Bullwinkle Speaks! An Interview With Bill Scott
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.
Buy a copy of Hogan’s Alley #17 (see cover at right), where this interview first appeared! Just click the Paypal button below: