If you grew up in the 1960s, you probably still remember the lyrics to this theme song:
Underdog, an animated series about the exploits of a super-powered beagle who almost always spoke in rhyme as he battled villains, ruled the Saturday morning airwaves. It was best enjoyed if you were still in your pajamas and, ideally, munching a bowl of Lucky Charms or Trix and slurping the sugary residue so that you could snort milk up your nose in laughter when the protagonist uttered his classic line, usually just before crashing into something:
Not plane, nor bird, nor even frog,
It’s just little old me … Underdog.
It’s no accident, perhaps, that the program’s cocreator, William Watts “Buck” Biggers, actually was an advertising executive who also sang in the chorus that performed the theme song. Here are five facts about the Georgia native, who died on Feb. 10 at age 85 in Plymouth, Mass., and his charismatic canine brainchild:
- Biggers was really a songwriter at heart. He moved to New York City at age 20 in the late 1940s with dreams of becoming a pianist and songwriter. He took a mail-room job at an advertising agency to pay the bills, but proved to be so clever at selling products that he rose to the rank of vice president. In 1959 he got the assignment — along with artist Joseph Harris and fellow executives Treadwell Covington and Chet Stover — of developing animated cartoon shows that would keep kids watching long enough to see General Mills’ ads.
- The show’s narrator was George S. Irving, the Broadway great who was one of the cast members of the original 1943 production of Oklahoma!
- Comic actor Wally Cox, who provided the voice of Underdog, initially became famous portraying a bookish high school science teacher in the 1950s series Mr. Peepers. Contrary to his meek comedic persona and the high-pitched nasal voice he affected, Cox actually was athletic enough to pin his friend Marlon Brando in their impromptu wrestling matches, according to a 2004 Los Angeles Times story on their friendship. Cox also appeared as a safecracker in the pilot episode of Mission: Impossible in 1966.
- Biggers had a side career as a novelist and magazine writer. He somehow found time to write for Reader’s Digest and other publications, and he authored the 1968 novel The Man Inside, about a young amnesiac’s quest for life’s meaning, whose heavy themes led some at the time to suspect that Biggers actually was a pseudonym for Zen philosopher Alan Watts.
- To Biggers’ delight, Underdog continued to resonate in pop culture long after the show went off the air in 1973. An inflatable Underdog figure became a popular attraction in Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, and then-Vice President Al Gore dressed up as Underdog on Halloween, with then-wife Tipper attired as Underdog’s love interest, Sweet Polly Purebred. Disney even made a live-action movie version in 2007.