Polly Purebred, I Weep With Thee

The Core Belief

Just a quick note to day regarding the death of a secret hero to those of us late Baby Boomers and early Gen Xer’s: W. Watts “Buck Bigger is passed on at the age of 85.  Biggers was a former Advertising executive for many companies but was revered by millions as the creator of Underdog.

(From The New York Daily News)

W. Watts “Buck” Biggers, a Madison Avenue ad executive who co-created the iconic canine Underdog to sell General Mills cereal, has died at his home in Massachusetts. He was 85.

Derek Tague, a family friend, said no cause of death was immediately available. Biggers died Sunday.

Underdog parlayed the cereal game into stardom on TV, in the movies and in popular culture, where his catchphrase “There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here!” became part of America’s vernacular.

Underdog, who habitually spoke in rhyme, was an animated reincarnation of Superman, with the same superhuman powers of strength, flight, X-ray vision and so on. 

He lacked Superman’s good judgment and common sense, and his resolution of crimes was often imprecise and messy, with considerable harm to bystanders. 

He had the same good heart, however, particularly when it came to rescuing Polly Purebred, a doggie damsel perpetually in distress.

Underdog ran in syndication from 1964 to 1969, then four more years on Saturday mornings on NBC. 

Sixty-two half-hour episodes were produced for the original syndication. 

Both Underdog and his mild-mannered alter ego, Shoeshine Boy, were voiced by Wally Cox. 

Underdog later starred in numerous comic books and a 2007 movie. Biggers created an Underdog radio show in 1999 to promote Victory Over Violence, an organization he created to discourage violence among young people. 

William Watts Biggers was born in Georgia, where he attended military school and Emory Law School. He moved to New York when he was 20, determined to become a pianist and songwriter. 

Like practically all aspiring songwriters, he took a day job, in the mailroom at the ad agency Dancer Fitzgerald Sampler.

He rose to vice president there, and in 1959 he took the General Mills assignment, which was creating cartoons that would keep children tuned in for the cereal ads. 

With artist Joseph Harris and fellow executives Treadwell Covington and Chet Stover, he created a series of cartoon characters for the company, starting with King Leonardo in 1960 and Tennessee Tuxedo, a penguin, in 1963. 

After they unveiled Underdog and he became an immediate hit, the four creators left Dancer Fitzgerald to form Total Television, which produced the “Underdog” series. 

Total Television folded when General Mills left the animation game in 1969, and Biggers moved to NBC, where he became vice president of promotion and creative services. 

He also wrote for publications that included Reader’s Digest and TV Guide. He authored two novels, “The Man Inside” in 1968 and “Hold Back the Tide” in 2001, and a 2005 memoir that recounted the story of Underdog. 

In recent years he became a regular at television nostalgia conventions. Tague says Biggers enjoyed the enduring popularity of Underdog, including that former Vice President Al Gore once dressed as Underdog for a Halloween party and that Underdog became a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

Biggers’ wife, Grace, died in 1989 after 39 years of marriage. He is survived by his longtime companion, Nancy Purbeck; a daughter, Victoria; and a son, W. Watts Biggers Jr.

Liking Underdog was mandatory in the Zola household, Tennessee Tuxedo, not so much.  The cartoon made such an impression on me I can still recount in vivid detail the day in 1995 I found an Underdog t-shirt for sale at a soon to be closing St. Marks Place chachka shop.

So the 2007 movie was horrible and totally missed the point; at least it brought a new generation of fans back to the original cartoons, right?  At least that’s what I keep telling myself.  In this day of brands, personal and otherwise, I hope it didn’t do any significant damage.

Polly Purebred, wherever you are, I weep with you today.



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