Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A sudden roar in the open sky--

A streak of gray and a cheerful "Hi!"
A loop! A whirl! A vertical climb!
And once again you know it's time--
For Rocky and his friends!

This is a true story:

Back around 1989-1990, a friend and I found out that six VHS tapes of Rocky and Bullwinkle were going to be released later in the year. There was no such thing as Google--or even the World Wide Web--back then, but we were determined. In a few days we'd tracked down the number for the Bullwinkle Emporium (also known as the Dudley Do-Right Emporium on Sunset Strip in Hollywood).

In the sort of six-degrees moment someone from my generation could only dream of, we soon found ourselves on the phone with the wife of Jay Ward, creator of Rocky and Bullwinkle, with Jay Ward himself listening in the background. We made our pitch: Any video release of a cult classic like R & B had to have a video companion book. And we--this was no time for modesty--we were the ones to write it.

We talked, we pitched, we wheedled, we pled--back and forth through his wife--but to no avail. The videos were coming out because Ward had sold the rights--all the rights--to Buena Vista, a part of Disney. We could make our pitch to Disney, said Ward--through his wife--but he couldn't help us.

Disney being Disney, they never returned our calls and never produced a video guide.

I bring this up because tomorrow (Thursday the 19th) is the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast, on ABC, of "Rocky and his Friends," which later evolved into "The Bullwinkle Show."

Today it's remembered mostly for two reasons: First is that it's the exemplar (even for some who've never seen it) of kids' programming that adults would get. At the time, though, that wasn't a marketing gimmick--it was because the writers were given freedom to write whatever struck them as funny. And that's the second reason: R&B produced a several TV writers who later excelled because they were given such ridiculous latitude in their early days.

I had hoped to track down an installment from my favorite Rocky and Bullwinkle story--about Wassamatta U. It was a merciless parody of campus romance, university politics, and the Civil War the War Between the States. (If you see it, you'll get it.) But it's nowhere to be found online. (Know a link? Please drop it in the comments.)

So instead, I've included this episode from the adventure of The Kerwood Derby. The premise: It's a race between the good guys and the bad guys to find the Derby which will make the wearer the smartest person in the world--but only if he was the dumbest person in the world. (You can probably see where that's headed.) Enjoy.

Like a surprising number of gags and references in Rocky & Bullwinkle which created a political or legal kerfluffle, "Kerwood Derby" was nearly the center of a lawsuit.

My pal Keith, who hosts "Strictly the Sixties," streaming from WCCR FM (and is in fact the friend with whom I made the unsuccessful pitch to Ward 'way back when) dropped some broad hints that he'll probably do something to celebrate the golden anniversary of the moose and squirrel. It's how he rolls. I encourage you to tune in between 10am and noon Eastern time tomorrow (Thursday) to see what he offers up in tribute.

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