Most animation sources list Hanna-Barbera as the originators of limited animation for
television, and Ruff and Reddy as the first made-for-TV cartoon. This is not true. In 1948,
Jay Ward (of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame) teamed with animator Alex Anderson and sold NBC-TV a
series of cartoons featuring Crusader, a crusading rabbit, and Ragland T. Tiger, his sidekick.
Television's first cartoon series, Crusader Rabbit, embodied everything bad that came
to be associated with TV animation. It was quickly and imperfectly produced on a budget that
wouldn't have bought lunch at Disney, it repeated the same episodes over and over, and its
animation was limited almost to the point of stasis. It had only one saving grace its
young viewers thought it was funny.
The first glimmerings of Crusader Rabbit came when Alexander Anderson Jr., a nephew and employee
of animation mogul Paul Terry, tried to interest the studio in producing cartoons for the
fledgling television medium. When Terry rejected the idea, Anderson approached a friend, Jay
Ward, who was then a successful real estate agent, to provide financing. Ward provided more
than just money as it worked out, he and Anderson were equally responsible for development
of the series. It was test-marketed in 1948, as part of a oneshot titled The Comic Strips of
Television. Another segment of that show was Dudley Do-Right.
Crusader's basic formula was simple humorous adventure stories told (by narrator Roy
Whaley) in short episodes, with cliffhangers, about a little smart hero (Crusader Rabbit,
voiced by Lucille Bliss, who many years later was the voice of Smurfette), a big dumb hero
(Rags the Tiger, voiced by the late Vern Louden), and an inept recurring villain (Dudley Nightshade,
voiced by the late Russ Coughlin). Ward would later become famous for another animated TV
series with that very same formula Rocky & Bullwinkle.
Starting in 1949, black and white Crusader Rabbit shorts began being added to the mix of
theatrical cartoons appearing regularly on children's shows. It didn't matter that they were
poorly produced the video technology of the era made everything look that way. Episodes
would appear daily, but storylines would stretch out for weeks, encouraging kids to tune in
again to see how Crusader and Rags would get out of their current scrape.
Production ended in 1951, after 195 episodes had been made, and the creators went on to other
things in Ward's case, bigger and better ones. The series was revived in 1957 (this time
in color), and ran another 260 episodes; but without its creators (who had sold their interest
in the characters), it never recaptured its earlier charm. The color episodes appeared in syndicated
reruns as recently as the early 1980s.
Crusader and Rags appeared in only two comic books nos. 735 and 805 of Dell's Four-Color
Comics series (1956-57). Copies are not hotly traded, but they turn up once in a while
as does an occasional Crusader Rabbit video, usually in the bargain bin. Other
than that, Crusader and Rags are just a fondly but dimly remembered bit of baby boom memorabilia.
Lucille Bliss's Page | Vern Louden's
Page | Russ Coughlan's Page