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.