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Jay Ward Dies; He Created Rocky, Bullwinkle for TV

October 13, 1989|BURT A. FOLKART | BURT A. FOLKART, TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jay Ward, who sired a collection of characters dominated by a squirrel named Rocky and a simple-minded moose he called Bullwinkle, and then put them in a TV series that featured primitive animation and sophisticated dialogue, died Thursday.

The creator of Boris Badenov, Natasha Fatale, Dudley Do-Right, Snidely Whiplash and, of course, Bullwinkle and Rocky was 69 and died at his home in the West Hollywood area.

June Foray, the veteran actress who was the voice of Rocky, Natasha, Nell Fenwick and many others on the hundreds of Ward-inspired shows which continue to prove popular in syndication, said the reclusive Ward died of kidney cancer. He had been ill for several months.

A bull of a man with a walrus mustache and a nervous giggle, Ward was the gentle giant in charge of a group of zany animators and writers led by Bill Scott.

All he asked was that they make him laugh, said Howard Brandy, his longtime friend and publicist.

"It was a wonderful time," Brandy said.

Rocky's rotund narrator was actor William Conrad. He and Foray are now the only ones left of a dramatic crew that once included Edward Everett Horton, Hans Conreid reading "Fractured Flickers," Daws Butler and Charles Ruggles.

The programs featured limited animation because of budget considerations but the dialogue and titles were wonderfully wordy and often awful:

Episodes were entitled, "The Whale: Maybe Dick," "The Guns of Abalone" or "On the Shores of Veronica Lake There Sails the Ruby Yacht of Omar Khayam."

Or as the camera faded, leaving Rocky and Bullwinkle marooned on an island, Conrad would solemnly intone: "Be sure to see our next episode, 'Three on an Island' or 'Tell It to the Maroons.' "

Brandy recalled how Ward, his actors and writers spent more time trying to get Conrad to go into spontaneous and uncontrolled gales of laughter than in working the show.

"Any other producer would have had a fit" (because of the time lost).

Scott died in 1985, and that, coupled with the cancellations of "Rocky," "Fractured Flickers," "George of the Jungle" and the Captain Crunch cereal commercials that Ward had produced for years, were what triggered his retreat to privacy.

Before that Ward was almost as well known for his pranks as for his productions.

He once staged a giant picnic for his colleagues in New York City. But rather than host it in Central Park, he rented the Plaza Hotel's Grand Ballroom, importing plots of grass, two dance bands, box lunches and an array of fortune tellers, pickpockets and even ants (enclosed in glass for sanitary purposes).

He also decreed that Bullwinkle was entitled to his own fiefdom and proposed that the fictional territory of Moosylvania be accorded statehood.

Ward pressed that concept with a referendum for which he toured the country in a van he converted to a circus wagon complete with a calliope. On it he had inscribed Bullwinkle's fictional school, "Whatsamatta U?" (Ward himself was a graduate of Harvard Business School). Ward, in an Adm. Horatio Nelson outfit, and Brandy, dressed as Canadian Mountie Do-Right, claimed to have gotten 50,000 signatures.

Ward also had a stable of race horses (with a picture of Bullwinkle on the back of his yellow and orange silks). For one of the weddings of his three children he showed up in a cutaway, an ascot and tennis shoes. For another he outfitted a life-sized dummy that contained a tape recorder.

He placed that creation--garbed in a tweed coat, sweater, knickers and again tennis shoes--in the reception line. As guests came up, Ward's recorded voice would say: "How do you do? My name is Jay Ward. Thank you for coming. Please move down the line."

The cause of this insanity was born J. Troplong Ward, and after graduation from Harvard he went to Berkeley where he was destined to open a real estate firm.

But a losing encounter with a wayward lumber truck while he was out walking one day put him flat on his back in the hospital.

While so occupied, he would tell visitors, "anybody who sells real estate in California and can't run, better get out of the business."

After a painful convalescence, he began to envision himself as an entrepreneur of animation and with friend and illustrator Alex Anderson came up with the initial Ward success--"Crusader Rabbit" in 1949.

The rabbit proved his ticket out of real estate and with a writing and drawing crew that included Anderson, Lloyd Turner, Chris Hayward, Allan Burns and others who went on to write and produce many of TV's top shows, Ward lent concept and encouragement to "Rocky and His Friends."

One of those little pals was Peabody, the dog who was so smart that he owned his own boy.

Writer Turner looked back on those days in an interview last year and said, "in spite of the heartache and hard times, I was never happier than when I was with Jay (Ward).

"The minute people find out I was with Bullwinkle, the fact that I wrote for Bob Hope or 'Mork & Mindy' means nothing. I become a deity. It's still the grail of friendship, the squirrel and the moose. The show was never self-serving and never cruel.

"I look at us as the Algonquin Round Table. Only instead of Hemingway, we had a moose."

Ward's survivors include his wife, Ramona, children Ronald, Carey and Tiffany and one granddaughter.

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