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Quotable Notables:  EXTRA! Inspiration

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Stardust Inspiration:  These first paragraphs aren’t in my book StarWords (that is, by the way, at the printer). However, they explain why I chose to highlight this particular interview.

You see, shortly before my Truffle cat died, a squirrel paid a visit to our door, and the two seemed to be communing. I suspect Truffle wanted to get beyond the glass and snag another rat for me, because last year, when he caught three rats on the deck and bestowed the gifts at my feet, I praised “The best ratter in Monterey County.”

Well, the day after he died, one of two squirrels (a rarity in my neighborhood) was killed in front of my house. A few days later, another one died in the same spot. So I said to Truffle, “OK, I know you’re trying to give me a rat with a hairy tail but could the next one be alive, please?”

Magically, yesterday, as I stood over Truffle’s flower garden talking to his headstone, I heard a rapping and turned to see another fat red squirrel that seemed intent on making contact with me. I begged it to “stay, stay” until I could get some nuts.

When I returned he was waiting on the lower branch of the ceanothus tree, and as I extended my fingers, fearing I might be

bitten and struck by rabies, he very politely pulled the peanut away, taking care not to bite me.

Now, I knew this was either Truffle himself or heaven sent by him and I felt euphoric. “You are telling me there is an afterlife, huh? Reassuring me that I’m not alone.” And the little bugger then sniffed my finger and continued to gingerly take a dozen nuts, one at a time, and munch them beside my hand. At intervals, through bulging brown eyes, he seemed to look into my soul.

Having named him Rocky, I began to reminisce about the lovely man who brought the real “Rocky and his Friends” to life when I was a kid. And he lives in Pebble Beach.

Yes, cartoonist Alex Anderson is a man with a light heart, a great sense of humor and humility – “I see no advantage to being famous,” he says.

Teethed on comics by his uncle, who created Terrytoons Studio, he drew the first cartoon for TV - Crusader Rabbit – and created many other beloved cartoon characters, including Rocky and Bullwinkle. However, he assigns any and all credit to teamwork. Anderson’s inspiration for narrative-style animation came after hearing New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia read comics to kids over the radio during a news strike.

“I’ve never worked a day in my life . . .” – Alex Anderson

Cartoonist Alex Anderson loves the quiet life

The world at large is not aware that Alex Anderson, who lives in Pebble Beach with his wife, Patricia, and 16-year-old grandson, Corey Kennedy, created the very first cartoon series made for TV in 1949.

But older baby boomers fondly remember Crusader Rabbit and his tiger sidekick, Rags. And even teens have adopted the loveable moose Bullwinkle, another brainstorm from the comic genius.

Anderson says he sees no advantage to being famous. He lives a quiet life.

His attractive home on the golf course houses some of his assemblage artworks, and he has oodles of cels from “Rocky and his Friends.” In his orderly home office, the affable snowy-haired tennis player/golfer is compiling a visual history of animation. He intends it to be a coffee-table “picture book with explanations.”

He sends me home with numerous autographed depictions of his cartoon characters and, later, mails me a Christmas card in which he and Patricia are dressed in turn-of-the-century clothes while sitting in an historical automobile.

Q: How did you get started in the animation industry?
A: I worked for my uncle Paul Terry in his Terrytoons Studio in New York. He created Heckle and Jeckle, Mighty Mouse, etc. He took me under his wing and taught me everything. While I was there, I wanted a parody on the Man from La Mancha, Don Quixote, but to make it animals. But he said it was out of the question. He released through 20th Century Fox, and if we had anything to do with TV, they’d drop us like a hot potato. They realized TV was the great threat . . . I came West and went in with Jay Ward and did Crusader Rabbit. Jay handled the business and recording sessions. I drew and wrote scripts with help. It was the first cartoon for TV.

Q: Does the public know who you are or has Bullwinkle taken all the bows?
A: Bullwinkle came later . . . The development was very much a team effort. I went into advertising after Crusader. I didn’t want to live in L.A.

Q: Where and when were you born?
A: In Berkeley in 1920. I’m almost 80. My father was born when Abe Lincoln was still alive.

Q: Were you ever chastised for drawing cartoons?
A: I got in trouble in church. I was 8, and I took an envelope and started doing a cartoon of the reverend. My mother showed it to my aunt who said, “Oh my God, another cartoonist in the family.” Terry was her brother.

A: Is your work ever difficult?

A: My uncle said, “If you’re doing something and would rather be doing something else, then you’re working.” I’ve never worked a day in my life, either.

Q: You seem a font of creative enterprises.
A: It seems most ideas I got never saw the light of day. I tried Crusader Robot, and nobody wanted it.

Q: What famous people have you met in your career?
A: My uncle Paul belonged to the Westchester Country Club where I met Max Strauss, president of the New York Stock Exchange, who said, “Forget this cartoon stuff. Get a seat on the exchange.”

Q: How did you come up with the flying squirrel?
A: I worked on Mighty Mouse, and I didn’t understand how he or Superman flew around. But there is a creature that flies – the squirrel. It’s up North, so who would his sidekick be but a moose? We named him Bull Moose at first. But “bull” was usually followed by an expletive.

Q: There is a heroic, moral aspect to many of your characters. Right?
A: Rocky and Bullwinkle were always patsies. With Crusader . . . a rabbit generally has a timid character, and a tiger is more aggressive. We did a role reversal.

Q: You say you invented low-budget animation?
A: My uncle said Walt Disney was the Tiffany of cartoon studios, and we’re the Woolworth’s. For example, with Heckle and Jeckle you could use the same animation (over and over).

Q: How about your narrator-style series?
A: It was a labor-saving device. What gave me the thought was there was a New York news strike, and Mayor LaGuardia read comics to kids over the radio. I thought it was delightful. It was one inspiration for the narrator idea . . . I’ve been called the creator of limited animation. I objected. What about Sir Henry Lovelock who invented the chastity belt? If that isn’t limited animation, I don’t know what is!

Q: Do we have any more heroes, or are they figments of our imagination?
A: I have heroes. The greatest heroes now are mostly in sports.

Q: Seen on bumper stickers: “It takes a village to raise an idiot.” And worse. Has our sense of humor in America turned mean?
A: I don’t understand some of the new humor. I do think there’s more anger. I’ve spent my life trying to find out why people laugh. People are addicted to the humor they grew up with. What we’re taught, and what we really feel inside, don’t always quite match up. Laughter grows out of the inconstancy of the two. Loving laughter creates endorphins, just the way music, sex and a lot of things do. It’s sure better to create endorphins than adrenaline.

Q: From Fractured Fairytales to Mr. Know-it-all, the Bullwinkle series is witty and sardonic at times. Was it intended for kids or adults?
A: Both. I’ve often felt kids are a lot smarter than people give them credit for. Adults lose their sense of humor. I certainly know living with a grandson.

Q: Could “Rocky and his Friends” compete with “Beavis and Butt-Head”?
A: I don’t think so. There’s more ugliness and anger and confrontation now. I like our heroes to be innocent.

Q: Have you seen the new Dudley Do-Right movie?
A: I created Dudley as a parody on the movie “Rose Marie” with Nelson Eddy and Jeannette MacDonald. Eddy was a Mounty, such a wimp, wasn’t manly at all . . . Dudley was very self-oriented.

Q: What have your characters taught you about people?
A: I think probably I’ve learned that animals are not nearly as dumb as we think they are. Amazing animals show as much, if nor more, intelligence than human beings.

Q: Your involvement with Meals on Wheels?
A: I’m a driver. I like to bring friendship into homes. I don’t tell people who I am. That would change it.

Q: Were you called a dreamer as a kid?
A: I’m still a kid. I still feel that we lose something when we get too serious. High points of my life have been involved in play and wonderful pranks . . .

Universal Update: In a recent phone checkup, Anderson said he has shelved his book on animation because he couldn’t get enough cartoonists animated about it! However, he still attends a weekly coffee klatch with a cadre of Peninsula cartoonists.
 

 

 

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