Jay Ward understood that cartoons were not meant to be monopolized by children. The good ones, which Ward was a master at creating, worked at two levels: one direct and another wonderfully satiric.
Ward, who died last week at age 69 at his home in West Hollywood, created a rich collection of animated fun that is an automatic reference point for millions of baby boomers who grew up when television still seemed a sort of magical living room box.
Along with co-producer and head writer Bill Scott, Ward gave us heroes in a quick-thinking, squeaky-voiced squirrel named Rocky and his goofy but lovable moose pal, Bullwinkle. From 1959 until 1973, and now in reruns, Rocky and Bullwinkle introduced us to an unforgettable cast, including the first regular cartoon characters from the Cold War, Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale. They were supposed to be from Pottsylvania, not Russia, but no kid believed it: The loyal fans knew that Boris and Natasha sounded like that Khrushchev fellow they kept hearing the adults discuss; and of course, the adults watching Rocky with their children knew it, too. Only when Rocky and Bullwinkle fans grew up did many recognize the play on words between Boris Badenov and the name of the 16th-Century Russian czar Boris Godunov.
Ward delighted in puns, as evidenced by some titles of episodes like "The Whale: Maybe Dick." And he liked to turn expectations inside out, as with Mr. Peabody, a genius of a white beagle, and his boy Sherman, who traveled back in time; Royal Canadian Mountie Dudley Do-Right, who rode backwards on a horse smarter than he was.
In a sendup of "Sleeping Beauty" in Ward's "Fractured Fairy Tales," the prince, who looks suspiciously like Walt Disney, is about to kiss the princess when he is struck with a concept. "Awake she's just another princess. Asleep she's a gold mine!" He envisions Sleeping Beauty comics, Sleeping Beauty bubble gum . . . Sleeping Beauty Land!
The common denominator of Ward's cartoons was literate wit. Children could delight in the silliness and adults could guffaw in recognition of the clever double-entendre. Ward had a way of helping us remember that in humor the child and the adult merge.