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Subject: Joe Harris, Creator of the Trix Rabbit and Producer of 'Underdog"

Dies at 89
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Date Posted: Tuesday, April 04, 09:49:37pm


Joe Harris, a commercial illustrator who envisioned and drew enduring cartoon characters like Underdog and the Trix cereal rabbit in the 1950s and ’60s, died on March 26 at his home in Stamford, Conn. He was 89.

His death was confirmed by his daughter Merrie Harris.

In the 1950s Mr. Harris worked at the advertising firm Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, drawing cartoon mascots and storyboards to sell products like General Mills cereals and Bounty paper towels.

In the late 1950s he created a floppy-eared white cartoon rabbit to sell Trix, a fruit-flavored, multicolored version of General Mills’s more popular Kix. He also drew a storyboard and wrote ad copy, including “Silly rabbit! Trix are for kids,” words that became synonymous with the cereal.

After seeing Mr. Harris’s ideas in 1959, Chet Stover, who was creative director on the Trix account, wrote a memo to the company that said, “In a business where the only thing we have to sell are ideas, it is of first importance the credit is given where credit belongs — and Joe gets all the credit for this one.”

Mr. Harris joined Mr. Stover, W. Watts Biggers, an account manager at Dancer, and Treadwell Covington, who worked at a direct-mail agency, to form Total TeleVision, a company that would make Saturday morning cartoons to compete for General Mills’s business with cartoons by Jay Ward and Bill Scott, who created a show centering on Rocky & Bullwinkle.

Mr. Stover and Mr. Biggers were the main writers; Mr. Covington handled audio recording; and Mr. Harris drew storyboards and designed characters like King Leonardo, Klondike Kat and Tennessee Tuxedo.

The best known of these characters was Underdog, who was transformed from a canine version of a shoeshiner into a superhero, usually when the reporter Sweet Polly Purebred was threatened by villains, including the evil scientist Simon Bar Sinister and the natty wolf gangster Riff Raff. Mr. Harris drew Underdog as an unlikely hero, a noodle-armed dog engulfed in a baggy red suit and blue cape.
“Underdog was a bumbler,” Mr. Harris told The Fresno Bee in 2007. “He would catch the crook whether he knew how he did it or not.”

“The Underdog Show,” whose title character was voiced by the actor Wally Cox, won a prime Saturday morning slot on NBC and debuted in 1964. He was a hit with young audiences, and Mr. Harris helped turn the character into a balloon for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade the next year.

The balloon, reruns and a catchy theme song helped the show live on for years after Total TeleVision stopped making new episodes in the late 1960s. A live-action “Underdog” film, starring Jason Lee as the voice of a canine hero played by a real beagle, was released in 2007. (Though the cartoon Underdog resembled a beagle, Mr. Harris said that he had not based the character on any particular breed.)

Joseph Benjamin Harris III was born to Charlie Harris and Gladys Golden in Jersey City on Jan. 5, 1928. He served in the Navy and the Marines and graduated from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn before he started at Dancer.

He married Janet Opel in 1957. She died in 1981, and in 1983 he married Vanessa Campbell, who died in 2002.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by two more daughters, Joelle Malec and Sophie Harris; a stepbrother, David; and three grandchildren.

After Total TeleVision stopped making cartoons, Mr. Harris returned to advertising and later wrote and illustrated children’s books, among them “The Belly Book.”

He said interest in the “Underdog” show remained high, even decades after the last episode ran. As he told The Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina in 2007, “Anytime I’m out in public, people always say, ‘Here’s a piece of paper, draw Underdog for me, will you?’”

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Subject Author Date
IMDbLinkTuesday, April 04, 09:56:26pm
Silly Rabbit, Trix Is For The Kids! (NT)David S.Wednesday, April 05, 12:54:38pm

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