How a Real Estate Salesman Changed Television
Noell Wolfgram Evans) Ask any child, and almost any adult, why
television exists and you'll get the same answer: cartoons.
They are not just part of our own personal histories, they are
part of the larger collective national (and worldwide) fabric.
TV cartoons are a rite of passage. Generations have enjoyed the
certain indescribable feeling of curling up with a bowl of cereal
on a Saturday morning and watching the antics of multicolored
characters. One would hope that the story of how cartoons came
to TV would be as innocent and joyful as a Smurf. The truth, however,
is quite the opposite.
with Paul Terry, the man behind Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle.
At his Terrytoons studio worked Alex Anderson, his nephew. In
1941 Anderson saw the Disney film called The Reluctant Dragon.
The film had a sharp impact on him, particularly the sequence
featuring the story of Baby Weems. The tale was not shown with
'full' animation but rather as a series of storyboards. Anderson
was immediately intrigued by the idea of animation with 'non-fluid'
images being led by a powerful story.
a lot of time mulling over this idea, he talked it out, worked
it over and refined it, eventually coming up with a concept. Parallel
to this, television started to emerge. One day he put the two
together and realized that television would be the perfect vehicle
for his new concept. He took this to his uncle but Terry, like
most Hollywood producers, had a deep aversion to television and
quickly passed. However, Terry did give Anderson his blessing
to take his idea elsewhere.
At this point,
Jay Ward entered the picture. Ward, who would go on to produce
Rocky and Bullwinkle (among other cartoons) as well as a series
of popular commercials, was at this time a real estate salesman.
He also happened to be an old friend of Alex Anderson's. While
Anderson paid a visit to Ward. They discussed Anderson's idea
and Ward jumped at the chance to be a part. In 1948 they formed
Television Arts Productions, Inc (T.A.P.) together. Before long,
they had a demo reel of three separate stories: Dudley DoRight
of the Mounties, Hemhock Jones and Crusader Rabbit.
In the Fall
of 1948, after acquiring the services of veteran producer Jerry
Fairbanks (to add some 'experience'), they signed a deal with
NBC for 130, 5 minute episodes of Crusader Rabbit. The adventures
of Plucky Crusader (who was voiced by Lucille Bliss) and Rags
the Tiger (voiced by Vern Louden) were on their way to becoming
the first cartoon in television history.
order prompted a need for a growth in staff and Ward hired an
eclectic, but talented group, that included people as diverse
as newspaper writer Ted Martine and veteran animator Grim Natwick.
The series was produced following Anderson's original idea of
'limited' animation; it was lively and unique but what really
drove this series was the talented voice cast delivering smartly
comic stories. The scripts were written by Anderson and others,
guided along by Ward. Ward hovered over all aspects of the show;
by all accounts as an encouraging enabler. The stories, which
played out over 15, 20 or 25 episodes, dealt with Crusader and
Rags in any number of situations including: fighting for tigers
in India who are having their stripes stolen to make India Ink,
fighting a leprechaun hating giant and helping Texas jackrabbits
fight deportation to the North Pole.
two years of work, on August 1, 1950 at 6pm on KNBH in Los Angeles
Crusader Rabbit made television history as the first cartoon to
be broadcast. The show continued on a high path for two years.
things started to shake.
As 1952 started,
T.A.P. started to feel that NBC wasn't really promoting the show
anymore. In an effort to grow, Fairbanks decided that he would
buy back all of the programs from NBC for $170,000. The idea was
that he would then repackage them and sell them to the growing
number of independent stations as 'starter' material. Besides
being a smart business move, this would have also been a great
way to spread the series. The problem was that Fairbanks didn't
have this kind of money and so in lieu of one big payment, he
set up a deal with NBC where they would give him the cartoons
for $8,000 a month with the films acting as collateral.
Only a few
months had passed when NBC realized that Fairbanks would never
be able to make the payments properly so they called in their
marker and again gained control of the series. They promptly turned
around and sold the entire run to Consolidated Television Sales
(who had been the company Fairbanks was setting up his distribution
system with). It wasn't long though before they folded and in
1954 Crusader Rabbit landed in the hands of Shull Bonsall.
The fact that
Crusader and Rags were under the control of a 'stranger' didn't
sit well with Ward and Anderson. In an effort to regain control
of their creations, they sued Fairbanks, NBC and Bonsall. During
this time, to keep T.A.P. afloat, they moved into advertising,
producing some highly regarded animated commercials.
As the trial
dragged on, Anderson moved further into the advertising world
and Ward drifted back to real estate, waiting for his chance to
get back into television. He would get that opportunity in 1956.
Key was another childhood friend of Ward. Key felt that the time
was right for a Crusader Rabbit revival. Ward enthusiastically
agreed but with his time tied up in legal battles, they had to
look elsewhere for someone to handle the production of the new
series. One of the first people Ward ran into was William Hanna
who was intrigued by the opportunity television presented. Having
been a fan of the original series, Hanna jumped at the opportunity
to bring it back. He teamed up with Mike Lah and formed Shield
Productions to make a new, color Crusader Rabbit series.
tired of the legal hurdles, decided to sit this one out, so Ward
and Hannah set about putting the show together while Key quickly
signed a distribution deal with RCA. Just as the deal was to be
signed, it came to light that the ownership of the characters
was actually a big question mark.
It turns out
that while Ward was having a resurgence, so was Shull Bonsall
who was prepping his own studio 'TV Spots' for the production
of a new color Crusader Rabbit series. Bonsall, who still claimed
ownership rights to the original series, saw a huge opportunity
in reviving the characters. He had power and wealth and soon he
had used both to wear Ward and Anderson down (they had at this
point lost their court battles). With no other choice, they signed
over the rights to Crusader Rabbit for $50,000.
this was going on, Hanna and his Shield staff were productively
working on the series. When Ward lost control of the characters,
Hanna found himself out of a job. The time he spent developing
the series and learning the medium was well spent though. With
the loss of Crusader Rabbit, Hanna closed Shield and set up a
new studio with his old partner Joe Barbera. Using much of the
Shield staff, in 1957 they produced 'Ruff and Reddy', their first
in a long line of animated shows.
TV Spots went
on to make 260 new Crusader Rabbit adventures and while they were
not as good as the originals, by all accounts they are rather
entertaining. Anderson went to advertising for good and Ward spent
his time working in real estate. He always knew though that he
would be back. For while Bonsall may have gotten control of Crusader
Rabbit, he had no claim to any of Ward's other creations, including
a certain moose and his flying squirrel friend.
a printable version of this feature.
> return to
Features main page.
> return to front