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Keeping Her Father's Legacy Alive

Profile: Tiffany Ward is working to return her dad's cartoon creations to the spotlight. But she aims to keep the revivals 'pure.'

April 12, 1999|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Tiffany Ward sees herself as caretaker of her father's legacy and a stickler for detail.

"It's my responsibility to see that the ideals of the family are carried on," said Ward, executive producer of "The Rocky & Bullwinkle Movie."

"That the look and feel remain true to the spirit of my father's original characters is absolutely essential," Ward said.

For instance, the animated/live action movie features June Foray--the original voice of Rocky. Dialect and motion coaches were hired to work with actors Robert De Niro (Fearless Leader), Jason Alexander (Boris Badenov) and Rene Russo (Natasha) to re-create the main characters' distinctive personalities.

"Back in '92, when [co-producers] Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro first approached me about doing a Rocky and Bullwinkle movie, I had a lot of questions," she said. "Things like: If we were going to set the movie in the '90s, I wanted to know what's happened in these characters' lives since the TV series ended in 1964. How would we introduce them to a modern-day audience?"

Ward's fears were allayed once she read the story developed by screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan.

"It simply won me over. . . . It just felt right," she said. "That tongue-in-cheek, satirical edge to the humor is definitely there."

When creator Jay Ward died in 1989, he left his company solely to his wife, Ramona. But since most of her time was spent running Dudley Do-Right's Emporium--the Ward character store that opened in 1971 on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles--she named Tiffany managing director of the family-owned business in 1990.

Tiffany Ward, who earned a bachelor's degree in history from UCLA and a teaching credential from Chapman University, has an aggressive plan to bring her father's creations back into the spotlight. Besides Rocket J. Squirrel and company, other Jay Ward cartoons include "George of the Jungle," "Fractured Fairy Tales," "Peabody's Improbable History" and "Aesop and Son."

In May 1991, her vision of establishing a long-term relationship with a major studio came to fruition when Jay Ward Productions Inc. entered into a licensing agreement with Universal Studios.

The partnership has led to a live-action version of "Dudley Do-Right," starring Brendan Fraser, that is set for release around Thanksgiving. "Rocky & Bullwinkle" is slated to hit the screens in summer 2000. A feature film of Sherman, the nerdy student, and Peabody, the professorial dog, is being planned.

Also part of the agreement are merchandising, new media (for example, the Internet), international TV distribution, TV specials and a log ride (the Dudley Do-Right Ripsaw Falls Flume Ride) at Universal's soon-to-open theme park in Florida. And negotiations are underway with Universal for the video rights, which Jay Ward Productions reacquired from Disney last year.

(In a separate deal, Ward licensed the rights to Walt Disney Co. for the 1997 live-action feature "George of the Jungle," for which Ward served as creative consultant.)

It's clear that Ward--with her mother's blessing--feels compelled to "create a stronger presence in the marketplace."

What would Jay Ward--known as an eccentric, independent and somewhat reclusive figure--think about such a big splash into today's commercial waters?

Tiffany Ward, who spent a great deal of time with her father while he battled kidney cancer for nine months, said he told her that Jay Ward Productions could be run more like a business, rather than his personal hobby.

"He said that he was willing to loosen the dictates on his characters, that for the family, he'd allow us to create more of a business empire," she said. "He didn't say, 'Go out and do this or do that.' It was more like he was giving us permission to do some [commercial] things differently than he had done in the past."

While she readily acknowledges she isn't the creative force her father was, she is determined to keep the characters "pure."

But plans are well underway to, as June Foray likes to say, "corrupt another generation of kids" with Jay Ward's humorous take on life.

One of the show's original writers, Chris Hayward, is on board to help develop two TV specials. And Tiffany Ward has found never-used scripts written by Ward's partner, Bill Scott, for "Fractured Fairy Tales," "Dudley Do-Right" and "Sherman & Peabody."

"They're kind of like the lost episodes," said Tiffany Ward, who lives on Balboa Peninsula with her husband, Dennis Bress, and a 16-year-old daughter, Amber, from a previous marriage.

"We're creating theatrical shorts that will go hand in hand with the three movies," she said.

Still, she plans to tread cautiously.

"My dad was truly a pioneer, and believe me, I do not want to be responsible for putting a black mark on that image."

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