One day last week when I was wearing one of my favorite ties, I received quite a shock. It’s a tie that pictures my cartoon hero Bullwinkle J. Moose holding the banner of his alma mater — Wossamotta U. Sadly, more than one student came up to me and asked who the moose was. I almost wanted to go to my office, stick my head in a desk drawer and bewail the loss of literacy in America. But then I remembered the words of Yoda: “Pass on what you have learned.”
So, I’m telling you about Bullwinkle. Sure, you could look him up on Wikipedia, but why would you want to do that in 2018 when you could read a newspaper article instead?
Bullwinkle was the brainchild of animator Jay Ward, and he first appeared on TV in 1959. While that’s technically before my time, through the magic of reruns I became a fan of the dim-witted moose, whose faithful sidekick was a plucky flying squirrel named Rocky. The two of them lived in Frostbite Falls, Minnesota and spent their days trying to thwart Boris and Natasha, a pair of bumbling Pottsylvanian spies.
The show originally ran for five seasons and tried to appeal to grown-ups as well as kids. The writers made references to literature, pop culture and history — especially the cold war.
Rocky: “Do you know what an A-bomb is?”
Bullwinkle: “Yes! A bomb is what some people call our show.”
Many of those awful puns sailed right over the heads of the show’s younger viewers. For instance, an entire episode consisted of one long build-up to a literary punchline. Bullwinkle discovers a valuable artifact at the bottom of a lake: it’s a miniature golden boat, decorated with priceless red gemstones. After 30 minutes of nonsense, we learn that the Persian object is the long-lost “Ruby Yacht of Omar Khayyam.”
You could Google Omar to get in on the joke, but why would you do that when you could walk over to the library, go up to the second floor and hunt for a copy of the famous poem “The Rubaiyat”? (Just in case, the call number is PK6513. A1 1932).
Rocky and Bullwinkle shared their show with other zany characters who had their own segments, like Dudley Do-Right, the upstanding Canadian Mountie who repeatedly rescues his sweetheart Nell from the clutches of their nemesis, Snidely Whiplash. Or there’s Mr. Peabody, a talking dog whose time machine transports him to famous moments in history.
I am an unabashed fan of Rocky and Bullwinkle. While the guys in my high school were all pining over Debbie Gibson, I wrote a gushing letter to June Foray, who voiced Rocky, Natasha and dozens of other cartoon characters during a seven-decade career. I still have the signed 8×10 she sent me that says, “Thanks for being a fan.” Incidentally, June Foray died in 2017 at age 99, only five years after becoming the oldest entertainer to win a competitive Emmy.
While my college friends all had heavy metal posters in their dorm rooms, I had a life-size cardboard cutout of Bullwinkle that dominated our living room. Back in the ‘90s, when episodes of the old cartoon were released onto VHS tapes, I managed to talk a video store owner into letting me have the giant cardboard display when the promotion was over.
You could go to Pinterest to see pictures of video stores, but why would you do that when you can hop in the car and drive 152 miles to Movie Town in Fort Smith, one of the last such businesses open in Arkansas?
While my colleagues all purchase toys to entertain their own children, I have five shelves of vintage Rocky and Bullwinkle memorabilia to entertain myself, including puzzles, comic books, board games and even a ceramic toothbrush holder that I found on eBay last spring. I also collect neckties and magic tricks, and the day that I came across a tie of Bullwinkle pulling Rocky out of a hat, I nearly passed straight to glory.
So now you know about Bullwinkle. And in case you’re wondering where Rocky earned his degree, you don’t have to look that up. It was the Cedar Yorpantz Flying School.