Underdog co-creator dies at 85
William Watts Biggers, best known for helping make “Underdog” a children’s Saturday morning cartoon favorite from General Mills, died last week at the age of 85, at his home in Massachusetts.
“Buck,” as he was known, was the co-creator of the cartoon. Biggers was working for Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, an advertising agency in New York, when we asked the agency to create television cartoons (the titles included “King Leonardo” and “Tennessee Tuxedo”).
In 1964, “Underdog” premiered on NBC, wearing his blue cape and red suit adorned with the letter “U.”
In true Superman fashion, Underdog was, according to an Associated Press report, a “mild-mannered canine shoeshine boy who turned into a superhero.”
In 1964, our employee publication, “The Modern Millwheel,” announced Underdog’s debut:
Underdog is, naturally, a dog. In his regular life, he is a shoe shine boy – er – dog. But, let someone be in distress, and he rushes into a telephone booth, dons a special robe, gains superhuman – er – canine powers and is off to the rescue.
He was famous for his rhyming dialogue, including: “There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here.” His girlfriend, “Sweet Polly Purebred,” was also central to the cartoon.
Underdog was also involved in advertising, like this spot for Cheerios.
Buck Biggers helped write and produce the stories. He also sang in the chorus that performed the Underdog theme song.
In fact, in “Buck’ Biggers: 5 Fun Facts About ‘Underdog’ and Its Co-Creator” on the AARP blog, Patrick Kiger writes that “Biggers was really a songwriter at heart.” He moved to New York City at age 20 “with dreams of becoming a pianist and songwriter.”
Biggers worked with artist Joseph Harris and fellow executives Treadwell Covington and Chet Stover, on several programs for General Mills.
After working on our behalf, he went on to become vice president of promotion and creative services at NBC. He also wrote for several publications and wrote several novels.
Underdog remained in syndication for years. I recall watching it as a kid in the 70s.
His obituary in The New York Times says Biggers knew Underdog would face some touch competition for a morning TV time slot against other talented cartoon creators: “We were going to be the underdog,” Mr. Biggers recalled saying to Mr. Stover. The idea stuck, giving birth to Underdog …
A story about Biggers in the New York Daily News says he stayed close to television nostalgia in recent years and appreciated “the enduring popularity of Underdog,” and “that Underdog became a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.”
In 2007, you might remember there also was an Underdog movie from Disney.
In reading some of the obituaries and articles about Biggers and Underdog this weekend, it’s clear to me that Underdog was certainly a well-loved character from the moment it debuted.
The cartoon is a celebrated part of our company’s history and our hearts are with the family and friends of Buck Biggers as they remember him, and the legacy of his creative career.
Editor’s note: The General Mills Archives provided information and images for this post. You can learn more about our past on GeneralMills.com. Have a question about General Mills’ history? Send our Archives team an email.