Welcome to Super Saturday, a new ongoing weekly column that will pay tribute to the animated classics of yesterday, and will be offered on Saturday mornings, a period when many of us remember being the only time animated kids’ programming was offered in the dark, primitive days before streaming, cable, and home video were ubiquitous, making a special time for such programming obsolete. Hope you enjoy and feel free to leave any feedback or personal remembrances in the comments!
I’m digging way back for the third Super Saturday. If you’ve ever wondered what the first cartoon ever made for television was, look no further. ‘Crusader Rabbit’ debuted in 1950, but to call it “animated” is a generous stretch. The program, originally presented in black and white, was mainly composed of still illustrations, using camera movement to give some sense of motion. There was a little bit of limited animation, but it was used sparingly.
The show was created by Alex Anderson, who previously worked for Terrytoons (‘Mighty Mouse’, ‘Heckle and Jeckle’). In fact, Anderson pitched the concept to Terrytoons first, but they passed. He wound up collaborating with Jay Ward, who would go on to create ‘Rocky & Bullwinkle’, ‘Dudley Do-Right’, ‘Peabody and Sherman’, and ‘George of the Jungle’.
‘Crusader Rabbit’ was not broadcast on a specific network, but was syndicated. The stories followed the exploits of the titular hare, who was a knight, and his companion Ragland “Rags” T. Tiger. The T stands for “the.” Storylines were broken up into four-minute segments which ended in cliffhangers. (Movie serials were still a thing back then.) In total, there were 195 four-minute episodes, broken up into ten “crusades,” or storylines. ‘Crusader Rabbit’ was revived in 1956 in color. 260 episodes/13 crusades were created for the revival, which aired until 1959.
It’s a little hard to judge ‘Crusader Rabbit’ because it’s almost more of an experiment than an animated series. But you have to start somewhere. Unfortunately, the fact that the show wasn’t really animated hurt it, considering that during this same time period, animated shorts created for the big screen– ‘Looney Tunes’, ‘Popeye’, ‘Tom and Jerry’, and more– were airing on television. This low-budget entry didn’t really stand a chance.
But it opened the door for animation created for television. As stated, Ward would go on to create ‘Rocky & Bullwinkle’, ‘George of the Jungle’, and other shows that are still considered classics to this day.
Below is a rare set of cards that depicted Crusader Rabbit, Rags, their friend Garfield Groundhog, and several of their foes and supporting characters. As you can see, many of their names are puns, like Dudley Nightshade, a play on the poisonous plant “deadly nightshade” or Al Catraz and Sam Quentin, plays on the names of famous prisons, Alcatraz and San Quentin.
In the black and white series, Lucille Bliss, the “girl of a thousand voices,” provided the voice for Crusader Rabbit. Ge Ge Pearson took over when the show was revived in color. Vern Louden voiced Rags, and Roy Whaley served as narrator of both. Russ Coghlin joined during the revival and voiced Dudley Nightshade.
If you want a taste of ‘Crusader Rabbit’, check it out below:
Do you have any memories of ‘Crusader Rabbit’? (No? I didn’t think so.)