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October 25, 2010

Animator Alex Anderson, Creator of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Passes

After losing recognition for creating the iconic cartoon characters, Anderson restored his credit through a legal suit.

Alexander Anderson, Jr., an animator who created the beloved cartoon characters Rocky and Bullwinkle, died October 22, 2010, in Carmel, California. He was 90.

According to news reports, the cause was complications related to Alzheimer’s Disease.

Anderson was born September 5, 1920, in Berkeley, California. His family was steeped in the animation world. Two uncles were cartoonists, including Paul Terry, who is credited with developing the character of Mighty Mouse. In 1938, Anderson joined Terry’s animation studio, Terrytoons, in New Rochelle, N.Y.

After serving in the Navy during World War II he attended the University of California, Berkeley, and the California School of Fine Arts, and returned to Terrytoons in 1946.

In 1948, Anderson proposed the creation of cartoon characters for television. At the time, television was not part of the company’s plans, so Anderson branched out on his own. He returned to Berkeley, where he started an animation company with childhood friend Jay Ward. Ward ran the business side while Anderson handled the artistic and creative work.

Anderson’s work included Crusader Rabbit, the first created animated series created specifically for television. It debuted on NBC in 1949 and ran for 195 episodes.

But his most renowned and enduring characters were Rocket “Rocky” J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle Moose. The animal chums lived in the town of Frostbite Falls, where they often became ensnared in plots involving espionage and devious villain such as Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale. The pun-packed show entertained adults with its Cold War references while delighting children with its playful tone and engaging animation style.

The show also featured segments with the adventures of Dudley-Do-Right, a Canadian Mountie inspired by actor Nelson Eddy’s performance in the film Rose Marie.

When Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends premiered, Anderson was not part of the production, which aired from 1959 to 1961 on ABC and from 1961 to 1964 on NBC. As the years passed, his role in developing the characters was largely forgotten. Years later, when a lucrative video deal was struck for the burgeoning Bullwinkle franchise, he received no compensation.

After seeing a documentary about the show that did not even mention his name, and instead gave most of the credit to Ward, Anderson decide to take legal action. He reportedly retained half-ownership of the characters and received regular payments until Ward died in 1989.

In the early 1990s, Anderson filed suit against Ward’s heirs to reclaim full credit as the creator of Rocky and Bullwinkle In 1996, he reached an out-of-court settlement with Jay Ward Productions over rights to Bullwinkle, Rocky and Dudley Do-Right. The terms recognized Anderson as the creator of the characters.

Anderson named Bullwinkle after Clarence Bullwinkel, owner of an automobile dealership near Anderson’s Berkeley home.

In addition to cartoons, Anderson worked for an ad agency, creating slogans for Berkeley Farms, Skippy Peanut Butter and Smucker's.

After his initial success in animation, Anderson joined a San Francisco advertising agency. Accounts he worked on included Skippy peanut butter and Smucker’s jams and preserves. He settled in Pebble Beach, California, in 1968.

Anderson's first two marriages ended in divorce.

He is survived by his third wife, to whom he was married 36 years. Other survivors include two sons from his first marriage; three stepchildren; 14 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

On July 20, 2001, Alex Anderson had the distinction of being interviewed by the Television Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television. During the two-and-a-half hour interview, conducted at his home in Pebble Beach, California, by the director of the Archive, Karen Herman, Anderson spoke about his early years, when he began his animation career at his uncle’s company, Terrytoons.

Anderson also talked about deciding to produce animated cartoons for television (at the time of the medium’s introduction) and forming a partnership with Jay Ward to produce the first animated cartoon for television, Crusader Rabbit, which debuted in 1949. Anderson went on to describe the technique that was used for the series, called “limited animation.”

In addition, Anderson discussed the creation of the prototypes of “Rocky and Bullwinkle” and “Dudley Do-Right” — characters that Ward later used to create the classic cartoons of the same names.

After Crusader Rabbit went off the air, Anderson became an advertising executive and at the time of his interview had retired.

The entire interview is available online here.

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