Crusader Rabbit with Rags the Tiger. From a 1957 comic book.


Medium: TV animation
Produced by: Television Arts Productions
First Appeared: 1948
Creators: Jay Ward and Alexander Anderson Jr.
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Television's first cartoon series, Crusader Rabbit, embodied everything bad that came to be associated with TV animation. It was quickly and imperfectly …

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… produced on a budget that wouldn't have bought lunch at Disney, it repeated the same episodes over and over, and its animation was limited almost to the point of stasis. It had only one saving grace — its young viewers thought it was funny.

The first glimmerings of Crusader Rabbit (no relation) came when Alexander Anderson Jr., a nephew and employee of animation mogul Paul Terry, tried to interest the Terrytoons studio in producing cartoons for the fledgling television medium. When Terry rejected the idea, Anderson approached a friend, Jay Ward, who was then a successful real estate agent, to provide financing. Ward provided more than just money — as it worked out, he and Anderson were equally responsible for development of the series. It was test-marketed in 1948, as part of a oneshot titled The Comic Strips of Television. Another segment of that show was Dudley Do-Right.

Crusader's basic formula was simple — humorous adventure stories told (by narrator Roy Whaley) in short episodes, with cliffhangers, about a little smart hero (Crusader Rabbit, voiced by Lucille Bliss, who many years later was the voice of Smurfette), a big dumb hero (Rags the Tiger, voiced by Vern Loudon), and an inept recurring villain (Dudley Nightshade, no relation, her either, voiced by Russ Coughlin). Ward would later become famous for another animated TV series with that very same formula — Rocky & Bullwinkle.

Starting in 1949, black and white Crusader Rabbit shorts began being added to the mix of theatrical cartoons appearing regularly on children's shows. It didn't matter that they were poorly produced — the video technology of the era made everything look that way. Episodes would appear daily, but storylines would stretch out for weeks, encouraging kids to tune in again to see how Crusader and Rags would get out of their current scrape.

Production ended in 1951, after 195 episodes had been made, and the creators went on to other things — in Ward's case, bigger and better ones. The series was revived in 1957 (this time in color), and ran another 260 episodes; but without its creators (who had sold their interest in the characters), it never recaptured its earlier charm. The color episodes appeared in syndicated reruns as recently as the early 1980s.

Crusader and Rags appeared in only two comic books — nos. 735 and 805 of Dell's Four-Color Comics series (1956-57). Copies are not hotly traded, but they turn up once in a while — as does an occasional Crusader Rabbit video, usually in the bargain bin. Other than that, Crusader and Rags are just a fondly but dimly remembered bit of baby boom memorabilia.


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