HIP! HIP! HIP! AND AWAY I GO!
THE ORIGINS OF UNDERDOG
“Look up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a frog.” With those whimsical words, the world was introduced to the floppy-eared, flying dynamo known as Underdog. True to his persona, he came onto the scene in the most humble of ways, as a simply drawn, flesh-colored cartoon character who became an unexpected run-away hit. But, for an entire generation, the haplessly heroic Underdog also became something far more – forever associated with the boundless joy of Saturday mornings in your PJs and a world where even the most humble and hang-dog of canines could become a grand hero who regularly manages to save the day.
The birth of the cartoon series began in 1960 when Buck Biggers, an account executive at the New York ad agency Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, teamed up with fellow ad-man Chet Stover and illustrator Joe Harris to create animated television shows to help sell breakfast cereals for their big client, General Mills. The team would go on to bring to television a whole roster of memorable characters, including Tennessee Tuxedo and King Leonardo, but their most enduring character was the mild-mannered mutt who would become known worldwide as Underdog – the one hero who truly spoke for the little guy.
The series debuted on NBC in October of 1964 and ran for almost a decade, charming both children and adults with 121 episodes through 1973. Audiences fell in love with the unlikely hero who, called into action by his girlfriend Polly Purebred, would leap into a phone booth and change into a “pup of steel” in order to battle the evil plots of Dr. Simon Barsinister and the underworld boss Riff Raff.
The popularity of the “Underdog” cartoon series took nearly everyone by surprise. He soon became the first cartoon character to ever grace the ultra-sophisticated cover of the New Yorker magazine. And even when the episodes came to an end, Underdog’s appeal endured. Underdog’s snappy catchphrases – including “When Polly’s in trouble, I’m not slow. So it’s hip! hip! hip! and away I go!” and “There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here!” -- became part of everyday conversation.
In 1965, Underdog made his first appearance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and quickly became a fan favorite and one of the most popular symbols of the beloved parade. (So popular, in fact, that a classic episode of the sitcom “Friends” features the Underdog balloon breaking free during the Macy’s Parade and flying away!) The instantly recognizable image of Underdog has also spread through the popular culture, with the character appearing in ads for Visa Check Cards.
The Underdog theme song -- written by W. Watts Biggers, Treadwell D. Covington, Joseph B. Harris and Chester A. Stover, and filled with such memorable lines as “speed of lightning/roar of thunder/fighting all who rob or plunder/Underdog!” -- was as big a sensation as Underdog himself and has also endured, getting updated treatments recently on the hit show “Scrubs” with Ted Buckland’s band, The Blanks. Bringing the song full circle in UNDERDOG is a fresh version from multi-talented teen star Kyle Massey, star of the popular Disney Channel hit “Cory In The House.”
FROM 60S CARTOON TO 21ST CENTURY FILM HERO: UNDERDOG IS BACK!
By the time the 21st century rolled around, it seemed that today’s tough world was in dire need of Underdog’s return...