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Cartoon Creator Buck Biggers Was No Underdog
February 21, 2013  | By Noel Holston  | 5 comments

Let’s have a moment of silence for William Watts “Buck” Biggers, who died Feb. 10 at the age of 85, and let’s follow it up with a loud, rousing sing-along of the theme from his best-known contribution to television: 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, cartoonish name notwithstanding, was no underdog. Born in Avondale Estates, Georgia, he was a high-school prodigy 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.

Given the General Mills account to supervise, he and his team started devising animated ads for selling Kix, Trix, Cheerios and other breakfast cereals to kids. In 1960, he left to found, with his collaborator Chester “Chet” Stover, Total TeleVision, a production company that created original animation series into which cereal commercials could be implanted.

His 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 suave chief of staff, a skunk named Odie O. Cologne (whose voice was a ringer for actor Ronald Colman’s). Other segments of the half-hour featured on The Hunter, a sleuthing hound dedicated to thwarting a thieving Fox, and Tooter, a young turtle sent on time-traveling adventures by a Merlin-like wizard.

Like Underdog, which premiered in 1964, King Leonardo had a wonderfully clever theme song that stuck forever in the heads of 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 Odio 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.

Biggers, who had originally gone to New York hoping to become the next Cole Porter or Lorenz Hart, composed both of those catchy themes and the one for another TTV hit, Tennessee Tuxedo, which revolved around a penguin voiced by Don (Get Smart!) Adams. He co-wrote episodes, too – more than 500 scripts over the years for characters as diverse as the shy, self-effacing Underdog and the bloviating Commander McBragg.

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

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Feb 20, 2023   |  Reply
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Jan 21, 2023   |  Reply
Denise Caire
Born in 1951, for some reason I always identified with Odie Cologne, the true blue side kick of King Leonardo. To this day, and I'll be 70 in a couple weeks, eek, I still think of and refer to myself as being a "true-blue Odie Cologne." All my friends know they can count on me but few remember Odie.
Apr 5, 2021   |  Reply
My father used to call his most treasured, and surely reliable friends true-blue Odie's, and I heard it quite a bit growing up. I was born in '77, he was born in '50. He passed away in 2004, and it was one of the things I never asked him about, though I knew exactly what it meant. Your comment was the first that my search came up with, and I really appreciate your recollection. I'm heading to the video sections to check out King Leonardo, myself being a short subject. Thanks, this meant a lot to me.
Sep 8, 2022
My arrested development must be much more serious than I realized. I was already 16 by the time Underdog debuted, and I still thought it was funny (though not as funny as Leonardo).
Feb 22, 2013   |  Reply
"Just slightly behind Ward's Rocky & Bullwinkle"?For this boomer,coming back to Ward material is always a revelation.With almost all of Total TV's output,once you turned 10,it was over.Ward & Gamma shared the same cheapo Mexican animation,but the scripts and group of voice actors keep Ward's material worth revisitng. Total's is just nostalgia.General Mills used both of these guys.Kellogg's used Hanna-Barbera.General Foods used adman Ed Graham for Linus the Lionhearted(great vocal talent,indluding Sheldon Leonard & Carl Reiner)and new ads featuring the Warner Bros. stable like Bugs Bunny(produced by a third party,Depatie-Freleng,who also created the Pink Panther).Linus falls in-between Total & Ward-decent scripts and that great vocal talent but the other character sused to fill out the show were merely animated ads than stand alone cartoons.
Feb 21, 2013   |  Reply
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