Rocky and Bullwinkle: Cartoon Icons of American TV
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Rocky and Bullwinkle: Cartoon Icons of American TV

The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show is the culmination of two popular American television cartoon series, Rocky and His Friends (1959–1961) and The Bullwinkle Show (1961–1964), teaming the popular duo who were phenomenally popular with both children and adults; the wacky characters and absurd plots drawing children, the clever usage of puns and topical references capturing adult audiences.

The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show was the culmination of two popular American television cartoon series, Rocky and His Friends (1959–1961) and The Bullwinkle Show (1961–1964), teaming the popular duo who were phenomenally popular with both children and adults; the wacky characters and absurd plots drawing kids, the clever usage of puns and topical references capturing adult audiences.

Conceived by artist Jay Ward and producer Alex Anderson, Rocky & Bullwinkle was based on The Frostbite Falls Revue, a show that never got past the proposal stage but introduced the likable characters Rocket J. Squirrel (Rocky), Oski Bear, Canadian Moose (Bullwinkle), Sylvester Fox, Blackstone Crow, and Floral Fauna, a group of forest animals running a television station.  (Bullwinkle's name is said to have come from the name of a car dealership in Berkeley, California called “Bullwinkel Motors.”)

Because Anderson lived in the San Francisco Bay Area and did not want to relocate to Los Angeles where the show was to be produced, Ward hired Bill Scott, who became the head writer and co-producer at Jay Ward Productions, and who subsequently wrote all of the Rocky and Bullwinkle features. Ward was joined by writers Allan Burns (who later became head writer for MTM--Mary Tyler Moore--Enterprises) and Chris Hayward.

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With production beginning in February 1958, the series began with the pilot, Rocky the Flying Squirrel.  Eight months later, General Mills cereal company signed a deal to sponsor the cartoon, under the condition that the show be run in a late-afternoon time slot where it could best attract children. 

 Initially deciding to outsource the animation, General Mills would later be forced to hire American cartoonists due to the poor quality that resulted--and evident in the early shows.

The show was broadcast for the first time on November 19, 1959 on the ABC television network under the title Rocky and His Friends, and then twice a week, on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, preceding the hit pop phenomenon, American Bandstand at 5:30 p.m., where it became the highest rated daytime network program.

The show, however, was subsequently moved to the NBC network starting on September 24, 1961, broadcast in color, shown on Sundays at 7 p.m., just before Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color where Rocky and Bullwinkle quickly developed a sizable following.

Although the Rocky and Bullwinkle characters were hugely popular, the show was canceled in the summer of 1964 do to pitting it against the highest rated shows of the era. The shows producers then pitched it to ABC--who were not interested in revisiting the ailing cartoon.  However, reruns of episodes were still continually aired on ABC's Sunday morning schedule until 1973--and drawing a phenomenal share of viewers--at which time the series went into syndication with an abbreviated fifteen-minute version of the series running under the title The Rocky Show.

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During the 1981-1982 television season, NBC aired the Bullwinkle Show reruns at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoons, with The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show running on cable in the late 1980s/early 1990s on Nickelodeon, and later from the 1990s into the early 2000s on Cartoon Network. The show, as of March 2011, is currently rerunning on the Boomerang channel on Saturday and Sunday at 6:30 a.m. ET.


Rocket "Rocky" J. Squirrel: One of the two lead characters and heroes of the series, "Rocky" is a flying squirrel whose best friend is Bullwinkle.

Bullwinkle J. Moose: The second of the Rocky/Bullwinkle duo, Bullwinkle is a good-natured but dull-witted moose totally devoted to his much more intelligent squirrel buddy.  Bullwinkle, along with Rocky, live in the fictional town of Frostbite Falls, Minnesota, which was based on the real-life city of International Falls, Minnesota.

Boris Badenov: Part of the scheming villain team of Boris and Natasha, agents of the fictitious nation of Pottsylvania, Boris (a pun on Boris Godunov) is the fiendish but inept counter to Natasha.

Natasha Fatale: Along with Boris, Natasha is the femme fatale part of the villainous duo commanded by the sinister Mr. Big and Fearless Leader.

Other characters include Gidney & Cloyd, who are little green men from the moon who are armed with "scrooch" guns; Captain Peter "Wrongway" Peachfuzz, the captain of the S.S. Andalusia; and the inevitable onlookers, Edgar and Chauncy.

Additionally, the "Rocky & Bullwinkle" shorts serve as bookends for several other popular supporting features, including:

> “Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties,” a parody of early 20th century melodrama and silent film serials of the Northern genre. Dudley Do-Right is a Canadian Mountie in constant pursuit of his nemesis, Snidely Whiplash, who sports the standard "villain" attire of black top hat, cape, and exaggerated black moustache.

> “Peabody's Improbable History,” which features a talking dog genius named Mister Peabody who has a pet boy named Sherman. Peabody and Sherman use Peabody's "WABAC machine" (pronounced "way-back”) to go back in time to discover the real story behind famous historical events, and in many cases, intervene with uncooperative historical figures to ensure that events actually transpire as history has already recorded.

> “Fractured Fairy Tales” presents familiar fairy tales and children's stories, but with storylines altered and modernized for humorous effect.

> “Aesop & Son,” is similar to “Fractured Fairy Tales,” complete with the same theme music, except it deals with fables instead of fairy tales. The typical structure consists of Aesop attempting to teach a lesson to his son using a fable, but after hearing the story, the son subverts the fable's moral with a pun.

> “Bullwinkle's Corner” features the dim-witted moose attempting to inject high-brow culture by reciting poems and nursery rhymes, but inadvertently--and humorously--butchering them beyond recognition.

>  “Mr. Know-It-All” again features Bullwinkle posing as an authority on a variety of topics--none of which he actually knows about.

> “The World of Commander McBragg,” features rewritten history as the title character would have imagined it. (This segment was actually prepared for Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales, and later shown on The Underdog Show.)

Like many cartoons characters of the era, Rocky and Bullwinkle has had a wide range of fan merchandise and memorabilia attached to their likenesses, including action figures, mugs, T-shirts, comic books, Christmas tree ornaments, Bullwinkle antlers, stuffed animals, as well as a current line of T-shirts, figurines, and re-released DVDs.


Original Concept:  Jay Ward and Alex Anderson

Producers:  Jay Ward and Bill Scott

Head Writer:  Bill Scott

Additional Writers:  Allan Burns and Chris Hayward

Voices:  June Foray, Paul Frees, Bill Scott, and William Conrad


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Related Articles:

>  Aesop, Master Fable Teller

>  The Hidden Meaning Behind Children’s Nursery Rhymes

>  Heckle and Jeckle

>  Beany and Cecil

>  Underdog

>  The Dark Truth Behind Disney’s Fairy Tales

>  Snagglepuss

>  Snoopy, an American Icon


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Comments (7)

I sure remember this as a kid. One of my favorite cartoons.

Glad to hear that, Sam. I think it was one of the more clever of the era.

Yes, clever is a good word to describe it.

Nice job on this and I remember Rocky and Bullwinkle well.

Cool, Sandy!

ginger hardy

I liked natasha and boris the most

Nuna and Kiff?!