|"And now here's something we hope you'll really like..."
A pun-filled satire on melodramatic cliffhangers, Rocky and His Friends debuted in 1959, changing the cartoon landscape forever. Created by TV animation pioneer Jay Ward, the show was an instant success with both kids-who loved the show's crazy characters-and their parents, who caught the more subtle wordplay and sophisticated humor cleverly disguised as "children's entertainment." Within five months, ABC began airing episodes twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
In September 1960, ABC moved Rocky and His Friends to Sunday afternoons. A year later, the show was canceled, and NBC snatched it up. Changing the name to The Bullwinkle Show, NBC aired it Sunday evenings for the first year, then moved it to Saturday mornings. Finally Bullwinkle wound up back on Sunday mornings again in September of 1964. Network reruns continued until 1973 when the show officially went into syndication.
The show starred the dim but lovable Bullwinkle J. Moose and his plucky pint-sized pal Rocket J. Squirrel, both of Frostbite Falls, Minnesota. Together, our two heroes faced off against Boris and Natasha, the Pottsylvanian gruesome twosome whose orders were quite simply: “Kill Moose and Squirrel.”
Rocky and Bullwinkle enjoyed twenty eight adventures together, each containing anywhere from four segments (“Moosylvania Saved,” their last adventure) to forty (“Jet Fuel Formula,” their first adventure). Along the way, they met up with an array of memorable characters, including TV antenna eating, six-foot tall metal munching moon mice, friendly moon men Gidney and Cloyd, the very evil Fearless Leader, Captain Peter “Wrong Way” Peachfuzz, Mr. Big, and Professor Bermuda Schwartz, inventor of the silent explosive "Hushaboom."
These segments played as bookends to the half-hour animated series, which also included Dudley Do-Right, Fractured Fairy Tales, Aesop and Son, Bullwinkle’s Mr. Know It All and Poetry Corner, as well as Peabody’s Improbable History.
Dudley Do-Right, a satire of the old-time western melodramas, featured the title character as an inept Canadian Mountie who served under the kind and patient Inspector Fenwick. Do-Right spent most of his time rescuing Fenwick’s daughter, Nell, from the evil clutches of the classic villain Snidely Whiplash. A bizarre love triangle between Nell, Do-Right, and his horse (named Horse) also provided for laughs.
Dudley Do-Right spun off into his own series on ABC for a year in 1969, but the show was primarily repeats of these original episodes.
Peabody’s Improbable History featured dog-genius Mr. Peabody and his “boy” Sherman traveling through history via Peabody’s "Wayback Machine." Each episode showed the duo traveling throughout the ages as they helped important historical figures (Columbus, Galileo, Edison, etc.) actually achieve the pivotal discoveries that changed history. Mr. Peabody used his dry wit to end each episode with a pun loosely disguised as a moral for Sherman and the audience to learn from.
Both Aesop and Son and Fractured Fairy Tales provided audiences with skewed versions of popular fables and fairy tales. Fractured Fairy Tales was narrated by famous character actor Edward Everett Horton and lampooned such classic tales as Cinderella, Rapunzel, and The Frog Prince (the latter of which was spun off into the later series The Adventures of Hoppity Hooper). Aesop and Son allowed for some generation gap humor, along with the satirized fables of Aesop.
“And now, here’s Mr. Know-It-All.”
Regular syndication of The Bullwinkle Show ended by the early 1980’s after an extremely long and successful run, and brief runs have reappeared in recent years. The classic episodes also became available on video in the early 1990's, sparked by the continuing success of the character's merchandising.
A live-action film based on the Boris and Natasha characters was shot starring Sally Kellerman (the original ‘Hot Lips Houlihan’) and Dave Thomas (of SCTV) around that same time; it never received a theatrical release and went straight to cable, airing on the Showtime network April 17, 1992.
The Pottsylvanian villains got a second chance at big-screen stardom in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, a live-action/animated feature scheduled for release in the summer of 2000 (with Robert De Niro as "Fearless Leader").
Dudley Do-Right also got the live-action feature treatment, with Brendan Fraser in the title role. The film debuted in the U.S. in 1999.
Jay Ward’s widow Ramona and daughter Tiffany still own The Dudley Do-Right Emporium (for many years, the only place to buy Jay Ward character T-shirts and accessories) at 8200 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, California 90046. Hours of operation are Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The phone number is (213) 656-6550. The original location of the Jay Ward Studios was originally a couple doors east on Sunset Blvd., where a statue of Bullwinkle and Rocky still proudly stands out in front, as a beloved icon from the glorious golden age of Saturday Morning.
“Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!”