J Troplong "Jay" Ward, U.S. Television Cartoon Pioneer (1920-1989)
"Jay basically just wanted to have fun, and to laugh his way through life, and to go to the Lakers games"—Skip Craig, longtime employee of Jay Ward
Jay Ward was born in San Francisco, California with only the letter J for a first name—this was supposed to allow him to pick whatever name he liked (at least, whichever one he liked that started with J, one supposes). He picked "Jay."* Thus began the life of a great eccentric genius whose charisma, perseverance and creativity would bring some of the greatest cartoons of all time to television.
Ward was an only child whose father abandoned him early, leaving him and his mother with few means of support. His estrangement from his father was a major (if not the main) influence in much of what Jay Ward did in his life.
As a boy, Ward was fun-loving and delighted in all mannner of jokes and puns; he had an astonishing knack for winning on very long odds. He received a Bachelor's Degree from U.C. Berkeley in 1941 and went on to Harvard, but was drafted out of school into the Army Air Corps.
During his army years, he met his wife, Ramona (they were married in 1943)—she would be a major part of the rest of his life. Ward finished out the war, then left the Army, vowing never to return, hurried back to Boston and completed his MBA. He started a small real estate company in Berkeley, but fate had other things in store for this man.
Opportunity Knocks–Alex Anderson and "Limited Animation"
"I think my greatest advantage was that I had no advantages ... I was too dumb to know how little I knew."—Jay Ward
Alex Anderson and Jay were friends from the age of nine. Anderson was the nephew of Paul Terry of Terrytoons, and had worked in nearly every department of that redoubtable cartoon production firm; he knew how cartoons were made. Anderson developed the idea of limited animation: using simplified, static backgrounds, minimal character movement and re-use of common shots**. Anderson was very keen on the thought that limited animation could be used to produce quick and inexpensive 'moving comic strips,' for television.
Alex Anderson pitched the idea to his illustrious uncle, who promptly passed on it. Television was seen as a very third-rate medium at the time, and Mr. Terry felt that lending the Terrytoons name to something for TV would surely sully their good reputation. Anderson, still convinced of the soundness of his idea, introduced it to his pal Jay Ward, who was out of real estate for awhile, nursing mental and physical injuries from being hit by a truck on his first day at the new office.
In May 1948, Ward and Anderson opened Television Arts Productions (TAP) in Berkeley, California. They sank a lot of money into it. They worked long hours. Eventually, they created a cartoon variety show entitled The Comic Strips of Television which included Crusader Rabbit, Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties and Hamhock Jones, a Sherlock Holmes-type character. Anderson created the art and Ward co-wrote, added gags and general silliness–they called in a favor or two from some voice actors and animators to finish the project out (with their cheap, Army surplus camera). Ward and Anderson took the cartoons to NBC and pioneering TV program distributor Jerry Fairbanks.
Crusader and Rags Take America by Storm
"Much of Jay Ward's behavior reflected two dominant features in his makeup: a fiercely independent desire for quality and a lifelong pursuit of fun."—Keith Scott, voice artist and Ward historian
NBC took a chance on Crusader Rabbit and the cartoon ran daily from 1949 to 1952. The adventures of brave Crusader and his slow-talking sidekick Rags the Tiger became a pretty big hit and this allowed TAP to move to Hollywood in February of 1951, where they occupied a small office on Sunset Boulevard. Anderson and Ward hired more people and shared duties directing and producing the cartoons, Anderson created the art and Ward mixed the sound (he turned out to be an exceptionally talented sound man).
Crusader and Rags teamed up with a host of crazy characters against a rogues Gallery of screwball villains. The shows were funny and clever, and a big hit with children and adults alike. The TAP crew also made a large number of other wacky cartoons in an attempt to expand their repertoire. All of the programs that Jay Ward helped to make were funny, clever, silly and full of word play. The shows never talked down to the audience and presented an appealing, topsy-turvy reality as they zipped along at the rocket pace of a flying squirrel. Crusader was well received and TAP expanded quickly. Within ten years, limited animation was showing up all over television.
Crusader and Rags left the airwaves in 1952. At that point, Jay Ward went back into real estate in order to get some more money to continue his cartoon career. Most of his crew could not wait, however, and many of them wandered off to other companies (several of whom became big names in the animation world in their own rights). As TAP dissolved, Alex Anderson meandered off into the world of advertising, but sold much of his interest to Ward. Ward changed the company to Jay Ward Productions.
It was about this time that he teamed up with Bill Scott.
Fun With Moose and Squirrel
"The joy of working with Jay was freedom. You see, he trusted writers."—Bill Scott
Bill Scott was driven, sharp and talented–just the sort of guy that Ward had been looking for. He had worked with Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett among other notables in the world of animation during his time a jorneyman artist and animator. He became Ward's right-hand man, co-producer, head writer and also did many of the voices for their characters (Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right and Tom Slick to name but three).
One of the funny ideas that Ward and his TAP crew had created was a cartoon called the Frostbite Falls Review, which featured many wacky cartoon characters in a sort of variety show format. Among them were a flying squirrel and his goofy sidekick, Bullwinkle J. Moose***. These two would, of course, become the Ward Studio's most popular characters of all time.
It was not easy to bring the show to the airwaves, but with a lot of resolve and luck, Ward and Scott eventually enlisted some amazing artists and voice talents and the show was on its way. In addition to being very funny and creative, Ward was famous for his ability to find and coordinate talent. On November 19, 1959 at 5:30 pm, Rocky and His Friends took the viewing public by surprise. It was hip, it had silliness interspersed with sophistication, it was everything that most cartoons were not (satire was considered the kiss of death on television at the time). Ward said that he and Bill Scott did not really think about what the 'core audience' was for their cartoons, nor did they try to be clever, they simply wanted to make really great cartoons–they felt assured that the rest would fall into place and people would enjoy the shows. He claimed that they never looked at the ratings or conducted surveys.
Much below the line work for these cartoons was contracted out to the Val-Mar Studio in Mexico City, causing no end of headaches for the production staff in the United States. Many of the worst of the problems were due to a linguistic barrier and the fact that Val-Mar had never undertaken a project like this before. The addition of a Spanish-speaking animation supervisor, Rudy Zamora, helped save the day and bring the quality up to par. There were constant battles over budget. The creators of the moose and squirrel got about a third of the money that other animation houses recieved. Somehow, they managed to make it all work.
The cartoon was later re-titled The Bullwinkle Show–the adventures usually centered around our favorite moose and squirrel and their arch-nemeses, Boris Badinov and Natasha Fatale, two shady crooks from the land of Pottsylvania, who would stop at nothing to get our heroes. The adventures that Rocky and Bullwinkle had were intercut with shorts such as Dudley Do-Right and Fractured Fairy Tales. Ward and his crew fought several battles with censors and attorneys over satire, language and their humorous portrayals of various ethnic types. One cartoon, featuring a pyromaniac bear named Stokey, got them into some very serious trouble with the United States Forest Service, who threatened to put them in prison for lampooning Smokey the Bear. They also aroused the ire of their network by constantly making jokes at NBC's expense. The team never shied away from controversy, in fact, they thrived on it.
The shows were even more subtle, satirical and clever than Crusader:absolutely overflowing with puns, craziness, cheap belly laughs, and obscure references (literary, film, radio, opera, music and many more). Many people have compared their insane brand of humor to Mad Magazine of the time–this sort of zany brilliance was unlike anything in cartoons, before or since.
The Sixties: Ward and Scott Make Good
"[The commercials from Ward Studios are] better in every way than most of the shows they interrupt."—Leonard Maltin
In about 1961, the Ward Studio started making some animated advertisements for a few clients. Ward was reportedly not crazy about doing ad work, but it helped to pay the bills, so the work continued. In 1962, Quaker Oats was working on a new breakfast cereal, so they called on Ward's creative team to come up with a funny character and silly commercial spots for it. One of the team, Allan Burns, picked up the project and the Cap'n Crunch crew was born (the good Cap'n's likeness and voice were supposedly based on Ward himself). The studio went on to make wild and funny advertising spots for Quisp, Quake and several other breakfast cereals.
The Quaker Oats ads were made to be "as much like entertainment as possible," Bill Scott said. The ads were amazing: crazy, funny and clever with the mad pace that Ward and company had perfected over years of cartoon making.
By all accounts Ward was brilliant, driven and uncompromising but very gentle, good-natured and funny. He had a reputation as a reclusive eccentric, which was only partially deserved. While he was very shy and in fact suffered from at least one nervous breakdown and repeated bouts of agoraphobia, his health was also notoriously dodgy, which helped lead to the tales of his reclusiveness.
Ward, Scott and their team loved crazy publicity stunts, including a giant Bullwinkle statue unveiled at a huge gala in Hollywood and an indoor picnic complete with pesky ants (behind glass, of course). In a famous stunt, Ward bought a small island and named it Moosylvania, even going so far as to travel cross-country in a brightly decorated truck, petitioning for statehood for Moosylvania. When they got to Washington, D.C., however, what they got was an armed escort from the White House grounds. Their attempted audience with United States President John F. Kennedy came at the moment of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it seems no one really was in the mood to hear about Moosylvania at the time. Still, the whole thing culminated in a big parade in New York City, complete with bands and lots of celebrities. The press called Mooslyvania one of the all-time greatest stunts in history.
Burnout and Some New Ideas
Bullwinkle: "Hey, Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!"
Rocky: "Again? That trick never works!"
(B pulls a lion, crocodile, another hat, Rocky or even himself out of the tophat)
Bullwinkle: "...musta used the wrong hat!"
By the end of 1963, the grueling pace was wearing on Mr. Ward, who spent a great deal of time battling illnesses. He soldiered on with a new show, Fractured Flickers, which spoofed old movies and was a minor hit despite having its share of critics. In 1964, Ward and company released Hoppity Hooper, which, at the sponsor's insistence, was geared toward a much younger audience. Hoppity, which was the tale of a frog, a fox and a bear, travelling around in a patent medicine truck, was intercut with older segments such as Dudley Do-Right and Fractured Fairy Tales, but it never enjoyed the sort of popularity that Bullwinkle had.
A few more Bullwinkle cartoons were made in 1963-64, for Saturday morning television. Between Ward's uncertain health and the studio's busy schedule, there weren't many more adventures for the moose and squirrel to have, and the last cartoons are often thought of as being kind of sketchy.
Through 1965-1967, the Ward Studios (and their partner, Total Television) produced a number of shows, some that were great, some that were not so great. Among these were Commander McBragg, Tennessee Tuxedo, Underdog, Go Go Gophers and Super Chicken.
One big standout of the period deserves a mention: George of the Jungle. Originally envisioned as a little scrawny guy, George eventually hit the air in a crazy pilot episode as a big klutzy muscleman. George was a few coconuts short of a grove–he thinks his elephant, Shep, is a big grey puppy with an appetite for peanuts. George was considered to be Ward's best work, but it was also his most expensive. They went back to crazy puns, satire and sophisticated wordplay, but they lost money on the cartoon.
Endings and Opportunities
"Jay Ward, the racing tycoon, is so soft-hearted that he bets a bundle on even the slowest of his entries just so the horse won't feel bad after the race."—Bill Scott
The Ward organization could have been huge, but Ward passed on a lot of deals, partly from his love of relaxation and fun, partly from his obsession with quality and partly from his poor health. Jay Ward could be demanding and temperamental–he despised mediocrity and worked in a medium where it has almost always been the norm. Still, he was known as a fun-loving and silly fellow who grew his walrus moustache on a sort of lark and loved nicknaming and playing pranks on his co-workers. He was also a brilliant man, loyal, kindly and caring. No one got rich working for Ward–he was famously cheap, but he could be generous with the perks like sports tickets, trips, gifts and lunch at fine restaurants.
In the 1970s, animated television was suddenly no longer seen as a venue for prime-time. Paramount and Terrytoons both closed the doors of their animation studios in 1967. Until the Simpsons premiered in 1989, there were no cartoon shows on mainstream television except those specifically aimed at children. The time of the Ward Studios heyday had passed.
Always a happy-go-lucky sort, Ward was not deterred. The studio continued making advertisements while he developed some new ideas. Mostly, his interests had moved toward breeding racehorses, but he produced some television shows and films, including supervising the restoration of a few of his favorite classics.
In the 1970s and 80s, Ward also spent much more time with the lucrative merchandising end of the business. In 1971, Dudley Do-Right's Emporium, a shop and museum, opened at 8200 Sunset Boulevard. The shop is still there, selling high-quality Ward-themed merchandise, including hand-painted animation cels, memorabilia, books and much more.
The End of an Era
"Life is fun and worth living"—Jay Ward
In 1980, ABC decided to create a new Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon. They contacted Ward and Scott and even talked to Warner Brothers' famous cartoon director, Friz Freling about helping out. Regrettably, the network bailed out on this terrific idea before it could get off the drawing board.
The mid 1980s saw a lot of endings for Jay Ward and the company he helped to start. In 1984, after over two decades of successes, the Ward Studios finally closed the doors forever. Barely a year later, Bill Scott died in 1985 and, for Jay Ward, that was the end of cartoons.
Throughout the years, Ward and crew were honored with many awards and much recognition. Scott and Ward both lived to see a revival of interest in their cartoons that started in the 80s.
On October 12, 1989, Ward died in his California home. He had battled kidney cancer for several years and it finally got the better of him. In his time, he and his associates created some of the most durable and beloved cartoon craziness in all of history.
Ward Productions lives on, run by his daughter Tiffany. Much of Ward and Scott's work has been cleaned up and restored and is currently available in high-quality DVD format. Jay Ward, Bill Scott, Alex Anderson and their many associates brought some wonderful tales to the world and they will be remembered for many generations to come among the greatest minds of American entertainment.
*The Simpsons made use of this gag in a tribute to Ward when Homer J. Simpson found out that "the J stands for Jay!"
**Anyone who has seen any of the 1960s Hanna-Barbera cartoons such as the original Bird Man or Space Ghost knows just how far limited animation can be pushed.
***Ward thought that a moose would be an ideal cartoon character–with that nose and all! There was a car dealer named Clarence Bullwinkel and Ward thought that name was the funniest thing he'd ever heard. The rest, as they say, is history.
Bishop, Ronald "The Moose That Roared: The Story of Jay Ward" Review in Journal of Popular Culture nov 2003, v. 37, iss. 2, pg. 354.
Scott, Keith, "the Moose That Roared; the Story of Jay Ward, Bill Scott, a Flying Squirrel and a Talking Moose" (St. Martin's Press, New York, 2000).
Wikipedia article, "Jay Ward" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jay_Ward
Frostbite Falls: a wonderful website of the wacky world of Ward: http://members.shaw.ca/fffff/
Blue_Bellied_Lizard's terrific w/u of Crusader Rabbit.