Alex Anderson, creator of Rocky and Bullwinkle, dies at 90

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 24, 2010; 8:20 PM

Alex Anderson, 90, the artist who created the cartoon characters Rocky and Bullwinkle, the flying squirrel and hapless moose who were TV fixtures in the early 1960s, died Oct. 22 at a nursing facility in Carmel, Calif. His wife said he had Alzheimer's disease.

Mr. Anderson, who grew up in a cartooning family in California, was also the creator of Crusader Rabbit, which became television's first animated cartoon series in 1949. He spent much of his career in advertising, and his role in creating Rocky and Bullwinkle was overlooked with time. He fought a long legal battle late in life to reclaim recognition as the cartoon characters' artistic father.

Rocket "Rocky" J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose first landed on network TV in 1959. They lived in the town of Frostbite Falls and found themselves embroiled in all manner of absurd plots involving espionage and devious villains. The show contained outrageous puns and veiled Cold War commentary that sailed over the heads of the children who were its primary audience.

The Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons also featured another of Mr. Anderson's popular creations, Dudley Do-Right, a strutting Canadian Mountie in constant pursuit of his nemesis, the mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash.

Mr. Anderson was not part of the production of the original series, which ran on ABC from 1959 to 1961 and NBC from 1961 to 1964. As the years passed, his role in developing the characters was largely forgotten. He received nothing when a lucrative video deal was struck for the burgeoning Bullwinkle franchise.

"I'm thrilled that something I did has become so popular," he told the San Francisco Chronicle in 1991. "But I'm sorry that I don't get any credit for it."

He decided to take legal action after seeing a documentary about Bullwinkle that didn't mention his name at all. Instead, most of the credit went to his childhood friend and onetime business partner, Jay Ward. Animator and writer Bill Scott, who was the first TV voice of Bullwinkle, was also cited as a "creative force."

Mr. Anderson and Ward grew up together in Berkeley, Calif., and formed a business in the late 1940s to pitch cartoon ideas to television. Crusader Rabbit, Rocky, Bullwinkle and Dudley Do-Right were among the characters they showed to studio executives before Crusader Rabbit was picked up.

After Mr. Anderson's other cartoon ideas failed to catch on, he joined a San Francisco advertising agency. Ward moved to Los Angeles, trying to sell TV studios on a Bullwinkle series.

Mr. Anderson reportedly retained half-ownership of the characters and received regular payments until Ward died in 1989. In the early 1990s, Mr. Anderson filed suit against Ward's heirs to reclaim full credit as the creator of Rocky and Bullwinkle.

He received a lump-sum settlement in 1993, along with a court-mandated acknowledgment as "the creator of the first version of the characters of Rocky, Bullwinkle and Dudley."

Alexander Hume Anderson Jr. was born Sept. 5, 1920, in Berkeley. Two of his uncles were cartoonists, including Paul Terry, who is credited with developing the character of Mighty Mouse. In 1938, Mr. Anderson joined Terry's animation studio, Terrytoons, in New Rochelle, N.Y.

Mr. Anderson served in the Navy during World War II and attended the University of California at Berkeley and the California School of Fine Arts before starting his animation company with Ward in Berkeley.

In his advertising career, Mr. Anderson worked on campaigns for Skippy peanut butter and Smucker's jams and preserves. He settled in the California seaside community of Pebble Beach in 1968.

His marriages to Gail Anderson and Beverly Anderson ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 36 years, Patricia Larsen Anderson of Pebble Beach; two sons from his first marriage, Terry Anderson of Napa, Calif., and Scott Anderson of Apache Junction, Ariz.; three stepchildren, Matthew Kennedy of Monterey, Calif., Carolyn Kennedy of Pebble Beach and Daniel Kennedy of Tucson; 14 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Mr. Anderson said the idea for Bullwinkle came to him when he dreamed that a goofy moose was sitting in on a poker game.

"There's something majestic about" moose, Mr. Anderson said in 1991. "They're macho, but they have a comic aspect, with that schnozzola of theirs. There are few creatures just begging to be caricatured."

Near his Berkeley studio in those early days, there was a car dealer called Bullwinkel Motors. Mr. Anderson changed the spelling of the name and gave it to his moose, and an unforgettable cartoon character was born.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company