Bullwinkle: The moose with the most (1962)
By Roger Beck – TV Radio Mirror (Jan 1962)
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,” 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 soundtrack.
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,” says Jay. “A lot has to do with the fact that our drawing is much simpler than that of the average cartoon show.
“Since we’re drawing for the smaller screen, this is much more effective — because subtle movements that come across so well on movie screens are lost on television. It also makes for a faster pace. We have about three times as much dramaturgy per minute as the average show. That gives us twice as many jokes, and we think it takes a person of more intelligence to catch ’em all.”
“Yeah,” Bill interposes. “We think it takes somebody like twelve years old to appreciate it.” (He himself is forty-one.)
“Seriously, though,” says Jay (who’s forty), “we don’t want to knock kids. They’re pretty sharp today, nothing like we were as kids. They’re smarter, more up-to-date and more educated from watching so much TV.”
A serious mood, however, cannot surround the irrepressible pair for long. “We’re often asked why we made Bullwinkle a moose,” says Bill. “The best answer we can give is, ‘Why not?’ ”
“We’re also asked if we pattern our characters after real people,” Jay adds. “Of course we do. They’re all takeoffs on real people. Look around you. It’s been said that Bullwinkle comes across like Clem Kadiddlehopper, but we didn’t intentionally pattern him after that Red Skelton characterization.
“Bullwinkle’s a smart sort of dope, like Clem or Mortimer Snerd or a character out of Artemus Ward. He’s a very simple guy who comes up with smart cracks.
“Occasionally, we do satirize people in our minor characters. On one episode of our ‘Fractured Fairy Tales,’ for instance, we did the story of Sleeping Beauty.
“For the prince, we drew a caricature of Walt Disney. Which makes it pretty funny when he comes in to wake the princess with a kiss, suddenly stops and says, ‘Awake, she’s just another princess — but asleep, she’s a gold mine.’ Next scene shows him selling tickets to see her.
“Then we have things like the Kurward Derby, which will be a running gag in the series. It’s a derby hat which makes its wearer the smartest man in the world. Did we name it after someone in particular? Of course not.”
Here, Jay gives a sly wink. “But what else would you name a derby? They’ve already used ‘Kentucky.’
“Our main characters are basically characterizations of people in general and of types, more than just anybody specifically. For example, Boris Badenov is our villain, and he’s all bad. Rocky, our other hero, plays it straight, and is all good. It’s all a takeoff and satire on melodrama.
“We once even had a crooked guy named Murgatroyd Cornelius Applefinger who opened a talent agency under his initials of MCA. Everybody knew that was a jab at Music Corporation of America, the biggest agency of them all.
“Nobody and nothing is really safe if we think we can poke a little fun. We’ve done it to the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Federal Communications Commission — even to our sponsor, General Mills. We did one bit about counterfeit boxtops that almost destroyed the world’s economy — which we depicted as being based on boxtops.
“In our episodes about ‘Mr. Peabody’s Improbable History,’ we ascribe different motives to our heroes. We seldom have trouble. But they wouldn’t let us do the Wright Brothers. We wanted to show that it took them so long to get off the ground because they couldn’t count past ‘two’ to start the propeller on the count of ‘three.’
“We have not only offended people — without meaning to, of course– but we’ve also had trouble with countries. The story of Pancho Villa almost got us into a jam with Mexico. And, this fall, we’ve introduced a new character, Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties. I think he may be the hit of the show — and I won’t be surprised if we’re at war with Canada over him within the year.”
The Bullwinkle Show is colorcast over NBC-TV, Sun., 7 P.M. EST, for General Mills, Ideal Toy Corp. and Beech-Nut.
The Bullwinkle Show intro
Rocky & Bullwinkle and Friends opening credits
SEE MORE BULLWINKLE! Check out the streaming options & DVDs here
Bullwinkle’ for enlightened adults (1977)
By Steven Reddicliffe – Des Moines Tribune (Idaho) July 25, 1977
“Bullwinkle” may be one of the best shows on television, though no one pays any attention to it. People don’t walk into cocktail parties and announce, “Hey, I just saw the best ‘Bullwinkle.'” TV networks don’t spend millions of dollars advertising the show. And TV writers don’t dash to the typewriter to report the latest Bullwinkle salary demands.
“Bullwinkle” is a cartoon, and no one takes cartoons seriously. Never mind that old “Popeyes” and “Bugs Bunny” are of infinitely higher quality than “Charlie’s Angels,” “Welcome Back, Kotter” and “Laverne and Shirley.”
Cartoons, it is generally assumed, are kids’ stuff, fine for filling time before a children’s matinee at the local movie theater but nothing more. Well, that kind of thinking is plain wrong, though typical of the treatment cartoons have received ever since Winsor McCay first unveiled his animated “Gertie the Dinosaur” in 1914.
The best cartoons are as intrinsic to American arts as Cagney movies and comics, rock and roll and Andy Warhol and Tom Wolfe. Good cartoons are expensive, however, which is why they are so scarce. Quality animation has almost vanished from movie screens, which makes television one of the last stops before cartoons say, “That’s all, folks.”
But there is consolation, at odd hours, every day. Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, Sylvester and Tweety can be tuned in amid the Saturday-morning mayhem and the Sunday-morning talk. Popeye pops up in the early morning and mid-afternoon. Bullwinkle and Rocky are squirreled away on weekdays.
There are commercials to be endured, oh yes, pitches that present breakfast as “an adventure” for which cereals are the perfect guide, but some cartoons are worth the trouble.
Of the best cartoon shows, “Bullwinkle,” now in reruns, is the only one created for television. The show is the creation of Jay Ward, a Los Angeles-based animator who also created cartoon characters Crusader Rabbit, Hoppity Hooper and George of the Jungle, who, alas, does not consent to interviews. “One of his idiosyncrasies,” his secretary says.
That’s all right. “Bullwinkle” speaks for itself. Bullwinkle is a moose, and Rocky the Flying Squirrel is his friend.
Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale are the villains. There also is a narrator — the voice of William Conrad, who played “Cannon” on network TV for several seasons.
In one episode, Bullwinkle and Rocky jump off a ship, prompting the narrator’s comment, “And you thought Otto Preminger made an exodus.”
In another, Rocky finds out that his football team, Wossamotta U., will play a team of girls. “What kind of games do you play with girls?” Rocky asks. Bullwinkle’s response, talking to the audience: “Boy, this really is a children’s show, isn’t it?”
No, it’s not a children’s show at all. “Bullwinkle” is rich in puns and political and showbiz humor, caustic and clever touches usually found on television on NBC’s “Saturday Night,” if anywhere.
Bullwinkle is told he has to fight a duel: “I thought a duel meant goodbye in French.” One episode is titled, “Homely Are the Brave.” A magic hat is called the Kurwood Derby.
The animation for “Bullwinkle” is nothing special, but it doesn’t have to be. The humor matters most. The backgrounds are stark and characters move awkwardly, but the jokes, those wonderful jokes, move very well.