The Moose That Roared

The Story of Jay Ward, Bill Scott, a Flying Squirrel, and a Talking Moose by Keith Scott, published by St. Martin’s Press, 431 pages, hardcover, with b&w illustrations.

The story behind this book is as inspirational as any cartoon fan can imagine. 

A long time ago, Keith Scott, still just a kid growing up in Australia, became a maniac fan of the Jay Ward cartoons, especially Rocky and Bullwinkle. 

His first act of fandom was simply to watch the cartoons repeatedly and then to memorize the names on the credits. 

This escalated to his writing fan mail to his heroes, and to his delight (and his amazement– these people were “real”), he later received hand-written replies from the likes of Bill Scott, Paul Frees and Daws Butler.

His enthusiasm and his contact with these men eventually led to work in the field, first at Hanna-Barbera’s Australian studio, and ultimately to becoming an official voice for the Jay Ward characters. 

The greatest thrill had to be reprising the voice of Bullwinkle opposite voice legend June Foray, stepping into the big shoes of the late Bill Scott, who coincidentally shares Keith’s surname but is not related. 

Who better, in fact, to continue the tradition of Bullwinkle than one of the Moose’s greatest fans, a man who can do a perfect impersonation not only because he’s talented but because he’s watched the Ward cartoons hundreds of times!

Which makes Keith Scott the perfect author for the definitive book on the Jay Ward studio. Amazingly, Bill Scott even mentioned to Keith that he ought to write the book, and this was back in 1972. 

When Keith finally seriously started writing it, around 1990, he discovered that this was harder than he’d imagined. While his years of research and interviews had paid off with a goldmine of data and studio anecdotes, he found that publication rights were a tricky slope to navigate.

Ramona Ward, Jay’s widow, named him the author of choice in 1991, after picking his proposal from among four competitive submissions. However, following the Buena Vista video release of Ward’s cartoons that same year, the climate changed. 

Several legal challenges erupted (the Ward studio had survived many legal battles in the predatory arena of television distribution over the years, and the success of the Bullwinkle re-release brought up some old contenders), and although the Ward estate eventually won them all, it became clear that a printing of the book would be a delicate matter.

As well, MCA Publishing then wanted to do a simpler picture type book, and perhaps it now seemed like Keith’s full treatment of the studio history, which gave mention to some of the litigants, was a bit indelicate. 

The fallout was that in June 1992, Keith found out that he was denied copyright illustrations for any of the cartoon characters, a kiss of death for a book about animation. 

He thought about releasing it as a non-pictorial book with McFarland, but then decided to wait and see.

Despite setbacks, 1992 was in many ways a charmed year for him, as that’s when he was named the official voices of the Ward menagerie, leading to eventual work on the “George of the Jungle” and “Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle” feature films. 

He continued to be involved with voicework assignments, in effect becoming Bullwinkle, while a separate book project went forward on which he was not involved.

This project eventually took shape as Louis Chunovic’s THE ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE BOOK, published by Bantam in 1996. While in many respects it was a nice picture book, it did a disservice to many fans by running fast and loose with the facts. 

Charles Ulrich, editor of the fanzine Frostbite Falls Far-Flung Flyer, wrote a blistering review of it, pointing out its scads of factual errors. To many cartoon fans, it was endemic of a problem we often find in animation books.

Fortunately, however, Keith Scott’s project is now also a book. With enough time having passed to distance it as a competitor to Chunovic’s, Tiffany Ward and Universal both finally granted picture rights to him. 

The result is THE MOOSE THAT ROARED, a comprehensive 400+ page book on the history and the people behind the legendary Jay Ward Productions. 

It covers the lives of the principal figures, the development of the TV shows, the infamous publicity stunts and parties, and even the Ward legal troubles.

Owing to its subject, it’s frequently very amusing to read. But it’s also a history fraught with tragedy, and eventually a reader understands why Jay Ward gladly bowed out of television production after a turbulent and relatively successful run of it, primarily in the 1960’s. 

After enjoying a lucrative contract with the Quaker Oats Company making animated cereal commercials, Jay began to scale back his studio operations and then lived long enough to witness the resurgence of fan interest in Bullwinkle. He led an alternately charmed and cursed life, but never a dull one.

This book is also notable because the early history of TV animation (both for series broadcast and for commercials) is not yet well covered in books. 

Another good book which does cover this ground is Shamus Culhane’s classic TALKING ANIMALS AND OTHER PEOPLE, also published by St. Martin’s. 

Not coincidentally, Culhane gets some mention in THE MOOSE THAT ROARED, and this book certainly validates Culhane’s many complaints in regards to what a vicious snakepit television production was in the 50’s and 60’s.

Though St. Martin’s Press is not a frequent publisher of animation history, it certainly now has an admirable track record. They aren’t afraid to publish animation books that are smart, and hopefully fans will reward them with good sales. 

Keith Scott has not only written a distinguished book, he has also turned into quite a Cinderella story himself. Who would have believed back in 1962 that a tiny Bullwinkle fan watching TV in Australia could do so much for the legacy of Jay Ward? Bullwinkle, you couldn’t be in better hands.

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