Saturday, 5 November 2016

It All Started With Box Tops

About the only thing I wondered when I first saw The Bullwinkle Show in 1961 is why they changed the name of the show (Rocky’s name had been in the title prior to this). What I wonder today is why didn’t NBC, the sponsor’s ad agency, and others just leave Jay Ward alone to make cartoons.

Keith Scott’s indispensable book The Moose That Roared chronicles a number of cases where Jay Ward and Bill Scott had to endure ridiculous interference. Somehow, they overcame it all to make some extremely funny cartoons. A few of the stories got into the popular press as Scott or Ward groused to reporters or columnists about what was happening to them. Erskine Johnson’s column for the National Enterprise Association was one of them. This appeared in papers on November 8, 1961. See how petty you think some of these things are.
Hollywood—(NEA)—Show business has its "cold" wars, too, and the one going on in television between Jay Ward Productions and the combined forces of network, sponsor and agency is the kind you can't hardly find no more.
The deck is stacked against Ward, he admits, but he's still in there fighting.
It all started with box tops and went on from there to involve a spy on a U. S. Army base, a "belt in the mouth" and a hand puppet known this season as Bullwinkle, the moose.
A way-out sense of humor which Jay Ward and Company put into their animated cartoon, "Rocky and His Friends," led to an arch fiend in the series undermining the world's economy, not by devaluating the gold standard, but by counterfeiting box tops and cornering the world market.
The sponsor let Ward know in a hurry that box tops ARE the basis of his economy and the arch fiend had to go. In the same show a few months later, a spy at an army base stole a general's uniform. That was okay until Ward put a sign on the general's office reading:
"Out to lunch. I shall return."
"MacArthur," groaned the sponsor. "You can't kid the Army, Navy, Marines, box tops, or any racial, cultural or religious group."
THE DEBUT OF "The Bullwinkle Show" this season brought Ward a new battle and a new opponent, the National Broadcasting Company. In cartoon form in a 20-second promotional film advertising the show, Ward had a husband and wife talking about television. They wound up in an argument about a moose being called a Bullwinkle. Hubby had the last words:
"How would you like a belt in the month?"
It was funny—but not to NBC "because it smacks of violence."
While the network had Ward on the phone, advising him the 20-second plug for the show would not be shown, he was also asked to please kill a funny take-off on NBC's living color peacock.
AS YOU CAN SEE, if it isn't one thing it's another at Ward Prods. The first show in the Bullwinkle series had the moose puppet telling the audience that the knobs on their TV sets were removable. The set would stay tuned to the same channel for next week's show.
Once again NBC became "Nothing But Chaos." People were telephoning the network to complain that their offspring had pulled off the TV set knobs. Would Ward do something, please?
"How about this?" suggested Ward. "Next week we can have the puppet advising the kids to glue the knobs back on—using plenty of glue—so the set would be permanently tuned to NBC."
NBC was happy he mentioned it "because you can't do that—the FCC will have us on the carpet."
FORTUNATELY, NETWORK and agency executives now are aware of Jay Ward's zany approach to his animated TV cartoons and look the other way when he refuses to take himself seriously. Asked on a radio interview who wrote the "Bullwinkle" show, Ward dead-panned:
"We have two peasants whom we keep bound in the basement. Every once in a while we drag them out and beat them. They come up with very funny material." Maybe there should be an Emmy, or at least a box top, in Ward's name for putting a little life into the dreary TV season.
Bullwinkle went into reruns in the fall of 1964, with some elements of the show being rerun during the new Hoppity Hooper series. One of Hoppity’s sponsors was Topper Toys, which was pushing a seven-in-one gun. You can picture what Bullwinkle could have done with an animated version of that, klutzily blowing up an NBC building by accident—and then Ward being told the routine was being censored by the humourless network.


  1. During this same time, Bob Clampett suffered through similar rigmarole from ABC-TV with Beany and Cecil.

  2. Oh, I'd love to check out the finished film around the couple arguing over the name BULLWINKLE. Stuff like that should have been extras on one of the DVD sets around the show. The shame is that, meely because it is animation that we're discussing here, it will be so carefully scrutinized. "THE GREAT BOX TOP ROBBERY" is one of those "ROCKY" story arcs that needs to be in everyone's collection!