Archive for April 1st, 2018

by Brandie Ashe

The great voice artist June Foray (who passed away last summer just two months shy of her 100th birthday) once told the story of how she came to embody one of the most iconic characters of her career. After her agent told her that two industry men named Jay Ward and Bill Scott–whom she had never heard of–wanted to take her to lunch, June met them at a restaurant in Los Angeles, where the two men were having martinis when she arrived. “And they said, ‘Well, have a martini,’ and I said, ‘Well, you know, I don’t drink at lunch.’ And they said, ‘Aw, come on, we’re having a drink!’ So I said okay. And on the first drink, they told me they had an idea of a moose and a squirrel and I thought, ‘Gee, that’s a real cockeyed idea,’ you know. But after the second martini, I thought it was great.”

When you think about it, Foray’s initial impression wasn’t wrong. The concept for Rocky and Bullwinkle is an odd one, even considering some of the crazier cartoons that made their way onto movie and television screens in the first half of the 20th century (I’m side-eyeing you, Max Fleischer). But as wild as the concept may have seemed in 1959–when the show premiered on ABC–it just worked, strangely enough. Rocky and Bullwinkle became a pop-culture phenomenon, one that appealed to both kids and adults with its wide-ranging humorous style. And even though the original show lasted only five years, it remains to this day a popular nostalgic series, one that Hollywood can’t seem to help from trying to adapt in various forms (including a number of big-screen live-action and animated adaptations, none of which quite capture the zany brilliance of that first incarnation).

The series is essentially a compilation of shorts featuring a diverse cast of characters, framed by the Rocky and Bullwinkle-starring serials, in which the moose (voiced by series co-creator Bill Scott) and squirrel (voiced by Foray) inevitably find themselves at odds with the inept Russian spy duo of Boris and Natasha (voiced by Paul Frees and Foray). These serials featured cliffhanger endings and tended to last over multiple episodes; in fact, the first (and perhaps best-known) of these series, called “Jet Fuel Formula,” lasted forty episodes and introduced the concept of weird misunderstandings and random happenstance that propel Rocky and Bullwinkle into many of their misadventures. In this initial series, Bullwinkle inadvertently discovers the recipe for a very effective rocket fuel while baking a cake … which leads one to wonder, just how much should we trust the cooking skills of a moose? (The answer to that question is “not at all, unless you want to find yourself flying ass-first to the moon.”)

Those Moose and Squirrel were the ostensible stars of the show, the other segments featured characters who would soon become immensely popular in their own rights. There were the “WABAC” travels of Mr. Peabody, a genius talking dog, and his somewhat less-intelligent boy, Sherman, who used their time machine to visit key events in the history of mankind; the tales of Canadian Mountie Dudley Do-Right, which parodied the kind of old-fashioned “damsel tied to the railroad tracks” serials that were particularly popular in the silent era; and two ongoing modernized takes on classic tales and legends featuring two great classic character actors: the “Fractured Fairy Tales,” narrated by the always-great Edward Everett Horton, and “Aesop and Son,” starring the vocal talents of the inimitable Charlie Ruggles.

In my previous essay for this countdown for the current television series Bob’s Burgers, I mentioned that its dialogue-driven episodes can almost function like an old-time radio serial, with the visuals sometimes secondary to the delightful wordplay between the characters. In this respect, I believe the creator and writers of Bob’s Burgers may have taken some influence from Rocky and Bullwinkle, a show that is not known so much for the crude artistry of its animation as for its witty humor, malapropisms, and pun-laden dialogue. It’s truly a show that is driven by the writers. The characters frequently break the fourth wall, acknowledging that they are starring in a television series (Natasha: “Boris, is Moose you said you killed in previous episode?” Boris: “Look, it’s his show. If he wants to be hard to kill, let him”), and drawing attention to the artificial–and ratings-dependent–nature of their existence (Rocky: “I’m not talking about The Bullwinkle Show.” Bullwinkle: “You had better. We could use the publicity”).

And, oh, those puns. The frequent, sometimes hilarious, sometimes groan-inducing puns, which the writers of the show knew were just plain painful. Case in point:

[Scene: Rocky and Bullwinkle bring a small, jewel-covered boat, named “Omar Khayyam,” to a local jeweler for appraisal.]

Jeweler: “You know what you have here?”

Bullwinkle: “We were hoping that you would tell us.”

Jeweler: “This little doll here is composed of ruby! Yes, sir, it’s rubies!”

Bullwinkle: “No, it isn’t! It’s mine!”

Rocky: “Well, my gosh, if it’s made out of rubies, then …”

Bullwinkle: “If you’re hesitating for me to finish the line, you’ve got a long wait!”

Jeweler: “And I don’t have the guts to say it!”

Rocky: “Okay, then, here goes. If it’s made out of rubies, then this must be the Ruby Yacht of Omar Khayyam!”

Bullwinkle and Jeweler: “UGH!”

To borrow the next line from the show’s Narrator: with that little gem, we bring down the curtain.


Read Full Post »

by Sam Juliano

Love, exciting and new 
Come Aboard. We’re expecting you. 
And Love, life’s sweetest reward. 
Let it flow, it floats back to you. 

Love Boat soon will be making another run 
The Love Boat promises something for everyone 
Set a course for adventure, 
Your mind on a new romance.

The infectious theme song, written by Charles Fox and Paul Williams was released on a 45 and charted.  It is arguably the most identifiable in television history, and nothing that comes afterward in the shows themselves can quite match the effervescent quality that undermines a rightful cynicism viewers had towards this practically shameless and gimmicky soap opera.  Yet travel agencies reported the show made sea cruises more popular than ever, and the endless succession of ultra-famous guest stars insured fans would tune in no matter what.  Perhaps most astounding of all was that legions of enraptured viewers, most an older set wrote studio executives to tell them the show was a replacement for those unable to afford going on their own cruises, and the show’s locales helped them to bridge the gap, bringing resorts into their living rooms.   Alas The Love Boat, which remarkably ran for 250 one-hour episodes, held the stage for nine years, pairing up with the similarly-themed Fantasy Island on Saturday evenings, making ABC the place to be for many who held weekend tickets to this irresistible voyage chronicling love affairs among the passengers and crew.  Those who hated the show likened it to the one of the worst television creations known to mankind, while those more tolerant found it a guilty pleasure.  Then there were the avid fans who defied the terrible reviews and made the show as huge Nielsen Top 30 hit, enabling the network to renew it year after year.

The creator Aaron Spelling (who also brought Fantasy Island to fruition) once said that the appeal of the show was enormous and that “every week viewers felt they were going somewhere exotic by watching our show.”  Many episodes were filmed on two actual cruise ships, the Pacific Princess and the Island Princess during their regular voyages from the Virgin Islands to Alaska.  Paying passengers were delighted to take part in the shooting, and cruises in which filming was planned were booked solid in advance.  Still, most of the show was filmed on a sound stage at Fox which housed a swimming pool, corridors, cabins, dining room and a deck.  It was also reported the guest stars were invited to bring their families on free cruises which landed the show a steady flow of top-rank celebrities.  The recurring characters, Gavin MacLeod as Capt. Merrill Stubing, Bernie Kopell as Dr. Adam Doc Bricker, the ship’s physician, Fred Grandy as Burl “Gopher” Smith, Ted Lange as bartender Isaac Washington and Julie McCoy as Lauren Tewes, cruise director are introduced in the show’s opening and figure prominently in the narratives. (more…)

Read Full Post »