Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends

“Nuthin’ up m’ sleeve! Presto!”

Jay Ward (1920-1989) had already had one television cartoon series (Crusader Rabbit) under his belt when in 1959 he adapted an earlier show concept The Frostbite Falls Revue into what became known as The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends (but was packaged under various other titles over the years). The popular show, loved by kids and grown-ups alike, ran from 1959 through 1964, was syndicated thereafter, and later subjected to a large number of unworthy reboots, all of which lacked the famous wit and sparkle of the original.

While silly and colorful enough for children, Rocky and Bullwinkle cleverly wove in topical references and cheerfully hokey puns, such that audiences of any age could be engaged. The main segments pitted heroes Bullwinkle J. Moose and Rocky the Flying Squirrel against Boris and Natasha, a couple of Soviet spies who took orders from Mr. Big. Then there were other segments. One was a melodrama cliffhanger parody called Dudley Do-Right, starring a Canadian Mountie, his damsel Nell, and the villain Snidely Whiplash. Only older folks would have gotten those cultural references even at the time. Only much later did I became acquainted with the stuff it was parodying. There were also segments with a genius dog named Mr. Peabody and his “boy” Sherman, and storybook parodies called Fractured Fairy Tales and Aesop & Son. And Bullwinkle did his own comedy segments, such as “Mr. Know-It-All.”

In addition to the cracking good writing, the show had a legendary cast. We didn’t know it at the time, but several of them were movie stars: William Conrad narrated the show overall, Edward Everett Horton narrated Fractured Fairy Tales, Charlie Ruggles was Aesop, and Hans Conried played Snidely Whiplash. The great Paul Frees did the voice of Boris Badenov and sometimes narrated Dudley Do-Right. Daws Butler, who took miscellaneous small parts on the show, is best known for voicing the Hanna-Barbera characters Snagglepuss, Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quickdraw McGraw, and Elroy Jetson. Radio veteran June Foray played Warner Brothers cartoon characters like Witch Hazel and Granny in the Tweety cartoons before becoming best known for her roles as Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Natasha the lady spy. Alone among these luminaries, Bill Scott (who played Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right and Mr. Peabody, and contributed to scripts) is almost exclusively known for his work with Ward.

To this day I find myself doing impressions of both Foray’s and Scott’s voices. Only when you’re adult do you appreciate notes of satire in Foray’s wide-eyed “little boy” squirrel. But as kids we all appreciated Bullwinkle’s delightful stupidity.

After the original run of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Ward and Scott collaborated on Hoppity Hooper (1964), and George of the Jungle (1967), and animated characters for commercials, such as Cap’n Crunch and Quisp.