It’s a safe bet to say anyone reading this knows Cap’n Crunch. But did you know the commander of the S. S. Guppy is nearly 700-years-old? And, if he submitted a sample to 23andMe DNA it would reveal he was half Viking and half Native-American? The Cap’n’s mother was a “young Indian girl” named Gidget Running Star.
My latest Cartoon Research mini-book, Jay Ward’s Animated Cereal Capers, presents the Cap’n’s story and the men behind his creation in 1962. It was the first time any cereal company launched a brand named after a character. Cereals had mascots, but to name one after a character was untested water.
Ward is the same team that rolled out Quisp and Quake in another series of animated commercials a couple of years later. And after that, for a few years, produced King Vitaman cartoons.
Quisp and Quake, the alien from another world, and the miner from the Earth’s core, engaged in a popularity battle for over a decade. But it appears Quake was doomed from the start. Ward studios, who created Quisp, tried to come up with his rival but failed. Quake was originally supposed to be a fairy. George Lois of Papert, Keonig and Lois Advertising, created Quake. Ward’s team gave him some artistic flair.
I grew up in the early 1960’s as a fan of the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. Even at a young age, I knew the Cap’n Crunch, and Quisp and Quake cartoon commercials were created by the same folks. To me, they were animated mini-adventures sandwiched in between my favorite Saturday morning cartoons. And, of course, I begged mom to get the cereals at the grocery store.
Many of us have fond memories of how the cereal box stayed on the kitchen table when we ate breakfast. Like zombies, we stared at the colorfully illustrated boxes. Often the back had games, puzzles, or some incredible offer for a premium we could not live without. It’s fair to say I learned to read via cereal boxes and comic books, not from going to school.
The wonderful world of Jay Ward’s animated cereal commercials has become a sidebar to the studio’s history. Some entries provide a few detail, but why not a little book about the Cap’n and his Quaker Oats friends? Was it possible to write a book that wouldn’t get soggy in milk?
Perhaps Allan Burns knows best how a sidebar can become iconic. Tasked with the assignment, on short notice, to come up with an idea, he scribbled out an old navigator and some kids that would sail aboard a ship known as the Guppy. Burns, an Emmy-Award winning screenwriter of “Munsters” and Mary Tyler Moore” fame, is keenly aware nothing in his resume has achieved the global recognition of Cap’n Crunch. And Burns didn’t even like the cereal!
Jay Ward’s animated cereal commercials are a part of the studio’s history. They are the virtually undiscovered cartoons, often not given much thought, but deserving of closer examination. It’s akin to the gold nuggets left behind in an old mine shaft. Let’s put on our Quake hardhats and go back into the cave. There’s still gold in them thar hills!
(Cap’n Crunch commercials above courtesy of Mark Kausler)