William Biggers Remembered for “Underdog”
Back in the 1960′s, one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday morning as a kid, was checking out my favorite cartoons. One of them featured a humble and lovable fellow called Shoeshine Boy. He was an average fellow, the type that is not really a remarkable dude. That is, until someone hollered for help, he would run to a nearby phone booth (back when there were phone booths) and would suddenly become the amazing superhero, Underdog.
For those of you who remember the fellow, and those who don’t, check out the intro for the Saturday morning show.
The story of Underdog goes back to when a fellow named William Biggers was working for the advertising firm, DFS. The firm’s biggest client, General Mills, wanted some cartoons created that would help push sales of their breakfast cereals. Biggers went to work and, with others in his firm, created the likes of Tennessee Tuxedo (who was voiced by Don Adams), King Leonardo, who was used to help promote a cereal called Crispy Critters, and of course “Underdog,” who was voiced by Wally Cox.
“Underdog” was unique among the usual Saturday morning stock as it was not simply a collection of short cartoons crammed into a thirty minute slot. There were three shorts, with the first and last cartoon of each show being parts of the current adventure story, and the other cartoon would be another character, be it Tennessee Tuxedo, the Go Go Gophers, or one of the others they created. As those middle cartoon characters grew in popularity, they would get their own shows.
In Underdog’s world, there was his beloved Sweet Polly Purebred, and an assortment of villains, including Simon Bar Sinister, Riff Raff, and a few other baddies. Underdog grew so well known and beloved that the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade added him to their roster of giant balloons, which Biggers family says truly pleased him. In its premiere year, it was accompanied by a float in which a person dressed as Simon Bar Sinister was threatening the parade, but was dealt with quickly by the inflated hero. A few years ago, the cartoon became a live action movie, which also delighted Biggers.
When General Mills got out of the cartoon business, Biggers stayed on at NBC as vice president for promotion and creative services. He wrote for TV Guide, Reader’s Digest, and Family Circle. He also wrote some novels. However, the most famous line he helped to create was the line, “There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here!”
William Biggers died suddenly February 10th at the age of 85 He leaves a son, daughter, and a beloved companion. He also leaves thousands and thousands of fans of his cartoon characters who truly mourn the passing of the creator of some of our favorite childhood television moments. We send out our thoughts and prayers to his family and loved ones at this sad time.