Jay Ward was raised in Berkeley, California, and he earned his undergraduate degree at the University of California at Berkeley. He also received an MBA from Harvard University. His first career was real estate. Even when his animation company was at the height of its success, he continued to own his own real estate firm as a "fallback" business. Jay Ward was married to Ramona "Billie" Ward. He had three children: Ron, Carey, and Tiffany. He and his wife collected African masks, and their collection is now part of the permanent collection of the Michelson Museum of Art in Marshall, Texas.
Ward moved into the young mass medium of television with the help of his childhood friend, the animator Alex Anderson. Taking the character Crusader Rabbit to NBC-TV and the pioneering distributor of TV-programs, Jerry Fairbanks, they put together a pilot film, The Comic Strips of Television, featuring Crusader Rabbit, Hamhock Bones, a parody of Sherlock Holmes, and Dudley Do-Right, a bumbling Canadian Mountie. NBC-TV and Fairbanks were both unimpressed with all but Crusader Rabbit. The animated series Crusader Rabbit premiered in 1949 and continues its initial run through 1952. Adopting a serialized, mock-melodrama format, it followed the adventures of Crusader and his dimwitted sidekick Rags the Tiger. It was, in form and content, much like the series that would later gain Ward enduring fame, Rocky and His Friends.
Rocky and Bullwinkle
Ward and Anderson lost the rights to the Crusader Rabbit character, and a new color Crusader Rabbit series under a different producer premiered in 1956. Ward then pursued an unsold series idea, The Frostbite Falls Revue. Taking place in a TV studio in the North Woods, the proposed series featured a cast of eccentrics such as newsman Oski Bear and two minor characters named Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose, described in the script treatment as a "French-Canadian moose." This was the genesis of what would become Rocky and His Friends and later, The Bullwinkle Show, when NBC gave Rocky's sidekick top billing. Premiering on ABC in 1959 (and moving to NBC two years later), the series contained a mix of sophisticated and low-brow humor. Thanks to Ward's genial partner Bill Scott (who contributed to the scripts and voiced Bullwinkle and other characters) and their writers, puns were used often and shamelessly: in a "Fractured Fairy Tales" featuring Little Jack Horner, upon pulling out the plum, Jack announced, "Lord, what foods these morsels be!" Self-referential humor was another trademark: in one episode, the breathless announcer (William Conrad) gave away the villain's plans, prompting the villain to grab the announcer from offscreen, bind and gag him, and deposit him visibly within the scene. The show skewered popular culture, taking on such subjects as advertising, college sports, the Cold War, and TV itself. The hapless duo from Frostbite Falls, Minnesota, blundered into unlikely adventures much as Crusader and Rags had before them, pursued by "no-goodnik" spies Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, perennially under orders to "keel moose and squirrel." The segments were serialized, generally ending on a cliffhanger; the announcer would urge the viewer to "tune in next time" for the next adventure, featuring two puns in the titles, like "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Gory, or, Moose's in the Cold, Cold Ground" and "When a Felon Needs a Friend, or, Pantomime Quisling." "Jay loved to hear me read the jokes out loud," Scott said in an interview. "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." In a running-joke tribute to Ward, many of his cartoon characters had the middle initial "J.", presumably standing for "Jay" (although this was never stated explicitly). The cartoonist Matt Groening later gave the middle initial "J." to many of his characters as a tribute to Jay Ward. Ward fought many heated battles over content with the network and sponsor, but had little fear of censorship or lawsuits. The "Kirward Derby", a bowler hat that made everyone stupid and Bullwinkle a genius, was named (as a spoonerism) for Durward Kirby, sidekick of the 1950s and 1960s TV host Garry Moore and the co-host of Alan Funt's Candid Camera. When CBS tried to sue, Ward quipped, "We need the publicity.:181–182 This was often a punchline in gags such as:
- Rocky: "I think somebody's trying to kill us!"
- Bullwinkle: "Well, don't worry. We'll be renewed."
- Rocky: "I wasn't talking about the Bullwinkle Show."
- Bullwinkle: "Well, you'd better! We could use the publicity!"
An eccentric and proud of it, Ward was known for pulling an unusual publicity stunt that coincided with a national crisis. Ward bought an island in Minnesota near his home and dubbed it "Moosylvania," based upon the home of his most famous TV character Bullwinkle. He and publicist Howard Brandy crossed the country in a van, gathering signatures on a petition for statehood for Moosylvania. They then visited Washington, D.C., and attempted to gain an audience with President John F. Kennedy. They arrived at the White House during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and were escorted off the grounds at gunpoint.:199–200 Early in his career, Ward was involved in two near-fatal incidents. He was run over by a car just outside his office, and he later received incorrect medical treatment while hyperventilating in an airplane. He then developed agoraphobia.:181–182
Death and legacy
Ward died of kidney cancer in the West Hollywood area of Los Angeles on October 12, 1989, and was buried in Glendale's Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery. Jay Ward Productions, managed by members of his family, is located across the street from the Chateau Marmont on the Sunset Strip. It can be identified by a statue of Bullwinkle holding Rocky in his hand, just in front. Following Ward's death, Alex Anderson, who created the initial conceptions of the characters Dudley Do-Right, Bullwinkle and Rocky, but had not received public recognition, learned the characters had been copyrighted in Ward's name alone. He sued Ward's heirs to reclaim credit as a creator, and in 1993 or 1996, (sources differ), Anderson received a settlement and a court order acknowledging him as "the creator of the first version of the characters of Rocky, Bullwinkle, and Dudley." In 2000, Ward was recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, paid for as part of the publicity for the live-action and animation film The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. In 2002, Jay Ward Productions established a partnership with Classic Media called Bullwinkle Studios; the partnership produced DVDs of the first five seasons of Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2010, and 2011. respectively, and then switched to releasing "best of" DVD collections of segments from the series. Eventually, the complete fourth and fifth seasons would be released. Until it closed in July 2004, the Dudley Do-Right Emporium, which sold souvenirs based on his many characters and was largely staffed by Ward and his family, was located on Sunset Boulevard. Jay Ward Drive is a studio access road at Universal Studios Hollywood.