Sunday, January 20, 2008

WACKY CARTOON WORLD OF JAY WARD

One of the funniest men of our time was Jay Ward. Perhaps his name doesn't ring a bell, but his cartoon characters do--Rocky & Bullwinkle, George of the Jungle, Super Chicken, even Cap'n Crunch (as in cereal). His colorful characters and memorable punch lines bring a smile and a hearty laugh to most people.

Although you'd never know it from his wacky humor, Ward was actually a smart guy. Born in Berkeley, California, he graduated from California-Berkeley with a BA and went on to Harvard Business School where he received an MBA. He started his career as a real estate broker and continued to operate the firm as a fallback business even after he had some early success with Crusader Rabbit--a joint effort with his boyhood buddy Alex Anderson. Anderson was a nephew of Terrytoons creator Paul Terry (remember Mighty Mouse). Crusader Rabbit ran from 1949 to 1952, and was a precursor to Ward's later success with Rocky & Bullwinkle. In a 1956 court battle, Ward lost the rights to Crusader Rabbit, but some of the character themes re-appeared in his later, more familiar (to us) works.

In 1959, he partnered with Bill Scott to create Rocky & his Friends. Eventually, the pair created 326 episodes of 3 1/2 minutes each. They assembled a first class team of voice-over actors including:

Bill Scott: Bullwinkle, Fearless Leader, Super Chicken, Tom Slick, George, Dudley DoRight
June Foray: Rocky, Natasha Fatale, Marigold (Tom Slick's girlfriend), Ursula (George's girlfriend), old lady
Paul Frees: Boris Badenov, Fred the Lion, Baron Otto Matic, Ape
Bill Conrad: Frenetic narrator

The appeal of Ward's cartoons was that they could be viewed on two levels. Small children enjoyed the animated characters and slapstick antics, while adults appreciated the satire which went over the heads of children.

For example, Boris & Natasha, the spies, spoke with mock-Russian accents. Boris Badenov's name was a play on that of 16th century Russian Tsar Boris Gudunov and the Mussorgsky opera of the same name. Probably most adults weren't aware of that either. Badenov claimed to go to college. The shapely Natasha, a former Miss Transylvania, queried him, "Penn State?" "No," Boris replied, "State Pen." But in another episode he claimed to have attended USC--University of Safe Cracking. The unholy two came from the fictional country Pottsylvania which was led by the ruthless Fearless Leader who bore a resemblance to a Russian commissar. "Badenov, you nombskull, you must keel moose and sqvurrel." Boris was proud that the nicest thing Fearless Leader ever did for him was sending a picture of himself to Boris inscribed, "Drop dead" (signed) Fearless Leader. He did award Boris the highest honor of his country, the Pottsylvanian Double Cross.

The hapless duo, Rocky and Bullwinkle lived in snow covered Frostbite Falls, Minnesota where Bullwinkle was the football star from the local college, Whassomatta U. There they were tormented by the aforementioned masters of disguises, Boris and Natasha. Some of their better disguises included Swami Ben Boris; Mohave Max; Movie Director Alfred Hitchhike; Mayor Avaricious J. Wardheeler; and Top Salesman of Dancer, Prancer, Blitzen & Fink Advertising Agency.

In one serial, our two heroes were in charge of protecting the Kerward Derby, a hat that if one puts it on his head, he becomes the smartest person in the world. The dimwitted Bullwinkle put the hat on and began reciting the Pythagoran Theorem. TV personality Durward Kirby threatened to sue Ward, and Ward replied that he wanted Kirby to sue (for the free publicity), and he would even pay Kirby's legal expenses if he did so. No suit was forthcoming.

At the end of each episode, usually with our heroes Rocky & Bullwinkle in serious peril, the announcer would urge you to stay tuned for the next adventure with titles like "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Gory" or "Moose's in the Cold, Cold Ground."

Another Ward character, Super Chicken (secret identity: the wealthy Henry Cabot Henhouse III) got his degree from Harvard School of Watchmaking (Tick Tock Tech). Super Chicken had a faithful butler/sidekick, Fred, a lion with a New York Jewish accent. The cartoon was a parody of Batman & Robin. When the emergency call came in, Super Chicken would gulp down the "super sauce" from a martini glass and don his "Super Suit" which was a plumed cavalier's hat, cape, boots, mask and sword. When Super Chicken would suggest a dangerous plan to stop the bad guys, he would say to the reluctant Fred, "You knew this job was dangerous when you took it Fred." Fred would ask Super Chicken why he didn't use his "super vision" to spot the bad guys, and S.C. would respond, "If I had any supervision, do you think I'd be running around dressed like this?" Or, in another episode, "Fat Man, you're under arrest." "How'd you know it was me Super Chicken?" "Well I found 52 candy bar wrappers at the scene of the crime, so I knew it wasn't the Thin Man."

Ward created Tom Slick, the all-American boy hot rodder driving his Thunderbolt Grease Slapper in hotly contested races like the almost famous Muncie to Pittsburgh road race. His formidable adversary, the evil Baron Otto Matic ("Cheating is my favorite sport.") and his small brained henchman Crutcher cooked up schemes to defeat the clean living Tom Slick and his clean scrubbed girlfriend Marigold.

Then there was the world's smartest talking dog, Peabody, with his pet boy Sherman, driving the wayback machine to various periods in history, meeting famous historical figures. For example, consider William Shakespeare's feud with "that darned Francis Bacon." Upon being conked on the head with a flowerpot from Bacon, he cried out, "Bacon, you'll fry for this!"

And of course, who could forget George of the Jungle, a Tarzan parody, with his faithful pooch, Shep (an elephant) and his intelligent Ape friend (voice of Paul Frees) who spoke with an upper class British accent.

In recent years, Hollywood has capitalized on Ward's appeal and has made feature films (partially animated) of George of the Jungle and Rocky & Bullwinkle . Boris and Natasha were played by Jason Alexander and Rene Russo respectively. Fearless Leader was played by Robert DiNiro. Incidentally, the film bombed, both financially and critically.

In one of my favorite episodes, the World Economic Council determined that the world economy was based on box tops and Bullwinkle kept the largest collection of boxtops on the planet. Of course, the notorious Boris and Natasha devised a fiendish plan to make counterfeit box tops and soon scooped up all the premiums offered and destroyed the world economy, making everyone's box tops worthless. The cereal company sponsor of the show was not amused.

During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis of the early 1960's, Ward championed the admission of Moosylvania as the 52nd state (so all the states could appear comfortably on a deck of cards, and Bullwinkle owned the Ajax playing card company), and he actually went to the White House in Washington with a camera crew and knocked at the door. He was escorted away at gunpoint.

Jay Ward died on Columbus Day, 1989, at age 69, leaving a rich legacy of animated cartoonage plus the trademark characters for Cap'n Crunch and other cereals.

We'll leave you with the words to the Super Chicken theme song:

When you find yourself in danger,
When you're threatened by a stranger,
When it looks like you will take a lickin"
Puk, puk, puk, puk
There is someone waiting
Who will hurry up and rescue you
Just call for Super Chicken
Puk, ack!
Fred if you're afraid you'll have to overlook it,
Besides you knew the job was dangerous when you took it
Puk ack!
He will drink his super sauce,
And throw the bad guys for a loss
And he will bring them in alive and kickin'
Puk, puk, puk, puk
There is one thing you should learn
When there is no one else to turn to
Call for Super Chicken
Puk, puk, puk, puk
Call for Super Chicken!
Puk ack!

KENNETH SUSKIN
1/20/08

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2 Comments:

Blogger James said...

Hi Ken,

Thanks for your time today at lunch. It was good to connect.

I would like to try and start the Chamber column the first issue of March, which is March 6th, and then we would run the column the first Thursday issue of every month.

So the first column would be due by Monday, March 3. My e-mail is jepowers@pioneerlocal.com

Length is generally in the 350-500 word count.

I would also need a photo of you. If you have one in a jpeg form, just e-mail it to me and we can use it to create the column logo.

I really appreciate your willingness to do this and provide a much-needed Chamber voice in our papers.

If I can be of any assistance, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Thanks again,

Jim

(847) 599-6950

February 8, 2008 at 12:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fred the Lion's voice is Paul Frees. Frees is of Russian-Jewish origin. His name was changed many times. He is also known as Solomon Frees, Solomon Hersh Frees, Solomon H. Frees, Saul Harcourt Frees, Saul H. Frees, Saul Frees, Solly Frees, S. H. Frees, Sol Frees, Paul H. Frees, Paul Hersh Frees, Paul Harcourt Frees, and P. H. Frees (possibilities).

January 17, 2009 at 9:56 AM  

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