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There’s no need to fear: Underdog is here



Inexplicably, I recently woke up thinking about two animated TVcharacters from my childhood cartoon-watching days: the superhero Underdog, and Mr. Peabody from Rocky and Bullwinkle. I loved both of these characters since they were quirky and endearing rather than macho and all-powerful. I was even delighted to find an Underdog key chain decades later  at a Value Village in Bellingham, WA. I had forgotten all about that humble hero. (I’m talking about the original Underdog from the 1960s, not the more recent Walt Disney version.)


Maybe the child writer in me enjoyed Underdog’s language, which was always in rhyme like “There’s no need to fear — Underdog is here.” Wally Cox, who later spent years providing quizzical humor on Hollywood Squares, did the voice for Underdog and his alter ego, Shoeshine Boy (I don’t remember anything about that character.)


A quick check on Wikipedia just gave me some Underdog info. Apparently,  he used to crash into walls and so on, which I don’t recall at all. At such times, he would say: “I am a hero who never fails/I cannot be bothered with such details.” The young rebel in me must have relished this attitude. His superpowers, which changed per episode, varied from x-ray vision and atomizing eyes (?) to super breath. Anyone who’s smelled a real dog’s breath would realize what a stretch that last one is.


I had no idea that Underdog was created by ad agency reps to sell cereal for television advertiser General Mills. Gee, my wee eyes were unknowing pawns to their product shilling. Having always been a dog lover, I naturally gravitated to this canine character. However, I did also enjoy Felix the Cat and his bag of tricks. (There’s no surprise where his name came from: Felis catus is  the Latin term for house cat.)


That brings me to some TV trivia: did you know that RCA began experimental television transmissions from New York in 1928, using a 13-inch, paper mache Felix the Cat figure? Rather than pay an actor to stand under hot studio lights while engineers sharpened and tweaked the image, they used Felix, who worked for a one-time fee. (I’m surprised the paper didn’t burn.) They put the black-and-white figure on a turntable and tried broadasting using a mechanical scanning disk and electronic kinescope receiver. These early “broadcasts” usually involved objects, test patterns or photographs; the image received was only two inches tall. Felix stayed on his turntable post for almost a decade while engineers tried to create a high-definition picture. (I got this info from www.felixthecat.com.)


As for Underdog, his last run was with NBC in the mid-1970s. By then, the network censored all references to him swallowing the energy pill that gave him his superpowers. They probably feared lawsuits if kids saw real medication that looked like the Underdog pills (red with a white “U”) and swallowed them. I’m too cynical to think that they genuinely cared about children’s health and well-being.

May 6, 2010 at 6:51 am
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