History, as always, is written by the victors. This is no less true in animation history than it is in military history. We revere the Walt Disneys', the Chuck Jones', and the Jay Wards' because they have a huge legacy of excellence well worthy of our adoration. But none of these giants worked alone or in a vacuum. History is not so kind to those other men, those unsung geniuses of the animation industry. For every Walt Disney, there was an Ub Iwerks working tirelessly to create the first Mickey Mouse cartoons. For every Chuck Jones, there was a Bob Clampett offering philosophical and stylistic counterpoint and contrast. For Jay Ward, there was Alex Anderson.
Alex Anderson. That's who.
In 1948, Anderson was a young animator working for his uncle Paul Terry's Terrytoon studio in California when he came up with the idea of creating a new cartoon character whose small physical size was in direct and ironic contrast to his aggressive emotional nature. The concept was born.
When Anderson proposed to Terrytoons that they produce this type of character for the new medium of television, he was politely turned down for fear that TV would lessen Terry's prestige in the movie theatres. Undeterred, Anderson contacted a local businessman, realtor Jay Ward, whom Anderson knew from his college days at the University of California in Berkeley. Ward was intrigued by the prospect and helped set up an independent production company, Television Arts Productions, Inc. (TAP) in a small studio in San Francisco.
The two friends realized that television budgets were at that time small and that their own resources were extremely limited, but this did not diminish their dream of producing cartoons for TV. Anderson theorized that if the story was good enough, the animation could be limited and still be effective. He recalled the "Baby Weems" sequence from the 1941 Walt Disney animated feature, The Reluctant Dragon, as an innovative story-telling technique. Although the visuals of Baby Weems were little more than a series of still images, the story was propelled by the staging of those images and through the effective use of the soundtrack.
Anderson and Ward made three demo films using this technique, Hamhock Jones (the story of Siamese Twins - one being a detective and one being a villain); Dudley Do Right (who would later go on to fame of his own); and Crusader Rabbit so named because Jay Ward thought that he was "a sort of crusading Don Quixote". With the help of veteran Producer Jerry Fairbanks, Anderson and Ward sold the idea to NBC who contracted them to create 130 5-minute episodes.
The first of these episodes ran on September 1, 1949 making Crusader Rabbit the very first cartoon created solely for television.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Not much later, however, Anderson and Ward lost ownership of the characters to their producer, Jerry Fairbanks. In 1957, Fairbanks parceled out Crusader Rabbit in a new color series by Shull Bonsall, animated by TV Spots. This series was distributed as daily serialized adventures or a full-length hour long movie.moreless