June Foray’s memorable voice was the sound of my cold war childhood.
Not only was hers the voice I heard when I pulled the string on my Chatty Cathy doll, a childish sweet voice saying “Let’s play house” but she was also the pre-feminist melodramatic voice of that perennially distressed damsel Nell Fenwick the long-suffering girl friend of that Saturday morning TV staple Dudley Do Right, the lantern-jawed Canadian Mountie.
Disney, Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera could all claim June’s distinctive voice in countless roles, but it was the high-pitched tone of Rocky the plucky flying squirrel with the broad smile, one half of that fearless duo out to save Western civilization, and the throaty Eastern European rasp of that sinister spy Natasha out to sabotage all things American, that were my favorites.
Without taking sides June Foray played both sides of the cold war in that classic cartoon Rocky and Bullwinkle.
Hokey smoke, what would my cold war childhood be without Rocket J. Squirrel and his irascible companion Bullwinkle J. Moose rescuing the American Way of Life on a weekly basis from the clutches of the evil empire of Pottsylvania by defeating the wicked schemes of Mr. Big and his accomplices in crime that hapless duo of Slavic spies Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatalay.
For better or worse the cold war never seem to defrost in Rocky’s home town of Frost Bite Falls, Minnesota, providing years of entertainment for boomer kids trying to shake the duck and cover reality of their lives. Like MAD Magazine, Rocky and Bullwinkle with their irreverent satire, helped kids navigate through a pretty perilous world, as they entered the uncertainty of a new cold war decade, the 1960’s.
The Big Chill
The last year of the 1950’s was a chilly time for the cold war.
The arms race and the space race were going full throttle between the two Superpowers. Still stinging from Sputnik and trying to play catch up with the Russians, Americans were spooked when Soviet Premiere Nikita Khrushchev boasted of Soviet military supremacy. At home Congressmen groused about the growing dangers of a gaping missile gap, including a young man with his eye on the presidency, the senator from Massachusetts John Kennedy.
In back yards from coast to coast Americans were busy building home fallout shelters after Edward Teller, the father of the H-bomb, commented that spring that: “it was necessary to provide every person in the U.S. with a shelter.”
There wasn’t much to laugh at.
Rocky and His Friends 1959
In the fall of 1959, against the backdrop of the cold war and the end of the Eisenhower years the cold war came to the cartoons in the form of “Rocky and His Friends.”
Set the Waybac Machine for Thursday, November 19, 1959.
It’s 5:30, mom’s meatloaf was tucked in the oven nearly ready for our 6pm dinner. With a half hour free before supper my brother and I were glued to the TV. We quickly turned the dial on our Admiral TV to ABC tuning in to the premier of a new animated show, “Rocky and His Friends,” the latest offering from animator Jay Ward.
Like most kids, I had been a fan of Ward’s first creation “Crusader Rabbit,” which was the first ever animated cartoon created especially for television.
In the earliest days of TV, cartoons for the kiddies were purchased from motion picture overstock. Saturday matinée cartoons from my movie going parents’ generation would find a new home in TV audiences. Krazy Kat clawed her way to TV, Out of the Inkwell’s Koko the Clown invited laughter and a WWII Bugs Bunny hopped over to the new medium.
But with the appearance of Crusader Rabbit and his sidekick “Rags” the Tiger, TV cartoons were born.
First appearing in 1950 this do-good duo were a precursor to Rocky and Bullwinkle, embarking on adventures to exotic locale, stumbling into one absurd situation after another, always foiled by an evil character named Dudley Night Shade, an early incarnation of Snidley Whiplash. The show, composed of cliffhanger shorts that emulated early radio series, was a formula Rocky would continue.
By 1959 when ads for the debut of the flying squirrel who sported a pilots helmet and his dimwitted but brave moose sidekick appeared, two pawed, four-footed anthropomorphic cartoon creatures crusading for good was old hat to me.
Saturday morning TV villains had little chance whenever Hanna-Barbera’s spunky pooch Reddy and his feline partner Ruff were around. And Television already had a talking flying rodent named Mighty Mouse who was pretty good at saving the day. And he could sing to boot.
But Now Here’s Something You’ll Really Like
But Rocky and Bullwinkle offered something none of the others did. What made the show different was its sly and not so sly cultural references to the cold war.
That very first episode I watched entitled Jet Fuel Formula made clear its cold war allusions. The themes of the arms race, the space race, international technological competition, and espionage mirrored the cold war paranoia between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. perfectly. And five years before Dr Strangelove, Jet Fuel Formula was satirizing the American Military and government.
Suddenly the cold war was a barrel of laughs.
Who wouldn’t laugh at those Soviet-stand ins Boris and Natasha, a couple of no good-niks. Fiendish, but always inept these two cold war spies from Eastern Europe were forever scheming to control the world, topple its economy and destroy the American Way of life.
It was like laughing at Khrushchev himself.
These were not the cartoon staple of villains decked out in top hats and capes with twirling handle bar mustaches but instead Slavic speaking buffoons.
Boris Badenov (Long on Bad) the pasty white, pencil mustached, black hatted villain and his seductive, comely side kick Natasha Fataly (Long for Fatal) were spies for the sinister fictional nation of Pottsylvania, a closed repressive nation populated entirely by spies, secret agents, and saboteurs. Ruled by Fearless Leader a man sporting a monocle and German cross with an improbable German accent, fed my fear of Nazis and Communists in one clean swoop.
Because Truth, Justice and the American Way always prevailed, the “Soviet’s” misdeeds were continually thwarted by Rocky and Bullwinkle. In the end Boris and Natasha always failed in their missions to bring America to its knees.
In Frost Bite Falls at least, we were winning the cold war.
And that my friends, is a true Fractured Fairy Tale!
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.