Unsung artist behind Rocky and Bullwinkle

Unsung artist behind Rocky and Bullwinkle

By Matt Schudel

Washington Post Staff Writer

Monday, October 25, 2010

Alex Anderson, 90, the artist who created the cartoon characters Rocky and Bullwinkle, the flying squirrel and hapless moose who were TV fixtures in the early 1960s, died Oct. 22 at a nursing facility in Carmel, Calif. His wife said he had Alzheimer's disease.

Mr. Anderson, who grew up in a cartooning family in California, was also the creator of Crusader Rabbit, which became television's first animated cartoon series in 1949. He spent much of his career in advertising, and his role in creating Rocky and Bullwinkle was overlooked with time. He fought a long legal battle late in life to reclaim recognition as the cartoon characters' artistic father.

Rocket "Rocky" J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose first landed on network TV in 1959. They lived in the town of Frostbite Falls and found themselves embroiled in all manner of absurd plots involving espionage and devious villains. The show contained outrageous puns and veiled Cold War commentary that sailed over the heads of the children who were its primary audience.

The Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons also featured another of Mr. Anderson's popular creations, Dudley Do-Right, a strutting Canadian Mountie in constant pursuit of his nemesis, the mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash.

Mr. Anderson was not part of the production of the original series, which ran on ABC from 1959 to 1961 and NBC from 1961 to 1964. As the years passed, his role in developing the characters was largely forgotten. He received nothing when a lucrative video deal was struck for the burgeoning Bullwinkle franchise.

"I'm thrilled that something I did has become so popular," he told the San Francisco Chronicle in 1991. "But I'm sorry that I don't get any credit for it."

He decided to take legal action after seeing a documentary about Bullwinkle that didn't mention his name at all. Instead, most of the credit went to his childhood friend and onetime business partner, Jay Ward. Animator and writer Bill Scott, who was the first TV voice of Bullwinkle, was also cited as a "creative force."

Mr. Anderson and Ward grew up together in Berkeley, Calif., and formed a business in the late 1940s to pitch cartoon ideas to television. Crusader Rabbit, Rocky, Bullwinkle and Dudley Do-Right were among the characters they showed to studio executives before Crusader Rabbit was picked up.

After Mr. Anderson's other cartoon ideas failed to catch on, he joined a San Francisco advertising agency. Ward moved to Los Angeles, trying to sell TV studios on a Bullwinkle series. Mr. Anderson reportedly retained half-ownership of the characters and received regular payments until Ward died in 1989. In the early 1990s, Mr. Anderson filed suit against Ward's heirs to reclaim full credit as the creator of Rocky and Bullwinkle.

He received a lump-sum settlement in 1993, along with a court-mandated acknowledgment as "the creator of the first version of the characters of Rocky, Bullwinkle and Dudley."

Alexander Hume Anderson Jr. was born Sept. 5, 1920, in Berkeley. Two of his uncles were cartoonists, including Paul Terry, who is credited with developing the character of Mighty Mouse. In 1938, Mr. Anderson joined Terry's animation studio, Terrytoons, in New Rochelle, N.Y.