The Cry Goes Up

underdog Buck BiggersObserve a moment of respectful silence, if you will, for a Georgia boy who made good: William Watts “Buck” Biggers, who passed away Feb. 10 at the age of 85. And let’s follow that moment with a loud, rousing sing-along of the theme from his best-known contribution to our popular culture: Underdog.

When criminals in this world appear
And break the laws that they should fear
And frighten all who see or hear
The cry goes up both far and near
For Underdog! Underdog! Underdog! Underdog!

Buck Biggers was himself no underdog. Born in Avondale Estates, he was a high-school wunderkind who went on to Emory University law school and, by the age of 20, was in New York City working his way up through the ranks at the Dancer Fitzgerald Sample ad agency. Eventually given the prestigious General Mills account to supervise, he and his team devised animated ads for selling Kix, Trix, Cheerios and other breakfast cereals to kids. Then, in 1960, he and his collaborator Chester “Chet” Stover launched Total TeleVision, a production company that created original animation series into which cereal commercials could be implanted.

underdog_movieBiggers’ first success was King Leonardo and His Short Subjects, a Saturday morning series for NBC that focused on Leonardo Lion, the inept but loveable ruler of Bongo Congo, and his capable chief of staff, a skunk named Odie O. Cologne (whose voice was a ringer for actor Ronald Colman’s).  Other segments in the half-hour featured The Hunter, a Bluetick detective with the drawl and stentorian bray of a Dixiecrat senator, and Tooter, a naïve young turtle sent on time-traveling adventures by a Merlin-like wizard.

“Drizzle, drazzle, druzzle, drome, time for this one to come home,” Wizard would incant when Tooter invariably got into trouble.

Like Underdog, which premiered on NBC in 1964, King Leonardo had a wonderfully clever theme song that stuck forever in the heads of many of the kids who watched it.

Here comes Leonardo, Leonardo Lion
King of Bongo Congo, the hero lion of iron.
Where Leonardo travels, his subjects all go too.
There’s Odie O. Cologne who’s loyal and true blue.
I say there’s the booming Hunter, and wily witty Fox

 And Tooter who brings fun to you from Wizard’s magic box.

Underdog-cartoon-Macys-balloonBiggers had originally moved to New York hoping to become another Hoagy Carmichael or Cole Porter. Tin Pan Alley shrugged, thus his taking that lowly mail room job at Dancer Fitzgerald. But the extent of his musical gift is evident in the catchy lyrics and music he wrote for those two series and for another TTV hit, Tennessee Tuxedo and his Tales, which revolved around a penguin voiced by Don (Get Smart!) Adams.

Biggers co-wrote episodes as well – more than 500 scripts over the years for characters as diverse as the shy, self-effacing Underdog and the bloviating Commander McBragg. And he had a Dickensian knack for naming characters, from Underdog’s beloved Sweet Polly Purebred to Tuxedo’s walrus sidekick Chumley to villains like Riff Raff and Simon Bar Sinister.

Though his name may be less familiar than that of Jay Ward, Biggers’ creations rank just slightly behind Ward’s Rocky and Bullwinkle in the pantheon of original TV cartoons. His work entertained millions in their heyday and left an indelible impression on quite a few aging kids who remain, like Odie, “loyal and true blue.”

Drizzle, drazzle, drome, Mr. Biggers.

Noel Holston

Noel Holston

Noel Holston, originally from Laurel, Miss., is a freelance journalist, songwriter, storyteller and actor who lives in Athens, Ga., with his wife, singer-songwriter Marty Winkler. In a previous life, he was the TV critic at Newsday in New York and, before that, a critic and feature writer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Orlando Sentinel.