February 29, 2020


(ABC, NBC, November 19, 1959-June 27, 1964)

Jay Ward Productions, Gamma Productions, Producers Associates of Television, Inc.

Bill Scott – Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right, Fearless Leader, Mr. Peabody, Gidney, Mr. Big
June Foray – Rocky, Natasha Fatale, Nell Fenwick, various
Paul Frees – Boris Badenov, Captain Peter “Wrongway” Peachfuzz, Cloyd, Inspector Fenwick, Dudley Do-Right narrator, various
Walter Tetley – Sherman
Daws Butler – Aesop Jr., various
Charlie Ruggles – Aesop
Hans Conried – Snidely Whiplash
William Conrad – Narrator for Rocky and Bullwinkle and Dudley-Do Right
Edward Everett Horton – Narrator for Fractured Fairy Tales

            Alex Anderson had a crazy idea: make an original cartoon, but for television and utilizing limited animation (inspired by a segment of Disney’s The Reluctant Dragon). His uncle and employer, Paul Terry of Terrytoons, had turned down the idea for fear of being dropped by their distributor, 20th Century Fox, as studios at the time saw television as a major threat (Terrytoons’ theatrical output would later make their way to television when Terry sold the studio to CBS). However, he encouraged Anderson to follow through with his idea. So, Anderson decided to partner with long-time friend Jay Ward to produce it themselves. They formed Television Arts Productions (TAP) and created the first televised animated series: Crusader Rabbit. It ran in syndication from 1950 to 1952 utilizing extremely limited animation, a serial storytelling format, and biting satire.

Crusader Rabbit and his sidekick, Ragland T. Tiger.

            NBC, who had been financing the series, stopped ordering new episodes. Ward and NBC-appointed producer Jerry Fairbanks felt NBC wasn’t adequately promoting the series to its full potential since it wasn’t a network show. They decided to promote the show themselves and split the profits equally, leading to Fairbanks attempting to buy back all of his projects from the network. However, Fairbanks ended up in financial trouble and defaulted on his agreement with the network. NBC in turn auctioned all of his films off, including Crusader. Anderson and Ward attempted a lawsuit against NBC and Fairbanks in order to get the money Fairbanks had promised them, however they ultimately lost their case. Crusader wound up in the hands of wealthy businessman Shull Bonsall in 1954, TAP was dissolved, and Anderson and Ward took up jobs in advertising and real estate, respectively.

            Ward’s old friend Leonard Key convinced him to get back into the business in 1956 as animation was growing more favorable on television. Ward and Key attempted to get a colorized revival of Crusader going, believing he and Anderson owned the rights to the character if not the original films, but those plans were dashed by Bonsall’s own intention to revive Crusader in color; which he did in 1959. Unable to afford a legal battle, Anderson and Ward ended up selling the rights to the character and TAP to Bonsall with the provision that they kept the rights to any of the other properties they had or were developing.

The characters of The Frostbite Falls Revue: Rocky, Oski, Bullwinkle, Sylvester, Blackstone and Floral.

            Ward revisited a couple of ideas that he and Anderson had pitched that ultimately went nowhere. One of them was The Frostbite Falls Revue, named after International Falls, Minnesota, known as the “Ice Box of America” and home to Ward’s idol, football player Bronko Nagurski. It was a parody of the television business centering on a group of animals running their own station. These animals included Rocket J. Squirrel (made a flying squirrel by Anderson, as a holdover from his days working on Mighty Mouse, to have a character who flew without stretching the imagination too much), Oski Bear, French-Canadian moose Bullwinkle (named by after a car dealership Anderson liked the name of), Sylvester Fox, Blackstone Crow and Floral Fauna. Ward liked the dynamic of the big guy/little guy pairing that they did in Crusader and decided to focus on little guy Rocky and big guy Bullwinkle.

The revised cast (from top left): Snidley Whiplash, Rocky, Bullwinkle, Mr. Peabody, Sherman, Horse, Nell, Dudley Do-Right, Boris Badenov, Natasha Fatale and Fractured Fairy Tales fairy.

As Anderson was secure in his job and had no interest in relocating from San Francisco to Los Angeles to work on the show, he contributed some consultations in the early stages before bowing out entirely; although he did write a few scripts for the show when it was underway. Ward brought in writer Bill Scott to help him shape and mold the concept into a salable pilot. They did facsimiles of the character voices they wanted while crafting the pilot script, leading Ward to discover that Scott was perfectly suited for voicing Bullwinkle and gave him the role. Filling out the remainder of the cast was Paul Frees, June Foray and Bill Conrad. They recorded the pilot, Rocky the Flying Squirrel, in 1958 and Ward established his new studio: Jay Ward Productions.

Key shopped the pilot around for sponsors while forming a production company with former journalist Peter Piech, called Producers Associates for Television (PAT), to finance the production of the series. That October, advertising agency Dancer Fitzgerald Sample (DFS) presented the pilot to their biggest client, General Mills. Wanting something to compete with rival Kellogg’s own offerings from Hanna-Barbera, they agreed to sponsor the series as long as it was aired in the late-afternoon where kids would be likely to see it. This “cartoons are just for kids” mindset would find Ward and his writing staff constantly at odds with DFS and General Mills over the content of the show; namely jokes being too offensive (particularly pokes at American history and the military), stereotypical accents used for various characters, or the scripts being too sophisticated to be understood by a younger audience.

The town of Frostbite Falls.

Part of the appeal of the Rocky concept for DFS was the promise from PAT of its budget per episode being remarkably low. A big percentage of that would come from outsourcing the animation duties to either Japan or Mexico. A deal to have the show animated in Japan fell apart when it was discovered that the animation studio they were offered didn’t exist, and that they were counting on the Rocky deal to finance its creation. Instead, they turned to wealthy general contractor Gustavo Valdez in Mexico, who desperately wanted to get into the animation business. He quickly established Val-Mar Productions. PAT became partners in the studio and convinced General Mills that they could get a tax break by investing in the studio and that could also use it for cheaply made animated commercials (many of which featured Rocky and Bullwinkle pitching their products during the show’s broadcast).

Teaching the future spies of Pottsylvania their craft.

Unfortunately, the animation skills of the Mexican staff were comparatively primitive to anything coming out of the United States at the time, and because of time and budget constraints they were not given adequate training time. Episodes would frequently be turned in with animation mistakes, poor character poses, film errors and more; necessitating reshoots to meet Ward and Scott’s exacting standards of quality (or some facsimile thereof). Various American animators were sent down to try and get the studio into shape on a rotating basis; including Bill Hurtz, Pete Burness, Dun Roman, Rudy Zamora, Gerard Baldwin and Jim Hiltz, among others. Ward, who originally wanted to handle production in Hollywood, was able to have the storyboards and several segments done there in order to speed up the process. Within a year, Val-Mar was able to shake off its rocky start and produce decent work. That first year also led to a name change: Gamma Productions.

Rocky and His Friends ad.

After two delays because of the animation difficulties, Rocky and His Friends finally debuted on ABC on November 19, 1959; airing twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons following American Bandstand. Along with Scott and Anderson, the series was written by Chris Jenkyns, George Atkins, Chris Hayward, Lloyd Turner, Allan Burns and Jim Critchfield. The original theme was composed by Frank Comstock.

Fearless Leader REALLY doesn't like failure.

At the core of the show was the adventures of Rocket J. “Rocky” Squirrel (Foray) and the good-natured but dim-witted Bullwinkle J. Moose (Scott), residents of Frostbite Falls, Minnesota. The pair often found themselves at odds with the villainous spies Boris Badenov (a pun on Boris Godunov, voiced by Frees), a master of disguise, and Natasha Fatale (a pun on “femme fatale”, voiced by Foray). They hailed from the fictional nation of Pottsylvania where they were under the command of the dictator known only as Fearless Leader (Scott). The designs for Boris and Natasha were inspired by Gomez and Morticia Addams from The Addams Family comic strip, while Boris’ temper and accent were inspired by Akim Tamiroff and his role in The Great McGinty. Conrad served as the narrator, with characters often breaking the fourth wall to interact with him or recognizing that they were in a show in general. Other characters included moon men Cloyd (Frees) and Gidney (Scott), whose names were based on the most boring ones in Ward’s mind, “Sindey” and “Floyd”, and incompetent sailor Captain Peter “Wrongway” Peachfuzz (named for producer Piech and voiced by Frees, who initially had him sound like a parrot but later adopted a voice modeled after Ed Wynn).

Bullwinkle and Rocky with Captain Peachfuzz.

Rocky and Bullwinkle was played like chapters in a continuing cliffhanger serial, which would comprise a longer story arc. Two of those arcs were present in the first season, seven in season two, four in season three, five in season four, and ten in season five (the sponsors asked for shorter arcs to make the show easier to present in reruns). Taking a cue from The Adventures of Sam Spade radio shows, Conrad would often announce the next episode’s title in a “this” or “that” format; such as “Bullwinkle’s Ride, or Goodbye, Dollink”. The only episodes not to feature this titling format are the first chapter of the overreaching arc. Each arc ended with Rocky and Bullwinkle riding off into the sunset with Conrad urging viewers to “tune in next time” for the next set of adventures; as a result, the first episode of each story arc was usually given the title of that arc. Because the titles typically referred to the characters’ predicament at the end of a segment rather than anything that happened in the next chapter, some have come to regard them as simply the segment’s final gag rather than the actual episode title. The titles were never seen on screen until the series entered syndicated reruns, which saw the addition of title cards.

Two Rocky and Bullwinkle segments were included in each episode. They were joined by a rotating roster of several other segments to comprise the entire half hour, each with their own opening titles:

Peabody’s Improbable History centered on a genius talking dog named Mr. Peabody (Scott, who named the character after his dog) and his pet boy, Sherman (named after UPA director Sherman Glas, voiced by Walter Tetley). The pair would often use Peabody’s WABAC machine (pronounced “wayback”, a spoof of early computer names like UNIVAC) to travel back in time and discover the real story behind historical events. Sometimes it was necessary for them to push things along so that events would play out as they had been recorded. The concept was created by Key’s brother Ted, who noticed how cats seemed to run their households (as any cat owner can tell you). Ward and Scott added in the time travel element. Each segment would end with some of the most intentionally cringe-inducing puns ever committed to film (often, scripts would start with the pun and work backwards).

Bullwinkle’s Corner was a segment starring Bullwinkle alone attempting to introduce “culture” into the program. He did so by reading and acting out poems, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”, and nursery rhymes, such as Mother Goose’s Little Miss Muffet; often humorously butchering them in the process. At the behest of DFS, this segment was replaced by the shorter Mr. Know-It-All, where he was presented as an authority on a variety of topics and usually foiled by Boris in multiple roles. These, in turn, were also replaced by a series of shorts promoting their fan club.

Two segments dedicated to presenting altered, updated and humorous version of classic children’s tales was Fractured Fairy Tales and Aesop & Son. Fractured, narrated by Edward Everett Horton, often took well-known fairy tales and turned them on their head; such as their take on Sleeping Beauty saw the prince, rendered in a caricature of Walt Disney (a favorite target of the Ward and company), building a theme park around Beauty instead of waking her up. Fractured was inspired by a spoken-word album Daws Butler and Stan Freberg did together, “Little Blue Riding Hood”, which presented the classic story as a spoof of cop show Dragnet. DFS felt this segment wasn’t popular and wanted it replaced by Aesop. Aesop had the titular Aesop (Charlie Ruggles, uncredited) reading a fable to his son (Butler, uncredited due to working on shows by the sponsor’s competition) to teach hm a lesson, and his son often subverting the moral with a pun. It turned out that DFS’ estimation was wrong and Fractured was one of the more popular aspects of the show, resulting in its being reinstated after all of the Aesop shorts had been exhausted.

Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties was a remnant of the original pitch that led to the creation of Crusader, known as The Comic Strips of Television. Done as a parody of early 20th century melodrama and silent film serials, particularly The Perils of Pauline, the segment followed the adventures of the hapless Canadian Mountie, Dudley (Scott, doing a combined imitation of Nelson Eddy and Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller), as he attempted to constantly foil the villainous schemes of his rival, Snidely Whiplash (Hans Conried). Snidely’s design was inspired by those same films, having him sport the traditional black top hat, cape and handlebar mustache typical of their villains. The usual damsel-in-distress, and the object of Dudley’s affection, was Nell Fenwick (Foray), the daughter of his boss, the long-suffering Inspector Fenwick (Frees, impersonating Eric Blore). However, Nell often disregarded Dudley in favor of his horse, Horse, who was often the active hero of the stories. Any success on Dudley’s part was by pure luck. To further the parody, the Dudley Do-Right segments featured a piano background music track, making it one of the few Ward cartoons to utilize music in that way, and has character (and sometimes location) “actor” credits as the silent films would with silly names or subtle puns. Frees served as the narrator for the segment, except for several times where Conrad performed the duty. One episode of Dudley, “Stokey the Bear”, was only aired once as its lampooning of Smokey the Bear had the Forest Service threatening Ward with jail. The negatives for that episode were reportedly destroyed at the behest of the sponsor.

Despite Rocky and Friends becoming the #1 daytime show for ABC, the network only begrudgingly took it at the request of General Mills. They never really put any promotion behind it, and Ward had taken note that primetime animation seemed to be on the rise. After negotiations between the studio, the sponsors, and Ward’s sales agents, Neufeld, Rosen and Bash, the more prestigious NBC acquired the rights to air a Rocky spin-off called The Bullwinkle Show, giving top-billing to Bullwinkle (the name may have changed, but it was basically the same program). The show had been produced in color from the outset, but it was only finally broadcast in it with the network change. The move also granted Ward and Scott the leeway to produce the kind of adult-geared humor they wanted to without obstruction. Beginning that August, Ward and Scott launched a series of marketing pushes to get people aware of the show and to get opinion makers interested.

Along with a new opening title sequence and music by Fred Steiner (at the behest of General Mills, as well as Ward’s desire to retain publishing rights), Scott would operate and voice a live-action Bullwinkle puppet at the beginning and end of each episode (the closest Ward ever came to producing a puppet show, which he had tried to in vain throughout Rocky and Bullwinkle’s production). Unlike the cartoon version, the puppet was snarkier and often lampooned celebrities, current events and the network. The notoriously conservative NBC hated the puppet sequence, and the final straw came after one gag went too far. NBC claimed that they received complaints that an estimated 20,000 children had followed Bullwinkle’s instructions to rip the knobs off of their television sets so that they could catch the following week’s show. The next week, the puppet “apologized” by telling the kids to glue the knobs back on—and to make sure they were stuck onto the channel. When Ward followed it up with a press release saying NBC should give them a commendation for the ratings they would get while parents were waiting on TV repairmen, the network dropped the axe and the puppet segment was ended. However, the puppet was later re-used in a segment called “Dear Bullwinkle” where he would humorously answer fan mail.

The WABAC Machine.

Bullwinkle’s ratings suffered as it went up against CBSLassie. DFS and General Mills were annoyed that NBC put it at 7:00 instead of the agreed upon 5:30, and started considering a potential move to CBS. This caused NBC to move the program to up to 5:30 the following season, and then to Saturday mornings for the final season. Ward and crew continued their intensive marketing for the show throughout its run; featuring a variety of stunts such as massive lunch-ins, getting a Bullwinkle balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and commemorating a statue of Rocky and Bullwinkle outside of their studio (a parody of a showgirl statue across the street advertising the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas). NBC cancelled the program in 1964. The producers attempted to return to ABC for another season, but the network wasn’t interested. They did air reruns of the show on their Sunday morning schedule until 1973 when the series entered syndication.

The show was included in numerous rerun packages under different names. A 15-minute version titled The Rocky Show aired alone or combined with an equally truncated version of Total Television’s King Leonardo and His Short Subjects called The King and Odie. Both programs were sponsored by General Mills and animated at Gamma. The syndicated version of The Bullwinkle Show comprised the story arcs from the first two seasons with the accompanying segments aired out of their original broadcast sequence, while the package that included later arcs repeated those segments. Reruns were also paired up with additional Total Television productions, with The World of Commander McBragg from Tennessee Tuxedo being added to the mix as a segment, while the supplemental segments were incorporated into reruns of Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales. Ward’s next production, Hoppity Hooper, also made use of these segments. Other syndicated packages were aired under the titles The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show or The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (sometimes with the names reversed), The Dudley Do-Right Show and Dudley Do-Right and Friends. In 1992, restored prints of the show aired on Nickelodeon’s Nick at Nite and Nickle-O-Zone programming blocks under the title Moose-a-Rama, and on Cartoon Network beginning in 1996. It later briefly went to Cartoon Network’s sister channel, Boomerang, in 2011.

Dudley reporting to Inspector Fenwick.

The series was first released to home media in the early 1980s when RCA released two compilation CED Videodiscs during the rise in the format. They contained complete, uncut story arcs with alternating segments and bumpers. Buena Vista Home Video released episodes of the show across 12 volumes on VHS, Betamax and LaserDisc in the early 1990s. Rocky and Bullwinkle chapters were sometimes edited together into a single episode with the titles for the next entry removed, and removing several chapters from the overall story. In the years following these releases, a number of gray market unofficial VHS collections saw release. In 2002, Jay Ward Productions entered into a partnership with Classic Media (now Dreamworks Classics) called Bullwinkle Studios. They released the first 3 seasons onto DVD through Sony Wonder as Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends for legal reasons. In 2005, Classic Media released “best of” compilations grouped by characters. It took until 2010 for season 4 to be released. In 2011, they released the complete series, which included season 5 for the first time. Season 5 was also released in its own volume. All of these later releases were by Vivendi Entertainment. The episodes were altered from their original broadcast to feature the new title, a William Conrad sound-alike to announce it, segments moved around from their original airing order, different opening sequences and Comstock’s music was replaced with Steiner’s. When the show was made available for streaming on Hulu the DVD versions were used rather than the syndication prints. In 2012, Classic also released The Complete Fractured Fairy Tales which contained all of the Fractured segments. The season sets were re-released in 2018 by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment along with Mr. Peabody & Sherman WABAC Adventures. The complete series was re-released in 2019 to celebrate the show’s 60th anniversary, as well as Mr. Peabody & Sherman: The Complete Collection.

Rocky, Bullwinkle and Fearless Leader Funko Pops.

Rocky and Bullwinkle was heavily merchandised over the years, with toys, stuffed animals, clothing, and other items. In 1971, Ward opened Dudley Do-Right’s Emporium on Sunset Boulevard a right next door to the studio, which sold this merchandise and other souvenirs. The Emporium was closed in 2005. For a time, there was even a chain of Bullwinkle-themed restaurants and a stage show at Universal Studios Orlando. From 1962-65, Bell Syndicate ran a daily newspaper comic strip titled Bullwinkle. The series has been adapted into comic book form by several different companies: Dell Comics in four issues of Four Color from 1961-62 and an ongoing series until 1980; Charlton Comics from 1970-71; Whitman from 1972-80; Marvel Comics from 1987-89 and 1992; Blackthorne 3-D specials in 1987 and 1988; IDW Publishing in 2014; and American Mythology beginning in 2017. Golden Records released a record, Rocky the Flying Squirrel & His Friends, in 1961 featuring the voice actors performing various songs. Three of them were later collected on the 1972 compilation Cartoon Favorites (titled Music and Stories from Original Hit T.V. and Movie Cartoons on the sleeve). Golden also released a single under the title Rocky and His Friends.

Sega Genesis game box.

In 1993, THQ released The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends for the various Nintendo systems, while Absolute Entertainment released a version for the Sega Genesis. That same year, Data East released a pinball machine based on the show. In 1998, the computer trivia game Rocky & Bullwinkle’s Know-It-All Quiz Game was released by Media Station, Inc. Ten years later, Zen Studios released Rocky and Bullwinkle a and a virtual pinball table as downloadable games for Xbox Live Arcade.

Rocky and Bullwinkle with Natasha, Boris and Fealress Leader in the "real world".

Because of the enduring appeal of the show, it had been adapted multiple times into other media. Boris and Natasha: The Movie was a 1992 live-action movie from Management Company Entertainment Group centered on the two spies played by Dave Thomas and Sally Kellerman, with a cameo appearance by Foray. The film was originally intended for a theatrical release, but instead became a Showtime original. A Dudley Do-Right film from Universal Pictures followed in 1999, starring Brendan Fraser (who also starred in George of the Jungle two years prior), Sarah Jessica Parker and Alfred Molina in the lead roles. A newly-created Fractured Fairy Tale short accompanied the film. Dudley was a critical and commercial flop; making only $10 million against its $70 million budget. Universal tried again the following year with The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, starring the moose and squirrel as computer animated characters created by Industrial Light & Magic. Foray returned to voice Rocky and the animated Natasha, while Keith Scott (no relation to Bill) voiced Bullwinkle and the animated Fearless Leader and Boris (and also penned the Jay Ward Productions retrospective book The Moose That Roared). The live Boris was played by Jason Alexander, Natasha by Rene Russo, and Fearless Leader by Robert De Niro. It was also a critical and commercial bomb, earning just $35.1 million against a budget of $76 million. It would take 14 years for the next film based on the franchise to hit theaters: Mr. Peabody & Sherman. It was a computer-animated film starring Ty Burrell and Max Charles as the title characters. Despite earning $275.7 million, the film underperformed at the box office and DreamWorks Animation reported a $57 million loss. A Rocky and Bullwinkle animated short starring Foray and Tom Kenny was made to appear in front of the Mr. Peabody film, but was held over for the 3D Blu-ray release instead.

Bullwinkle was almost a football star.

With the show running strong in reruns, consideration was given several times to a revival of some kind. Ward and Scott considered doing a holiday special that could be aired every year, but instead of a major holiday it would be a made-up one like President Millard Fillmore’s birthday or an April IRS Day. They settled on a parody of the Super Bowl called The Stupor Bowl, written by Scott and developed by Anderson. Pre-production work was completed and ABC gave it a green light, but objections from the NFL because of the comedic depiction of actual team owners led to it being cancelled. Another revival, The New Bullwinkle Show, would be a one-hour series that featured a blend of classic material with characters from Ward’s unsold pilots. At one point, legendary animator Friz Freleng was attached to produce with production being done at DePatie-Freleng Productions. However, it never got off the ground. Tad Stones and Michael Peraza Jr. pitched The Secret Adventures of Bullwinkle to Disney, who was distributing the show on VHS, which would see the return of most of the classic segments with the addition of Fractured Scary Tales as a parody on horror films. Unfortunately, Disney didn’t have the rights to the show beyond home video and the idea was abandoned. Ultimately, the first new Bullwinkle content on broadcast television would come in the form of commercials for Hershey, Taco Bell, and Bullwinkle’s own vitamin drink, among others. Comedian Dave Coulier also did his part keeping Bullwinkle in the public consciousness by doing frequent impersonations of him on the sitcom Full House and in his stand-up routine.

Promo image for Amazon's Rocky and Bullwinkle revival.

It wasn’t be until the age of streaming that the Rocky and Bullwinkle franchise would see new programs. The Mr. Peabody movie led to a spin-off television series, The Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show, which was a co-production of DreamWorks and Jay Ward Productions. It featured digital hand-drawn animation by DHX Media (now WildBrain) and aired on Netflix for four seasons between 2015 and 2017; airing only 52 of the ordered 78 episodes. Charles reprised his role as Sherman from the film, while Chris Parnell took over as Mr. Peabody. Finally, a proper revival of the franchise came in 2018, again from DreamWorks and DHX Media but this time airing on Amazon Prime Video. The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle abandoned the traditional variety show format to instead just focus on Rocky (Tara Strong) and Bullwinkle (Brad Norman) going against Boris (Ben Diskin), Natasha (Rachel Butera) and Fearless Leader (Piotr Michael). To emulate the earlier series, each half-hour episode was broken up into multiple chapters.

Coming soon.

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