ANIMATION ANECDOTES
December 4, 2020 posted by Jim Korkis

The Origin of Cap’n Crunch

Suspended Animation #296

“It’s got corn for crunch, oats for punch, and it stays crunchy even in milk!”

According to the Encyclopedia of Major Marketing Campaigns, cereal owner Quaker Oats (now PepsiCo) once used eighty percent of their advertising budget solely on Cap’n Crunch.

Cap’n Crunch first appeared on a cereal box in September 1963 and went on to become one of the most beloved and long-running cereal spokesmen. Quaker put roughly five million dollars behind launching the cereal that they had spent nearly two and half years developing. September was the same month that the Cap’n’s first animated commercial produced by Jay Ward was also released.

On July 1, 1961, Jay Ward had decided that his entire studio should have a summer vacation when Bruce Baker of Compton Advertising approached the studio about doing some animated commercials for a new cereal and that the main character had to have the word “crunch” in its name.

At the time, many cereals had animated mascots and Ward had already produced three years worth of commercials for General Mills, a competitor of Quaker Oats. In addition, Baker was a huge fan of Ward’s work.

Allan Burns was one of the very few people still at the studio so had to meet with the executives. Bill Scott told me in 1983, “You know the Cap’n Crunch commercials? The good ship Guppy and the crew and the adventures and the pirates and the strange creatures and so forth? That world was invented by Allan Burns who was at that time a writer for Jay Ward. Allan Burns later took that same expertise and invented The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

Burns was inspired to come up with the character of the seemingly ageless captain from the fictional Royal Navy officer, Captain Horatio Hornblower. He also came up with the crew of kids (to better sell the cereal to kids) based on the first four letters of the alphabet resulting in Alfie, Brunhilde, Carlyle and Dave. In addition, he included Seadog, the faithful companion. Burns was given a thousand dollar bonus when the deal was signed.

Daws Butler was the voice of Cap’n Crunch and Alfie; Paul Frees was the narrator; Bill Scott was Jean LaFoote, Dave and Seadog; June Foray was Brunhilde, Carlyle and Magnolia Bulkhead (who was in love with the Cap’n).

Foray in an early voice session had Brunhilde childishly call the character “Cap’n” instead of “Captain” and Ward loved it and convinced Quaker to use that as the name since it seemed friendlier and more distinctive. The only reason that Ward agree to produce the commercials was assurance that he would not get any artistic meddling from the sponsor and that it would be fun.

Cap’n Crunch’s original biography was written by Burns in 1963 and was used as a press release by the Quaker Oats Company. Crunch’s father, Sven, was a navigator of a Viking vessel but was marooned in New England where he married a lovely Indian girl, Gidget Running Star.

They had a child, Horatio Magellan Crunch. Since American schools were limited in their curriculum at the time, Horatio was sent to England for schooling but on his voyage he was kidnapped by a band of pirates who taught him how to be a sailor.

By 1965, the cereal and the character were so popular that the origin was revised and simplified so that he was born on Crunch Island located in a sea of milk. It was a magical place with talking trees, crazy creatures and in the center was the fabled Mount Crunchmore made entirely of cereal.

His mission in life was to sail the seven seas on his ship the S.S. Guppy and have numerous adventures as he and his crew tried to deliver his sweet cereal to a hungry populace.

In 1963, Ward produced the following Cap’n Crunch commercials: Breakfast on the Guppy, Wild Man of Borneo, Little Old Grocer, Clock, Singalong with Cap’n Crunch, Sweet, Foe Below, Crunch’s Crunch and Cap’n Crunch Sails Again which was a five minute promotional film for the sales team.

Unlike his television series where the animation had been farmed out to a Mexican studio, the animation was all done at the Ward studio on Sunset Boulevard. That first year the budget was $100,000. Burns wrote the initial scripts which were then edited by Scott who wrote the majority of the rest of the scripts for two decades.

Ward’s studio also designed three sixteen-page mini-comic books (“The Picture Pirates”, “The Fountain of Youth” and “I’m Dreaming of a Wide Isthmus”) to be in the cereal packages, package backs, character premiums and store displays. Eventually, many premiums were produced including rings, trading cards, Seadog’s bosun whistle, and more.

Cap’n Crunch actually had an unexpected naval connection. Daws Butler served in the United States Navy during World War II. Butler barely met the requirements to join the Navy, as he was initially screened as too short for active duty. One thing he tried was hanging in a doorway with bricks tied to his feet to try to stretch himself.

Butler joined the Naval Reserve in 1942. After training at RTC Great Lakes, he went on to the Naval Intelligence School and the Officer of Naval Intelligence (ONI) where he served from 1943 to 1945. He left the Navy in 1946 as a Petty Officer Second Class Communications Specialist (Q-ESR-Communications Specialist). Butler was awarded an American Campaign Medal, Navy Good Conduct Medal, and World War II Victory Medal.

Over the years, other characters were added to the Crunch universe including Smedley the Elephant, The Crunch Beast (aka “C.B.”) and the shape shifting Chockle the Blob. Jean LaFoote the barefoot pirate who wanted to know the secret of the cereal was introduced in 1965 as was Magnolia Bulkhead and her sidekick Otis who piloted a submarine.

Probably forgotten by even the most fanatical Cruncher is that briefly from 1969 -1971, the kid crew was joined by an African-American kid named Woody.

While the Cap’n Crunch commercials continue, the relationship between Quaker and Ward ended in 1984. Action for Children’s Television (ACT) required removing any evidence of what they labeled “jeopardy” and the original executives had left Quaker with the new generation constantly wanting to meddle even supplying their own scripts and not approving the ones written by Scott.

In spring of 1984 was the last recording session. For Ward, it was no longer fun. A dozen commercials were made that year and Ward and his studio went on to other things.

17 Comments

  • Talk about a project ripe for restoration! I have an old CDR of many of these and they are in really bad shape.

  • Not sure if you know this, but they still use many of the Ward characters on the back of Cap’n Crunch boxes

  • In 1971, a series of Cap’n Crunch animated ads were aired because Quaker Oats helped finance “Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory” (Quaker’s copyright appears in the main titles of the film). The first line of Wonka brand candies was created by Quaker.

    Cap’n Crunch and his friends were seen coming out of a movie theater all excited about the film, then offering the “Willy Wonka Candy Making Kit” available by mail with box tops and a fee. The kit basically provided a way of melting already-finished candy into Wonka molds.

    Someone bought a used kit (which is more elaborate than many cereal premiums) and showed how to use it in this YouTube video:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VoiAUBkML6Y&pbjreload=101

  • Am I remembering wrong, or did the Crunchberry Beast sound rather like the fabled Oogle Bird from the island of New Greenpernt?

    It’s a credit to creativity of the Jay Ward Studio that their animated commercials succeeded in making even the foulest-tasting breakfast cereals seem tempting, even irresistible. My parents generally gave in to our clamouring for every new brand of cereal advertised on Saturday morning TV and bought it at least once, usually with disappointing results. Of these, Cap’n Crunch was easily the worst. Its impermeable and non-absorbent qualities, responsible for its celebrated ability to remain crunchy even in milk, do not strike me as desirable traits in a cereal, or any nominally edible foodstuff for that matter. Worse, the cereal at the bottom of the box had disintegrated into a thick layer of fine-grained, sugary sand. Ugh! My teeth hurt just thinking about it!

    Later, Jay Ward produced commercials for two new cereal lines, Quake and Quisp, which turned out to be manufactured from the same nauseating substance as Cap’n Crunch. Then Quisp flew off to his home planet, and Quake got a sidekick, the Aussie-accented Orange Quangaroo. “G’day, yer little grommets! I’m the Orange Quangaroo from Queanbeyan ! Or am I the Orange Quangaroo from Orange? Ah, piss off, yer bastids, or I’ll bloody well give you one…!”.

  • Old enough to remember when these first appeared. Enjoyed the commercials, but rarely ate the cereal — I think our parents found it a bit too sugary. Maybe it was my advancing age, but I thought they weren’t as funny when the Crunchberry Beast replaced Seadog.

    Later there were two cereals, Quake and Quisp, that had what I assumed were Jay Ward ads. The deal there was the two mascots competing to rescue various folk in distress, musiclebound Quake positioning himself as hearty strength and space alien Quisp as speed and energy. Quake was redesigned as slimmer and fit and they made that part of a commercial.

    The last ones I remember were for King Vitamin, originally promoted with a silent live-action king and the slogan “Have breakfast with the king”. The animated spots had a short king and a cowardly knight protecting the cereal from evildoers.

  • I believe the last original Jay Ward-produced commercials for Quaker were for Aunt Jemima frozen waffles, featuring the “Waffle Whiffer” as the villain, who would say “Waffle Waffle” whenever the smell of toasting waffles reached his nose and then would try to steal them, only to get foiled in the end, like the Trix rabbit. Of course, there was the obligatory “part of a nutritious breakfast” verbiage and table setting scene inserted into the script by this time.

  • Are you kidding??? I loved eating Cap’n Crunch cereal and I liked Cap’n Crunch with Crunchberries even more! Of course, I haven’t had it for about 30 years, but … still! The commercials were great! I remember when the censors started acting wacky, and the Jay Ward writers started striking back as best they could, with putting gloves on pirate swords and what not! Nice article, Jim!

  • Isn’t that William Conrad ,narrator of ROCKY and DUDLEY DOORIGHT doing the announcement at the beginning?

  • I was about to ask the same question.

  • I remember those Aunt Jemima commercials. His full name was Wallace the Waffle Whiffer.

  • I could have sworn that the first Cap’n Crunch TV ad had the Guppy parked in an old-time grocery store with Crunch telling him about the new cereal with the greatest sugar-sweet taste “you ever battened down your hatch”. That was ’63.

  • “Seadog’s bosun whistle”

    Is that the one people used to get free long distance calls?

  • @JEFF JACOBSON

    Yeah, that was the whistle (until 1980). John Draper, the guy who discovered that application, is still alive as I write this. You can look up his bio on Wikipedia

  • DBENSON – that should be “King Vitaman” which bit the dust last year

  • Loved the cereal, but it gave me gas.

  • My favorites was the spoof of Timex commercials where they drained a lake and filled it with milk.

    A few years ago, Burns made a personal appearance at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, where he groused that “that stuff has been poisoning kids for 50 years.” Afterwards in the lobby, I told him I’d been eating it for 50 years and felt just fine. He smiled wryly and said, “Well, good for you.”

  • Ha, the pandemic quest for comfort foods brought me & my wife back to Cap’n Crunch, which we are still buying & enjoying as an evening sweet snack!

    And yes, I’m old enough to remember the commercials, though I wasn’t sophisticated enough at the time to connect the style with Rocky and Bullwinkle. The lightheartedness and humor contrasts painfully with today’s relentless hard sells.

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