintstones to do it.

Ward and Scott constantly griped that NBC never promoted the show, though the network renewed it for the 1962-63 season after CBS expressed an interest in it. In fact, NBC decided to save money by broadcasting Bullwinkle in black and white after airing it in colour the previous season until a couple of affiliates complained. The last voice track for the show was recorded on December 11, 1962. By early-April, NBC was ready to dump it but General Mills agreed to renew so the show was moved to Saturday morning Cartoon Rerun Land. There were no more new adventures. The moose and squirrel had been done in by a peacock.


  1. I still remember one very flakey gag from R&B:

    ROCKY: You know who we haven't seen yet today?
    BULL: For one, (Indonesian) Prince Souvanna Phouma.

    That is so far out there I've remembered it all these years!

  2. The voice tracks for the final 1963-'64 season of NBC Saturday afternoon episodes [12:30pm(et)] were completed in December 1962. The only new episodes to be featured on Saturdays were the Rocky and Bullwinkle segments. Everything else was repeated from earlier seasons.

  3. I must have that print of all the Jay Ward characters. eBay search yielded nothing. Any guidance would be appreciated.