Underdog: Cartoon Icons of American TV
Underdog was a popular American animated television series sponsored by General Mills cereal that debuted on October 3, 1964 on the NBC network, and continued in syndication until 1973 for a run of 124 episodes.
The result of a project set in motion in 1959 by W. Watts Biggers of Dancer Fitzgerald Sample advertising agency of New York (who was handling the General Mills promotion account), Biggers teamed up with artists/creators Chet Stover and Joe Harris, and composer Treadwell D. Covington to create television cartoon shows that could be used as vehicles for selling General Mills breakfast cereals.
The shows they created introduced such memorable characters as "King Leonardo", "Tennessee Tuxedo," and "Underdog."
First appearing as short segments in the cartoon “King Leonardo,” Underdog gained immediate popularity warranting a show of its own, which aired on NBC in the mornings. Narrated by George S. Irving, both Underdog and the voice of “Shoeshine Boy” were provided by veteran comedy actor Wally Cox.
As “Shoeshine Boy’s” heroic alter-ego (who accidentally acquired super-hero powers in a lab accident), Underdog had almost unlimited strength, could fly at supersonic speeds, was nearly invulnerable, and had X-ray vision, atomic breath, ultrasonic hearing, and a computer-like brain.
Always appearing to rescue his love interest "Sweet Polly Purebred" from such villains as Simon Bar Sinister or Riff Raff, Underdog would always speak in rhyme, his most well-known catch-phrase, “There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here!” Ducking into a telephone booth--which would be destroyed when his super powers were activated--Shoeshine Boy would be transformed into the caped and costumed super-hero.
The majority of Underdog episodes used a common final scene template where a crowd of people would gather and look up in the sky alternately saying, "Look in the sky!" "It's a bird!" "It's a plane!" But then an old woman wearing glasses would exclaim, "It's a frog!" Another onlooker would then respond, "A frog?!?" Then Underdog would appear and reply: “Not bird, nor plane, nor even frog, it's just little old me…” (at which point Underdog would crash into something, then sheepishly finish), “Underdog.”
The syndicated version of The Underdog Show consists of 62 half-hour episodes, the first 26 of which feature Tennessee Tuxedo as a supporting segment ("Tennessee Tuxedo" originally aired as a separate show, and also has its own syndicated adaptation). For most of the remainder of the shows, the middle segments include “Go Go Gophers” and “Klondike Kat” for three consecutive, half-hours, and “Tennessee Tuxedo” in the fourth--with “Commander McBragg” featured in the majority of episodes.
The final two syndicated Underdog half-hours feature one-shot cartoons originally part of an unsold pilot for a projected 1966 series, The Champion (Cauliflower Cabbie and Gene Hattree), with "Commander McBragg' appearing in show #61 and "Go Go Gophers" in show #62.
Like other popular cartoon characters of the era, Underdog had a number of promotional products attached to his likeness, and even today is a popular icon with nostalgia buffs.
Simon Bar Sinister: Simon is a mad scientist with a voice reminiscent of famed actor Lionel Barrymore. He has an assistant named Cad Lackey.
(A "Barre Sinister" is a diagonal line running from top right to bottom left on medieval family crests, indicating the person is a bastard by birth; this was a clever inside joke typical of animation writing at the time.)
Riff Raff: Riff Raff is an anthropomorphic wolf gangster said to have been based on noted film bad-guy George Raft. His gang consists of Sandy the Safecracker, Mooch (the underworld syndicate's top gunman), Spinny Wheels (who drives the gang's getaway car), Dinah Myte (the underworld syndicate's greatest bomb tosser), the new members, Nails the Carpenter, Needles the Tailor, Smitty the Blacksmith, and the Witch Doctor.
Other villains include: The Electric "Slippery" Eel, Battyman, Tap-Tap the Chisler, and Overcat. Underdog also regularly faced enemies from alien worlds including the Marbleheads from Planet Granite, the Magnet Planet, home to the Magnet Men; the Planet of Zot, and the Saucer Planet, home to the Flying Sorcerers.
Artists: Chet Stover and Joe Harris
Voices: Allen Swift (Simon Bar Sinister, Riff Raff, ) Wally Cox (Shoeshine Boy and Underdog), George S. Irving (narration)
Cult TV, J. Javna
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