Joe Harris, the commercial artist who helped to create the Trix rabbit and Underdog, passed away March 26 at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. He was 89.
While working in the 1950s at the Dancer Fitzgerald Sample advertising agency in New York City, Harris created Tricks, the iconic floppy-eared rabbit mascot for Trix cereal and came up with the slogan “Silly rabbit! Trix are for kids,” still used by the General Mills brand today.
He later joined with fellow Dancer employees Chet Stover and W. Watts Biggers, as well as Treadwell Covington, to found Total TeleVision, a company devoted to creating Saturday morning cartoons to help sell General Mills products. With Stover and Bigger writing the scripts, Harris drew the storyboards and designed the characters, including King Leonardo, Tennessee Tuxedo, Klondike Cat and, most memorably, Underdog.
Debuting in 1964, Underdog was the alter ego of the mild-mannered Shoeshine Boy, who transformed into a superhero whenever his love interest, the reporter Sweet Polly Purebred, faced danger at the hands of such delightfully named villains as Simon Bar Sinister and Riff Raff. Donning his red costume and blue cape, Underdog would arrive on the scene with the declaration, “There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here!”
Airing first on NBC and then in syndication, “The Underdog Show” was a hit, with Harris helping to transform its star into a balloon in 1965 for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
After Total TeleVision stopped producing cartoons, Harris returned to advertising, and later wrote and illustrated children’s books.
He’s survived by three daughters, a stepbrother and three grandchildren.
(via The New York Times)