Bullwinkle Speaks! An Interview With Bill Scott
By Jim Korkis
(This interview was originally published in Hogan’s Alley #17.)
Bill Scott was born in Philadelphia on Aug. 2, 1920, and was raised in Trenton, N.J., until he was 15 years old. Scott’s machinist father and waitress mother discovered that their son had tuberculosis, and the family moved to the drier climate of Denver, Colo., a relocation that remedied the malady.
A 1941 graduate of the University of Denver, Scott taught at a parochial high school for a semester before deciding that teaching was not for him. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1942 with the hopes of entering aerial photography. Through an interesting series of events, he found himself assigned to the First Motion Picture Unit in Culver City, Calif., and was given work in an animation unit, where he began by washing cels, inbetweening, and doing layout work. He was eventually assigned to legendary Disney animator Frank Thomas’ unit, where he learned even more about animation.
After his discharge, he became a story man at Warner Bros. in 1946, where he worked for about a year. He went on to work on Bob Clampett’s live-action puppet show, Time for Beany (with Beany and Cecil), and for United Productions of America (UPA), where he co-wrote the Oscar-winning short Gerald McBoing-Boing (1950) and worked on the stories for the Oscar nominees Rooty Toot Toot (1951) and The Tell Tale Heart (1953).
Then he worked as a writer for John Sutherland’s educational film company, which turned out a number of propaganda efforts including Meet King Joe, Inside Cackle Corners and The Devil and John Q. He left and did freelance work, including a short return to UPA to help with The Gerald McBoing Boing Show, which premiered on television in December 1956.
In late 1957, Scott met Jay Ward, and the two eventually became partners responsible for Rocky and His Friends, The Bullwinkle Show, Fractured Flickers, cereal commercials featuring Cap’n Crunch and many other projects. Besides serving as a writer, Scott provided many of the voices, including those of Bullwinkle and Dudley Do-Right. Scott was deeply involved with the Ward Productions live-action projects as well.
In the ’70s, Scott became active in ASIFA—Hollywood, the International Animated Film Society’s Hollywood branch, where he served on the board of directors and as president. He received an Annie Award in 1977.
Scott remained active in community theater work and, during the last year of his life, returned to freelancing, providing the voices of Gruffi Gummi and Sir Tuxford in Disney’s The Gummi Bears (1985) and Moosel in The Wuzzles (1985).
Scott was well respected by his peers and was especially well known for his opinionated views on animation and the people who worked in animation. He was known for his honesty and good humor, two traits he constantly demonstrated during his many years in the business. He genuinely enjoyed animation and the people he worked with over the years. When I interviewed Scott in 1982, he was gracious, articulate and very generous with his time. It was a great gift for me to get several hours of Scott’s memories and insights.
Bill Scott passed away on Nov. 29, 1985, in his sleep at his home in Tujunga, Calif., at the age of 65. He was survived by his wife, two sons and one daughter. The following interview took place at Scott’s home on Sept. 3, 1982, and was one of the last major interviews he gave.
Jim Korkis: How’d you get interested in animation?
Bill Scott: I’ve always been interested in animation and even got a taste of doing some when I was a teenager. My friend Bill Turnbull and I spent a summer animating to the soundtrack of King Kong. We had these great huge 33 1/3 records with movie tracks, and so we listened to King Kong all summer while animating. I would have just turned 19 at the time. The Warner Bros. cartoons were my favorite cartoons at the time, but one of my first cartooning jobs as a kid was thanks to Disney. Fantasia opened in 1940, and I got a job drawing the Disney characters in a downtown store window. I couldn’t draw that well, particularly oversized Disney characters, so I snuck down early and took some non-repro blue and lightly sketched all the characters I was going to draw. Then when I appeared to do the actual painting, it appeared that I was a lightning fast artist because people were too far away to see my light tracings. As long as people stayed about 10 feet away, I looked pretty flashy.
Korkis: How did you get assigned to the animation unit during your time in the military?
Scott: I was originally supposed to be part of a combat camera crew that was in Culver City. Actually, the Culver City unit had been moved to the Hal Roach Studios. I go up the stairs to the second floor in the old Hal Roach production building, and I find myself looking at Rudy Ising, who was part of the animation producing team of Harman-Ising who did the first “Looney Tunes” cartoon and several classic cartoons at MGM. I told him what my background was and that I very much wanted to be in the animation section, and he said he would see what he could do. So he got me transferred from the loading room to being a gofer in the animation department. I started out washing cels because they needed to reuse cels because they were scarce at that time. You really can’t get much lower than washing cels.
Korkis: How did you get started at Warner’s after your discharge from the military?
Scott: I kicked around for a while. I went to Rudy Ising looking for work. Rudy said he’d try to find something for me, but nothing opened up. Then I got a call from Warner’s. Bob Clampett had left a short time before, and they had promoted an animator named Art Davis to the post of director. They were looking for new story men for this unit, so they hired a fellow named Lloyd Turner and me. Phil Monroe had gone to bat for me. He had talked to Chuck Jones, and Jones was one of the guys who said, “Sure, we ought to try some new people.”
Korkis: Were you and Turner a story team?
Scott: We worked together as a team for a year. We didn’t know it, but we were working in competition with each other. At the end of the year, we found ourselves put off on our own. We each had to write our own story, and whoever had the better story would be kept on and the other guy would be fired. This is what I called the “Fang and Claw System.”
Korkis: That must have made things difficult for the both of you.
Scott: It would have, except that we refused to play the game. We worked on each other’s stories. We just worked double-time, that’s all. Where we would normally do one story in six weeks, we did two stories in six weeks. All the jokes were joint jokes, exactly the way we’d done it before. We tossed a coin to see whose story would be whose. When the two stories were done, they liked Lloyd’s story better than the one I had supposedly written by myself. He was kept on and I was fired.
Korkis: What were some of the shorts you and Turner worked together on at Warner’s?
Scott: “Doggone Cats”  about the cats preventing the dog from delivering the package to Uncle Louie was ours. One I really remember was “What Makes Daffy Duck?” , where Elmer and a fox are both hunting Daffy.
Korkis: Here’s a listing that might help jog your memory a little [hands Scott a printed list].
Scott: “Bone Sweet Bone” . I’d forgotten that completely. “Riff Raff Daffy” , “A Hick, A Slick, and A Chick” , “Two Gophers from Texas” —that was the one with the two Goofy Gophers. I also remember us doing some work on “Catch as Cats Can”  and “Mexican Joyride” .
Korkis: Other than the fact that you suddenly found yourself working in competition with Turner, did you enjoy working at Warner’s?
Scott: Of course. I was working with my heroes. They were all guys I’d heard about for so long. As far as I was concerned, they were the greatest writers in the business: names like Mike Maltese, Tedd Pierce and Warren Foster. They all turned out to be very nice guys, every one of them. Warren Foster was the squarest of them, and he spent half his time playing the horses. I think he was the hardest worker.
Korkis: How did they go about creating a story?
Scott: Those guys could produce really remarkable stuff. It used to be that you’d start each story with a blank piece of Cellotex on your wall. It was four feet by eight feet, I remember. You’d start doing little pieces of story and pin them up. When you got enough pinned up to run seven minutes, you were finished. I think it was Maltese who one time drew a huge mouth on his and it said, “Always Hungry!”
Korkis: And it took about six weeks to do that?
Scott: On one occasion Mike Maltese was working with another story man and got a flash of an idea and wrote this whole bloody story in less than a week. The other story guy was right with him, sketching like mad. They had finished this story in a week but didn’t put it up. All the sketches were shoved in the drawer, and they goofed around and threw push pins and told stories and snuck out to lunch and all that. At the end of each day, they’d pull out a handful of sketches and pin ’em up, and it took exactly six weeks to do this story.
Korkis: I know Maltese was teamed with Tedd Pierce at this time.
Scott: You couldn’t get two funnier people going through a storyboard than Maltese and Pierce. Pierce was a very good-looking man. He really had a patrician look to him when he wasn’t bruised. He used to get in a lot of fights off the lot for a variety of reasons. On Mondays he would sometimes show up looking like death warmed over, or he wouldn’t show up at all. He had a fine New England accent, and he was a tremendous guy, a very funny fellow.
Korkis: Do you think the background you had in animation during the war helped you as a story man?
Scott: Of course. A good animation writer needs to have an awareness of the medium, what is capable of being done. It’s also useful to know how to draw. It’s not vital. There are some writers who can’t draw worth a darn but it is easier to sketch out little stick figures than type a page and half of instructions and directions. My background in animation also helped me develop a sense of animation timing, how long a scene should be to work for an audience. I couldn’t draw worth a damn when I was an animator. People like Bill Hurtz and Phil Monroe would cover up my mistakes for me and they would do the work when I couldn’t do it. The one thing that saved me was that when anything happened that was the least bit humorous or notable, I could sketch up a whole series of gags about it. Little panel gags and everyone would laugh. I couldn’t draw worth a pinch but I was good enough to draw these funny ideas about situations and would drop them on people’s desks and they’d just laugh and laugh and pass them around. I think that was why I got recommended to be a story man at Warner’s.
Korkis: Is there one memory about working at Warner’s that sticks out for you?
Scott: The time clock that was at the front of the door. It seemed like a long, long hall in a long, long building. I guess there were a hundred people or more working there at the time, and everybody always wanted to be the first to punch out. Otherwise, you had to stand in this damned line forever waiting to punch out. Well, about 4:45 p.m., the infiltration would start to get to the clock. If you were in the hall, you’d be sent back to your room, or the boss, Eddie Selzer, would call you in and bawl you out or possibly dock your salary.
Korkis: So there was an element of danger?
Scott: Definitely. The infiltration would start from the second floor. We’d go down the steps, then a quick dart across the hall into [director Bob] McKimson’s unit’s room. Then we’d peek out and if there was no one there, we’d work our way to the ink and paint department. So this whole thing looks like a group of commandos trying to get to the time clock. And then when the big bell on the clock went off, the hall was instantly filled. People were racing down to be the first one to punch out. I used to just laugh my fool head off watching these serious people with all these secret strategies. People were afraid that Selzer might come walking down the hall, so you had to be prepared to hide inside rooms. There were people crouching behind desks, inside closets and heaven only knows what else. It was a crazy time.
Korkis: Chuck Jones always seemed to make Selzer the “villain” in his stories about working at Warner’s.
Scott: He was a man who never should have been there, but they couldn’t find anything else for him to do on the main lot so they made him head of cartoons. He was a mean SOB with no sense of humor. I’ve been told that after his retirement, he turned out to be a much nicer fellow. But while I was there, he was the heavy, the bad guy. There was no doubt about it. He’d scare the pants off me all the time.
My favorite Selzer story happened when I was not there. Lloyd and I were working in the same room and had pinned up a little piece of cardboard on our door that said: “Bill Scott and Lloyd Turner: Story.” I was fired on a Friday, and on Monday Selzer came walking down the hall and saw the sign was still there. He poked his head in the doorway and said to Lloyd, “Why don’t you take that sign off the door?” Lloyd asked why, and Selzer replied, “Scott isn’t here any more, and you’re not good enough to have your name on the door!” Now, it was unnecessary to handle the situation in that way. He was just throwing his weight around. He was a mean little man.
Korkis: Was writing at UPA different than at Warner’s?
Scott: To begin with, you never mentioned Warner’s! The kiss of death at UPA was to be considered a Warner Bros. writer. They were considered clothesline gag people with lots of violence. At UPA, you had to be able to justify your humor, which was difficult to do. You couldn’t write a big blow-off for your joke and pay it off with a big animation tag or a pose. They wouldn’t let you do it, even though it was common at Warner’s. You have to remember that when I was working at Warner’s and at UPA, writers were still pretty low on the totem pole. In some ways, I dislike the term “story man.” We’re writers. But I guess being a “story man” is better than being a “gag man,” which was a term that lasted through the ’40s. It’s writers who go about inventing the worlds that never previously existed.
Korkis: But other than Selzer, you enjoyed your time at Warner’s?
Scott: Yes, apart from Selzer, the people were great. I’m glad I had the opportunity to work there. I had fun.
Korkis: Where did you go after Warner’s?
Scott: I became a writer for Jerry Fairbanks’ Speaking of Animals series for a year. This was the short subject series where we animated mouths on footage of real animals to have them talk. A writer named Charlie Shows and I were stuck in a tiny room where we’d string a bunch of animal jokes together for this footage.
Korkis: What did you do next?
Scott: My wife and I decided we would try to crack New York as actors. We tried it for six months. I figured it would probably take us three years to make it, and even then we’d only be making about $50 a week. So we came back to California and opened a doughnut shop. By working 12 hours a day, six days a week, we managed to lose only about a thousand dollars a month [laughter].
Korkis: So that’s when you went to work writing for the popular television puppet show Time for Beany?
Scott: Yes, it was about 1948. I got a call from Charlie Shows, who had been writing for the program. He asked if I’d be interested in working with him. We did one 15-minute episode a day. It was very exciting. Bob Clampett, the producer of the show, gave us complete freedom. Again, I was working with splendid talents like Stan Freberg and Daws Butler. On a good day, we’d be finished with a script by 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Daws and Stan would come and read it over and get the jokes down, and then we’d do a run-through of it and then it’d go on the air at 6:15 p.m. That was on good days. Sometimes we didn’t have a script finished at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and then it was really pressure time. There was one occasion where we had not done the last page when the show started. In the middle of the show, I had to sneak back and pin up the last page of the script for Daws and Stan to read for the first time that they’d ever seen it to finish the show.
Korkis: Why did you leave?
Scott: I asked for more money, especially since Bob was developing another show, which was to be called Buffalo Billy, about a boy and his horse. I was writing one of the most successful shows on television, and I couldn’t afford a television set. My wife used to drive down to Hawthorne Boulevard., where there was a store that sold television sets, and she would hold my little kid on her shoulders and they would watch Time for Beany. Through the store window!
Our big demand was nobody on the show should make less than $100. We got all these demands written up. I was the rabble-rouser of the crowd and didn’t care, so I gave them to Clampett on a Friday night. Saturday morning I get a call from Clampett’s attorney and he said, “Bob asked me to call you. He is going to be taking a more personal interest in the writing and the production of the show and is going to be taking over a lot of the duties himself, and therefore you needn’t report back in on Monday.” That was the end of that.
Korkis: Next you worked at UPA.
Scott: I had worked with some of these people before. I guess the first thing I worked on was the second Mr. Magoo short [“Spellbound Hound,” 1950]. I had to help develop the character with more premises and so forth. Then I worked on the adaptation of Gerald McBoing Boing , which was based on a story by Ted “Dr. Seuss” Geisel. We changed a lot of the lines that were in there. Some of them were very much like Geisel, and you couldn’t tell where Geisel leaves off and we started. It was a very successful picture, and of course it was fun to do.
Korkis: Do you have a particular favorite among your UPA efforts?
Scott: I guess if I were limited to one to look at over and over again, it would be The Tell Tale Heart . I worked with Fred Gable on that one. It was my job to adapt the Edgar Allan Poe story. I’d pick a phrase here and there and write Poe-like stuff to bridge the gaps. Ted Parmelee [an animation director who later worked for Jay Ward] and [designer] Paul Julian really did a superb job. Paul was into this Dali-esque thing. We were fortunate enough to get James Mason to narrate the story, and I got to direct him. I told him where I thought this could be different and that could be different, and he’d hit it perfectly. It was a thrill to sit there and listen to this stuff.
Korkis: Wasn’t The Tell Tale Heart originally planned for 3-D?
Scott: We first shot it in 3-D; however, it was never released in this format. The design and the technique of the constant multiple fade, fade, fade, so that the lights and shapes change and move without any real motion, have never been approached since. Nobody’s taken the time and trouble to fool with it.
Korkis: Where did you go after UPA?
Scott: I worked freelance for a bit, then went to work with John Sutherland. [Editor’s note: See this post for our article about Sutherland.] Sutherland had an educational film company and made a niche in animation with major corporations. I had to write things like animated cartoons on why fishing laws are vital to us or about DuPont employee benefits, which was designed primarily to steal the thunder from any kind of union organization. Everybody at DuPont saw this great, cute picture about how well they’re going to be protected by the company. I wasn’t particularly proud of it. After about four years, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I tried to quit three times, but John would stuff my mouth with money so I wouldn’t make any noise. I left on fairly good terms. When I quit I was making over $700 a week.
Korkis: Then you came back briefly to UPA.
Scott: I was doing a lot of freelancing, including Quartet Films and storyboarding for commercials. I had been called back to UPA in 1956 to do some troubleshooting on the television show Gerald McBoing Boing. It was very nice to be called back. I did not come in for a long period of time. I was supposed to look at every story in the place and try to figure out how to make it funny or how to make it better or how to add stuff to it. I couldn’t help it out very much. I met a lot of resistance from people who said my stuff was not funny and they weren’t going to use it. I think I was looked at like a great pain in the ass by most people who I was supposed to be helping.
Korkis: In 1959, the financially troubled UPA was sold to producer Henry Saperstein, and you came back there for a brief time.
Scott: I worked on 1,001 Nights [UPA’s first full-length animated feature, released in 1959] with Mr. Magoo. They wanted somebody who had worked with actors. It was a pretty good track, but it was a dull picture. Again, it was done fairly straight, with very few animation jokes in it. By that time, Magoo had softened up considerably. Pete Burness in later years said he was very sorry he did that. He listened to some people who told him that he should make Magoo more lovable and cuddly or audiences wouldn’t like him. I was doing fairly well but I don’t have the mentality for freelancing. I was always worried about last week or next week.
Korkis: And this was about the time you got together with Jay Ward?
Scott: Yes, sometime in 1957. Well, actually, Charlie Shows comes into it again. Jay Ward and Alex Anderson [nephew of cartoon producer Paul Terry] had produced Crusader Rabbit [considered by many to be the first limited-animation series made for television]. It did not get sensational ratings, but it did have a cult following. Seamus Culhane [a veteran animator-producer-director for Disney, Fleischer, Lantz and Warner Bros.] wanted to open up a studio on the West Coast and wanted Jay to head it up. Shamus would pick the projects and raise the money. Jay would produce them Crusader Rabbit-style.
At this time, Alex had opened his own advertising agency and was doing quite well, so he wasn’t anxious to go back to writing cartoons. So Jay asked Jerry Fairbanks if he knew any good cartoon writers. Jerry touted him on Charlie Shows, who touted Jay on me. The three of us worked on a series to be called Phineas Phox, about a fox and a bear who operate a detective agency. All the characters were animals and it was pretty cute. It was done in a tongue-in-cheek style about an inept Sam Spade-type of detective and his bumbling assistant. We worked on a couple of scripts, then Jay and Shamus had a falling out and the project never came to pass. Shamus asked me if I’d do a few more all by myself, so I did a half-dozen scripts and storyboarded them myself. Then they just disappeared into the great maw.
About six months after that, I got a call from Jay asking if I’d be interested in writing another series, an adventure script with a moose and a squirrel. I said, “Sure.” I didn’t know if I could write an adventure with a moose and a squirrel, but I never turned down a job.
Korkis: So the two of you developed Rocky and Bullwinkle?
Scott: Yes, Jay had an apartment at the Andalusia, a great old place dating back to the 1920s. We worked in his apartment and did the pilot script, which was called Rocky and His Friends. Jay loved to hear me read the jokes out loud. I’d do all the voices. I’d never done this kind of thing, but I went through radio training when I was going to school in Denver.
Jay and Alex Anderson had developed a concept for a series called the Frostbite Falls Follies Revue, about animals in the North Woods running a television station. The proposal never went anywhere, but Jay really liked two of the characters, a moose and squirrel. So we developed those characters more fully.
So we got to the point where we’re going to record the pilot. We got Paul Frees to do the narration for the pilot. [Editor’s note: William Conrad would narrate the later episodes.] He provided some of the other voices, including Boris Badenov. We heard a voice actress named June Foray and thought that she’d be perfect for the voice of Rocky. We got her smashed—just absolutely drunk—at lunch and she said, “Sure, I’ll do it. What the hell!” [Editor’s note: Foray also provided the voice for Natasha Fatale.] I asked who was going to be the moose and Jay said, “I thought you were going to do Bullwinkle.” So I agreed. I thought, “Gee, that’s great. I’ll get $50 for doing this.” That was the session fee for voice artists.
We recorded the pilot at the old Universal Studios, which later became the Lee Strasberg Drama School. Just the three of us—Paul, June and me. I’m not completely sure as to whether Daws Butler was part of the recording session at that point. After that, we didn’t hear anything for a while.
Korkis: What did you do while you were waiting?
Scott: More freelancing. Then Jay turned the project over to some high-rolling dealmakers. And they had some friends in an advertising agency. A deal was worked out whereby they could set up a Mexican corporation that could produce this cartoon show with a 26- week guarantee. So nobody could claim it was a direct conflict of interest, the people involved would have hidden stock in this company called Producer’s Associates of Television, which had controlling stock in the Mexican company.
Korkis: That all sounds pretty convoluted.
Scott: Well, they made a big pitch to the board people at General Mills. About that time Jay was flying back and forth from New York to the West Coast, and he had a nervous breakdown. He was on a flight to Los Angeles, and it was forced to land in Salt Lake City. He traveled clear from Salt Lake City to Berkeley, Calif., in an ambulance.
So I was left to go to this small room at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood for a meeting. One of these dealmakers comes up to me and says, “If anyone asks you if this thing can be done in Mexico, you say, ‘Yes, without question.’ ” The General Mills people did ask me and I said, “Certainly. Some of the finest young animators in the business are down there.” None of it was true, not even close to the truth. It was the most cockamamie, warped, crooked deal!
Scott: That’s an understatement! We couldn’t depend upon that studio to produce anything. It was a mixture of their lack of ability and the translation problem combined. All the other creative work we really had to do ourselves. Our stories had to be good because we couldn’t depend on the animation. So we stuffed the script full of stuff. We wrote the stories here, and sent two or three directors and two or three layout men down to Mexico. I wrote most of the Bullwinkle stuff. I wrote the earliest of all of them, and then we began to get new writers in and they took over on almost all the segments other than Bullwinkle. As far as the direction and the layout of the pictures were concerned, we had some control over what was going to be done. But they were turning out the work quickly and there was very little money, so there were all kinds of flaws and boo-boos. Colors would change. Costumes would disappear. Moustaches would pop on and off. Boris was constantly losing his.
By the time we finally saw it, it was already on the air! It went directly from Mexico to airing on television. They did everything, including the dubbing as quickly as possible down there. It was terrible, and we tried to pull much of it north of the border. Finally, toward the end, almost all the Bullwinkle shows were done up here in the United States.
Korkis: How would you describe the character of Bullwinkle?
Scott: I’m glad you asked that. I love the character. He wasn’t a dope. He was a smart goof, a swinger. Bullwinkle could say and do these godawful things, and it made him a star. I often had to use Bullwinkle to keep the story going because we’d always go off on these funny tangents. We used Bullwinkle to pull everything back to the plot. He was the only character who could do the things we had him do. He was just superb at making a boob of himself.
Korkis: Wasn’t he named after a used car dealer?
Scott: Yes. Clarence Bullwinkle. Jay thought that was the funniest name for a used car dealer. He used to pass by the dealership on his way to school. Then I told him about an agency in North Hollywood called C&P Pontiac. Somebody asked the owner, “Why would you ever call anything ‘See and Pee’?” He replied that the initials stood for Cock and Passwater!
Korkis: Did you have fun writing and recording Rocky and His Friends?
Scott: Certainly. With the Bullwinkle stuff, we had a hard time not cracking up. We’d get rolling and suddenly Paul Frees or Daws Butler or somebody would give a different reading than we had in rehearsal, a different twist that was so screamingly funny that everyone would break up. We recorded at night, two or three times a week, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Everything was done in single takes. We started reading and read to the end of an episode. Occasionally if there was a fluff, Jay might edit in pick-up voices. As I said, breaking up was a problem because you couldn’t resist laughing. Bill Conrad, who was doing the narration, had this deep voice, but when he started to laugh, it was this high pitched laugh, and that set the rest of us off.
Korkis: Why did you guys pick on Minnesota so much?
Scott: It started out as two fellows from Frostbite Falls, Minn. We thought it was the most outrageous place we could think of because nobody lives up there. We always did lots of Minnesota jokes and lots of cold jokes.
Korkis: I wondered if there was some connection because General Mills, your sponsor, was in Minnesota.
Scott: No. I’m glad we never thought of that because then we would have never used Minnesota. But I think we felt our prize town was really Muncie, Ind.—Sports Capital of the Universe! Tom Slick would always mention Muncie, and the town was also big in the Fractured Flickers series. Everything happened in Muncie.
Korkis: I know that in the military you worked with Disney legend Frank Thomas. Did that affect any of your work?
Scott: One of the first episodes we did was about Metal Munching Moon Mice, and in that Bullwinkle gets to sing. He sings “Going Down to Annie Skinner’s Chicken Dinner” and “There Must Be Little Cupids in the Briny.” Frank Thomas taught me those songs. He was my sergeant, and he taught me those songs, which were mostly English music hall songs.
Korkis: How did the transition happen from Rocky and His Friends to The Bullwinkle Show?
Scott: Rocky and His Friends was doing pretty well on ABC. It had pretty good ratings but it never won its time slot. But it did show itself to be a cut above what was expected of it. And there was a lot of stuff out there that people thought would appeal to a general audience. Besides, NBC was dying with Disney killing them on Sunday night. It was just killing them, so they bought The Bullwinkle Show and figured “here’s some more animation” and threw it against Disney. It was like being thrown head-first into a pit of nasty vipers. We obviously did not knock off Disney or come anywhere near to it. But we had a good run on NBC for a while.
Korkis: Did you have any input into the syndicated comic strip?
Scott: No, all that stuff was done by a writer named Al Kilgore. Some of the material was taken from The Bullwinkle Show, but other stuff was completely original. I think I remember meeting Kilgore one time, but I really don’t remember him. But I do certainly respect his work.
Korkis: Did you and Jay have much control over the merchandising?
Scott: No. One of the problems with the merchandising was the network had absolute different ideas about where the merchandising should go. We had no control over any of it. We saw some godawful stuff that didn’t even look like the characters. There were drawings done that didn’t even come close to looking like them. I’ve got to give Disney credit. What they did was handle their merchandising with an iron hand. If you try to do anything, merchandising or drawing, without checking them, you’re in deep trouble.
Korkis: I know you did several outrageous promotions, like the statue of Rocky and Bullwinkle outside the studio.
Scott: There was a horrendous traffic jam because we were located on Sunset Boulevard that is one of the busiest streets in Los Angeles. We put up a big sign saying, “Watch the Bullwinkle Show or we’ll close the other half of the street.” We were able to do it because Sunset Boulevard is part of the county, and the sheriff is in charge, Sheriff Peter Pitchess. We asked him to be the guest of honor at the unveiling, and we also got Jayne Mansfield as a guest of honor as well, so he was very happy. And of course, we did that whole bit about getting statehood for Moosylvania. We bought an island in that swampy area between Canada and the United States, near Minnesota. Jay traveled around in a tour van with a band organ, getting people to sign a petition that it should become a state. He tried to crash this orange Chevy van with a moose on the front of it through the gates of the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He is lucky to be alive. [Editor’s note: Ward died Oct. 12, 1989.]
Korkis: Why did The Bullwinkle Show end?
Scott: Somebody claimed it was because we were going to be sued. We did this bit about a Kerwood Derby, a take-off on the name of Garry Moore’s television partner Durward Kirby. Kirby threatened to sue, and Jay said, “Please do sue—we’ll pay for the lawyers!” Jay thought the publicity would be great, and the suit was dropped. We stopped filming because, after four years or so, General Mills had had enough. They wanted to do something new. It was a special show for special people, but it was never number one in the ratings. It’s still funny, but at the time it was never number one, and it got to be more expensive once we brought the work up from Mexico.
Scott: The same people who set up the first deal thought they had a better shot at selling something in syndication rather than to the networks. What they primarily wanted was a longer main segment, so we came up with Hoppity Hooper. We made very few of those.
I especially enjoyed working with Hans Conried and a cute gal named Chris Allen. Chris was a writer, not a voice person. All she could do was this little kid voice. But we didn’t want to use the same voice we used for Rocky, so we got Chris to do Hoppity Hooper, a little frog. Hans did all this marvelous stuff as Waldo Wigglesworth, a fox who was the supreme con man. I did Filmore Bear. He was a dolt, a real “duh” character, not like Bullwinkle. The show was not all that successful. I doubt whether many folks remember it today.
Scott: Jay had dealings with a fellow who was very controversial in the old film market. Some people will tell you he is one of the greatest conservators of American film, and others would say he’s the biggest bandit and should be hung! I guess there’s a little bit of both in him. He was a private kind of fellow. You always felt there was some wheeling and dealing going on he wasn’t telling you about, and there usually was.
This guy claimed to own the rights to a huge number of films, including all of the Buster Keaton and Douglas Fairbanks pictures. And not just features and shorts, also newsreels and things like that. Jay asked me if we could use this material and joke it up, so I wrote the pilot for Fractured Flickers. The tough part was that the writers also had to be cutters.
Korkis: What do you mean?
Scott: The writers actually assembled their own film. They would mark the sections of the film they wanted with a grease pencil, then turn the whole thing over to editor Skip Craig, who put it together from their notes and markings. Each writer worked on his own movieola and his own film. Everybody was scratching around for the best footage. If someone found a good auto crash, he’d sneak it away somewhere and hide it so he’d have a good gag to put in later.
My primary responsibility in Fractured Flickers was to take a longer feature and transform it, like turning Lon Chaney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame into “Dinky Dunston, Boy Cheerleader” or John Barrymore’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde into “Do Me a Favor”. Each episode also featured a segment with host Hans Conried interviewing a celebrity guest who commented on what a rotten show Fractured Flickers was. Rod Serling, Annette Funicello and Sebastian Cabot were among those who made guest appearances on the show.
Korkis: How did you get such a wide variety of celebrities?
Scott: We were dealing with an agency specializing in providing celebrities to people, and we never knew who they were going to send. It was like who was in town that day and who had a day free. Sometimes we’d find out about it the day before. So I would then sit down and write an interview and usually I’d get it done ahead of time. We shot usually two interviews a day, and we shot once or twice a week. On several occasions, we wouldn’t know who the guest was for the afternoon in the morning. So I’d write the interview during lunch hour. Got to meet a lot of famous people. Paul Lynde was just great. The only problem with this stuff is the crew kept breaking up. Even now, every now and then, in the background of the interviews you can hear stifled sound and laughter.
Korkis: Around this time, Jay Ward also made a live-action pilot.
Scott: It was called The Nut House . It was originally going to be an hour, but we would up with a half-hour. CBS wanted an all-comedy show that was fast and sharp, similar to the later Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. Jay brought in some of the finest comedy writers like Paul Mazursky [Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, Down and Out in Beverly Hills] and Allan Burns [The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Munsters]. Burns was a good writer with a wild sense of humor. We did some song parodies for a Bullwinkle songbook. He’s very good and a pleasure to work with because he’s such a sweet guy.
Korkis: I had heard that The Nut House was initially conceived as a combination of live action and animation.
Scott: There were some animation bits, but they had to be kept to a minimum. We knew if the series sold we wouldn’t be able to produce a lot of animation on a weekly schedule, so we stuck primarily to short jokes and live action. Some were very funny and some were simple shaggy-dog stories. We had some fine young talents in the thing like Ron Carey, Jack Sheldon, Alan Sues and Anthony Holland. We had some of the best writers doing all kinds of stuff, like this Frankenstein cake that terrorizes the whole world.
Some were little throwaway things, like a girl drives up to a gas station and tells the guy to fill up her Volkswagen. He puts in the nozzle and is not paying attention, and the gas fills up inside the car. The last thing you see is this girl swimming inside her car. My favorite sketch was this upper-crust English couple playing bridge while all these things happened around them like a murder, a gorilla running through carrying a woman, and Tarzan swinging by on a rope. All these outrageous things happen, and they still carry on with their bridge game. We did a whole number that we ended up not using that was called “It’s Fashionable to Be Fat,” with lines like “Today you win your laurels by looking like Oliver Hardy.” We had three very good-looking girls singing this number with expanding suits on, and as the number went on they got fatter and fatter.
Korkis: Why didn’t it sell as a series?
Scott: The network people just did not buy it. They never told us why. I don’t know if it was because it tested poorly or if they didn’t like the material. I just don’t know. I do know that one of the things that hurt us was we didn’t have a host. We needed a central figure like Steve Allen. Laugh-In had Rowan and Martin as an anchor for all the wackiness. The host of The Nut House was an animated squirrel. He was sort of like the Playboy bunny, a symbol of the show rather than being an active part. We certainly could have changed that if somebody had told us.
Scott: Yes. It was conceived as a spoof on the Tarzan and Jane thing. George of the Jungle featured three episodes, the other two being “Super Chicken” and “Tom Slick.” We wanted to use Don Knotts for the voice of Super Chicken and Louis Nye as his lion friend, Fred. They did the first voice track for us, but neither of them is a radio actor. They were giving us, I suppose, a fine performance, but it didn’t come out that way on tape. You have to go a step further to make your voice stand out. So in the finished cartoon, I’m doing Super Chicken as an imitation of Don Knotts, just as I did Mr. Peabody’s voice as an imitation of Clifton Webb. For Fred, we used Paul Frees’ great Ed Wynn goofy-type of voice. For Tom Slick, I just used my Dudley Do-Right voice. A young, hip composer named Stan Wroth wrote this marvelous stuff that was just exactly right for us. He had this flair for this showbizzy, peppy kind of thing. It was like a regular Las Vegas track taken one step beyond to absurdity.
Korkis: Why didn’t the network extend the 13-episode commitment?
Scott: Good question. I don’t know. We made a great pitch to produce additional episodes, and ABC decided on four more. I’ll never know why the number was four. That brought the total to 17, and that’s all there is. They were funny.
Korkis: What happened after George of the Jungle?
Scott: We proposed other projects, but they didn’t sell. We had asked the salesmen who were trying to peddle our stuff what they really wanted from us. They wanted a holiday special because those could be run over and over every year. We scripted treatments for a Groundhog Day special, a Bullwinkle Valentine’s Day special, one for Millard Fillmore’s birthday and a couple of other things.
Korkis: Then you produced an animated proposal that didn’t sell.
Scott: Yeah, it was another three episodes thing. Rah Rah Woozy!, which was about this guinea pig in college stories. Fang the Wonder Dog, with a really dumb dog that was parodying Lassie-type stories. And Hawkear, which was a Davy Crockett-type of thing. Nobody bought them. I thought Fang was a very good entry. Rah Rah Woozy! was a guinea pig and a mouse who escape out of a laboratory and they decide they’re going to be just like college students. So it was a springboard to parody all those college stories they did in the movies like the big football game. Alex Anderson wrote that one, and I rewrote it heavily. Then we did the pilot. Hawkear I wish had gone because it was an era and a time that nobody had yet gotten into doing, which was early America. We still had guys running around in continental coats and fur caps with coon tails. It was the Davy Crockett period. I really wanted a slow, dull-looking hero with a kind of Gary Gooperish voice that Daws did for us. That slightly stupid voice would have just been hilarious, particularly since his faithful Indian companion was the smart one. It was the Whapaho Indians who couldn’t use any violence because we were already in that time period in animation where that was becoming unacceptable. Hawkear was the type of character who could hear a leaf fall a hundred yards away and tell you what kind it was: “Hmm…that-um maple leaf.”
Korkis: Weren’t the networks interested in any of these concepts?
Scott: No. We had more unused pilots than the Czech air force. The closest we got was when we did a treatment for a Super Bowl Sunday special called The Stupor Bowl. The network said, “It’s tremendous! Let’s do that!” We went ahead and did the pilot, shot straight off the storyboards. “Animatics” is what it is called.
We heard the network was pretty high on the show until they checked with the NFL. They didn’t think it was so funny. We had satirized the football team owners as a bunch of crooks, varlets and idiots. We even had Marlon Brando’s Godfather as one of the owners. They took umbrage at that, and we became less than welcome.
Korkis: There was a rumor in the early ’80s that Friz Freleng had gotten the rights to make The New Bullwinkle Show.
Scott: That’s what Friz Freleng thought, too. But they haven’t got the rights at all. I talked to Jay, and there was really nothing to it. There had been no deals made at all. Jay had said he might be interested in having Friz and his group [Depatie-Freleng, which produced Pink Panther cartoons among others] produce the cartoons if we could write the stuff and keep the creative control, but that’s about as far as it got. It never got into rights or any commitment or option or anything.
Scott: A lot of that was just Jay’s way of supplying employment for his friends and keeping the studio open. When the cereal company approached Jay about doing this stuff—I think it was in 1961—he said, “We’ll only do it as long as it’s fun.” Well, it stopped being fun a long time ago. The scripts now are so bad and so vague. There are restrictions on the kinds of things you’re allowed to do. I was having to write five scripts for every one that was finally accepted. We can’t even have the elephant fall on anybody anymore!
Jay doesn’t get very much fun out of it anymore. He’s constantly arguing with the company. Of course, it’s a very sweet deal for the studio. We get one big solid chunk of money every year to get the commercials made, plus a very big amount of money just for our expertise and coming up with new ideas and projects. So that’s what keeps the door open now, and I’m pretty sure that’s why Jay makes the commercials, but who knows what will happen in the future?
Korkis: What is Jay Ward really like?
Scott: Jay is multifaceted. He is fiercely loyal. Loves to laugh. Does not like unhappiness. A very guarded, private man. He’s not very verbal. I have seen Jay on a couple of talk shows, and he was a disaster. Nothing came out. He’s very good at recognizing what’s funny, but he’s not much into speaking. But nobody ever accused Jay Ward of not giving complete freedom. He backed you up in what you wanted to do and say.
Korkis: Would you and Jay Ward ever think about doing an animated feature?
Scott: Who knows? We’d have to assemble another staff. But Jay’s still here and I’m still here, and we have the same expertise that we had way back when. Think of the number of people out there today who are writing funny material and are visible doing it. I’m thinking about the huge explosion in the stand-up comedians and character comedians. I can’t help but believe that there’s a lot of material we could tap into that is just waiting for somebody to get the right way to do it. Within the industry there are not all that very many good writers. All your really good writers, like Todd Pierce and Mike Maltese, are gone, but maybe there are some out there interested in animation. I hope so.
Korkis: What about reviving Rocky and Bullwinkle?
Scott: No, I really don’t think so. If someone approached me with something like Bullwinkle’s idea of a moose’s view of America 1982, I might be tempted by something like that. I enjoyed having a series. I would have enjoyed doing some specials. There is so much in our country, in our world, today which demands being held up and laughed at. The sheer ridiculousness of these things needs to be pointed out and enlarged upon. It’s such a shame that nobody’s doing it in animation.
Korkis: Any final advice for someone wanting to write for animation?
Scott: Read. Read. And read some more. Read anything and everything. Join a drama group. Get up on stage and see what works for an audience. There are no writers trained in dramaturgy who are also trained in animation. I said to my wife the other day that if I’d known how things were going to be when I was 62 years old, I would have gone to a lot more screenwriting classes. I would have written a lot more live-action projects. That writing would have prepared me to write a really good animated feature.
Scott: Right now, it seems to me that there is almost nowhere you can go to become very good at any one phase of animation. I don’t think the person exists who is going to be a nonpareil writer, designer and animator. Those three areas really require three different kinds of thinking, skills and aptitude. In some ways, we’ve produced a generation of people who do second-rate design and animation—not because they don’t want to be better, but because there’s no opportunity or motivation to use their expertise.
What gives me hope is that there are people who’ll work long hours for little or no money just to make an animated cartoon. I know people who spend their own money and bust their buns just to do a cartoon. I find that most encouraging. But no one really understands how this medium is truly beloved by people—how exciting it is for them and how much they really want to see good stuff.
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