Sunday, May 12, 2013
The Rabbit That Roared!
I'm still in the early chapters of Keith Scott's most excellent The Moose That Roared, a detailed account of Jay Ward Productions, the company which gave us the most excellent Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Bullinkle the Moose. I've learned that Jay Ward was a compelling and very curious fellow who it turns out was quite the pioneer in the earliest days of television.
I grew up watching and enjoying Rocky and Bullwinkle, but I never ever got to see the earliest effort by Ward and Alex Anderson who between them created a company called Television Arts Productions and a fondly remembered cartoon titled Crusader Rabbit. It turns out that Crusader Rabbit is a very significant cartoon, the very first produced specifically for television employing the limited animation techniques which proved so successful for Ward later on Rocky and Bullwinkle and which were also employed by Hanna-Barbera on early hits like Ruff and Reddy, an early cartoon which is often cited as the breakthrough cartoon of the era.
As it turns out Ruff and Reddy took much of its structure and style from the much earlier Crusader Rabbit. Sadly the rights to Crusader Rabbit are enmeshed in a snakepit of Hollywood wrangling and deal making, keeping a legitimate collection from getting to the market. I have found what seems to be a widely available bootleg, but I'm not crazy about getting those.It always amazes me that these kinds of projects get tied up like this making no money for anyone, instead of some for all.
Scott's book shows how Crusader Rabbit came together out of an injured Jay Ward's need to find something to do after being hit by a truck and who partnered with Alex Anderson to start the little Rabbit in the most primitive of conditions, and sadly how after some success are left hanging, and then later still caught in a legal morass which ultimately left them little choice but to give up their creation which fell into the clutches of a Hollywood money changer.
It would a sad tale indeed if that experience hadn't led some years later to the creation of Rocky and Bullwinkle. But I'm not that far yet in the story. More later on that. And here's a link with more on the creation and development of Crusader Rabbit and also a peek at the very first episode.