Alexander Anderson Jr. dies at 90; created TV cartoon characters Rocky, Bullwinkle and others
Alexander Anderson Jr., a pioneer television cartoonist who created the landmark duo of Crusader Rabbit and Rags the Tiger and two of TV’s most enduring characters, Rocky and Bullwinkle, has died. He was 90.
Anderson, a longtime resident of Pebble Beach who had Alzheimer’s disease, died Friday at a rest home in Carmel, said his son, Terry M. Anderson.
The nephew of Paul Terry, whose Terrytoons cartoons included “Mighty Mouse” and “Heckle and Jeckle,” the Berkeley-born Anderson had apprenticed at his uncle’s studio in New Rochelle, N.Y., as a young man before serving in World War II and returned to work there after the war.
With television beginning its domination over radio as the at-home entertainment medium of choice in the late 1940s, Anderson proposed that his uncle begin producing cartoons specifically for the newer medium.
But his uncle, whose cartoons were distributed in movie theaters by 20th Century Fox, immediately shot down the idea.
“He said, ‘If I have anything to do with television, Fox would dump me just like that,’ ” Anderson told the San Francisco Chronicle in 1991. “They viewed TV as the enemy.”
Anderson then teamed up with his childhood friend and former UC Berkeley fraternity brother Jay Ward, who had gone into the real estate business, and they formed the Berkeley-based Television Arts Productions.
Anderson turned a separate garage-apartment building behind his family’s Berkeley home into a cartoon studio, where they made their low-budget, limited- animation cartoons for television.
Anderson and Ward, according to the Chronicle story, pitched a half-hour package of cartoon characters they wanted to sell to NBC that included spunky Crusader Rabbit and his pal Rags the Tiger — as well as Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties, Rocky the flying squirrel and his sidekick Bullwinkle the moose.
Of his creation of Rocky, Anderson told the Chronicle: “I had worked on Mighty Mouse, and he flew around. I didn’t understand the mechanics of how a mouse flew — or, for that matter, how Superman flew. But flying squirrels do fly, and that gave him the mantle of superness without having to stretch the truth.”
Bullwinkle grew out of Anderson’s appreciation that there’s “something majestic” about moose: “They’re macho, but they have a comic aspect, with that schnozzola of theirs. There are few creatures just begging to be caricatured.”
NBC wasn’t interested in a full half-hour of cartoons, according to the Chronicle account. But it did want Crusader Rabbit cartoons, which could be inserted into children’s shows.
The syndicated “Crusader Rabbit,” which became the first animated series produced for television, began airing regularly in 1950.
“Crusader Rabbit was the first animated TV star,” said Mark Evanier, an animation writer and historian, who said he watched the adventures of Crusader Rabbit “religiously” as a kid.
“Crusader Rabbit,” Evanier told The Times on Monday, was “a very important achievement.”
“Early television did not have the money necessary to produce animation, and other animators and animation companies thought animation for TV was not feasible,” said Evanier. “Jay Ward and Alexander Anderson working together showed them that it was possible.”
But, according to the Chronicle story, the lack of profits prompted Anderson and Ward to go their separate ways in 1951. Ward returned to his real estate business and Anderson launched a career in advertising in San Francisco.
In 1957, Ward decided to return to television and move to Los Angeles. “At that point, my dad was offered an opportunity to go with him, but he decided to stay in advertising in San Francisco,” said Terry Anderson.
In 1959, Rocky and Bullwinkle began their long run on television, beginning with the Ward-produced “Rocky and His Friends” on ABC.
It “was the first really witty, clever cartoon show that people followed,” said Evanier. “The wit came from the Jay Ward staff, particularly Bill Scott, who was the head writer and the voice of Bullwinkle and Dudley Do-Right.
“They took Alex Anderson’s basic concept and turned it into a legendary TV show.”
Anderson, who reportedly remained half-owner of the rights to a dozen characters, including Rocky, Bullwinkle and Dudley, told the Chronicle in 1991 that he hadn’t received any payments since Ward’s death in 1989.
At the time, sales of Rocky and Bullwinkle videos were soaring. Anderson also felt he was not receiving proper credit publicly as the creator of the Rocky and Bullwinkle characters.
In 1993, he settled his lawsuit with Jay Ward Productions over the rights to the Rocky, Bullwinkle and Dudley Do-Right characters.
Born in Berkeley on Sept. 5, 1920, Anderson attended UC Berkeley before transferring to the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco. He served in Naval intelligence during World War II.
Anderson’s first two marriages ended in divorce.
He is survived by Patricia, his wife of 36 years; his sons from his first marriage, Terry and Scott; three step-children, Matthew, Carolyn and Daniel Kennedy; 14 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
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