Fifty years ago this week, the world was introduced to Rocket "Rocky" J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose. An animated television series called Rocky and His Friends debuted on ABC at 5:30 pm on November 19, 1959. In 1961, the show moved to NBC, where it was renamed The Bullwinkle Show and ran until 1964. IGN calls The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show—the collective name for the two series—the 11th best animated series ever, but in my mind it's second only to The Simpsons (the first 8 seasons anyway). Â To celebrate the moose and squirrel's half-century of existence, here are 11 Â things you should know about the show and characters.
1. The show was created by producer Jay Ward and cartoonist Alex Anderson, who had worked together on the Crusader Rabbit series. Their initial vision was a show called The Frostbite Falls Revue about a group of animals running a TV station, but the project never got beyond the proposal stage. The next attempt at a new series began with the pilot Rocky the Flying Squirrel. General Mills came on as a sponsor and Rocky and His Friends was born.
2. Instead of hiring animators when production of Rocky and His Friends got rolling, Ward convinced some friends at Dancer, Fitzgerald, & Sample, an advertising agency that had General Mills as a client, to buy the Mexican animation studio Gamma Productions so he could outsource the animation. The plan saved money and the Mexican studio churned work out quickly, but quality was an issue. In early episodes of the show, it's not uncommon to see characters' facial hair, costumes and skin tone change color.
3. Bullwinkle is named after Jay Ward's friend Clarence Bullwinkel, a Berkeley landlord and owner of an Oakland Chevrolet dealership.
4. The name of the time machine featured in "Peabody's Improbable History" is sometimes incorrectly written out as the "Way Back Machine," but the correct name is the WABAC machine, a play on early computers like UNIVAC,
5. Rocky and Bullwinkle live in the town of Frostbite Falls, Minnesota. The population of Frostbite Falls is variously given as 23, 48, 29, 31.5 and 4001 over the course of the series.
6. Bullwinkle is originally from the state is Moosylvania, a small island in the Lake of the Woods, and is actually its governor. The ownership of the state is the subject of dispute between the United States and Canada, with each country claiming it belongs to the other. As a publicity stunt, Ward and Bill Scott, the show's head writer and voice of Bullwinkle, bought a small island on a Minnesota lake, named it Moosylvania and started a national tour and petition drive to campaign for Moosylvania's statehood. After visiting 50 cities and collecting signatures, they went to Washington to present President Kennedy with their petition. At the White House gate they declared, "We're here to see President Kennedy. We want statehood for Moosylvania." They were escorted from the property at gunpoint and didn't learn until days later that they had shown up during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. On the show, Rocky and Bullwinkle had much better luck getting their petition delivered.
8. There's really no difference between Rocky and His Friends and The Bullwinkle Show. When the show moved to NBC in 1961, the network simply wanted it retitled and the new series continued where Rocky and His Friends, left off. Many of the syndicated packages, as well as the official DVD release, contained cartoons from both original network series.
9. The features of Fearless Leader, the dictator of Pottsylvania (who was known to carry the entire Pottsylvanian treasury on his person at all times), were inspired by World War II anti-Nazi propaganda posters.
10. Pottsylvanian spy Boris Badenov—whose surname is a play on 16th-century Russian Tsar Boris Godunov—was revealed in an advertisement as an active member of Local 12 of the Villains, Thieves, and Scoundrels Union.
11. Aside from their gift for puns, Rocky and Bullwinkle each had talents that served them well in their adventures. Rocky, a flying squirrel, could glide, hover and carry objects through the air. He honed these skills at the Cedar Yorpantz Flying School. Bullwinkle possessed superhuman strength, referred to as his "mighty moose muscle," and the ability to remember every single thing he ever ate.