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There's No Need to Fear...

June 11, 2009

Who knew that the mild-mannered canine Shoeshine Boy would actually be the noble super-pooch Underdog? With an oversized "U" emblazoning the bodice of his costume and a dramati, too-long cape flapping behind him, Underdog was just the kind of squaresville superhero the psychedlic baddies of the '60s and '70s least expected.

Fighting the likes of Simon and Cad ("Bad, Bad, Bad!") and Riff Raff, first at NBC from 1964 to 1966 and then as part of CBS' Super Saturday Cavalcade, Underdog's puny physique somehow worked to his advantage. He managed to foil as many criminal pursuits as his unwitting nemeses could bungle.

Underdog returned to NBC in 1968 and stayed there until 1973. By the end of his run, he'd been keeping TV reporter Sweet Polly Purebred safe and competing for her affection for nearly a decade. He left several merchandising efforts in his wake, including comics, action figures, lunchboxes and activity sets.

And you'll notice, we didn't even mention the movie.

Underdog was an anthropomorphic superhero parody of Superman and similar heroes with secret identities. The premise was that "humble and lovable" Shoeshine Boy, a cartoon dog, was in truth the superhero Underdog. George S. Irving narrated, and comedy actor Wally Cox provided the voices of both Underdog and Shoeshine Boy. When villains threatened, Shoeshine Boy ducked into a telephone booth where he transformed into the caped and costumed hero, destroying the booth in the process when his super powers were activated. Underdog almost always spoke in rhyme:

When Polly's in trouble, I am not slow,
So it's hip! hip! hip! and away I go.

Underdog's most frequent saying when he appeared was:
There's no need to fear,
Underdog is here!

The majority of episodes used a common template when Underdog first reveals himself. A crowd of people look up in the sky would say, "Look in the sky. It's a plane! It's a bird!," after which an old woman wearing glasses exclaims, "It's a frog!" Another onlooker responds, "A frog?" To this, Underdog replies with these words:

Not plane, nor bird, nor even frog,
It's just little old me, (at this point, Underdog crashes into something) Underdog.

Underdog usually caused a lot of collateral damage. Whenever someone complained about the damage, Underdog replied:

I am a hero who never fails.
I cannot be bothered with such details.

The villains almost always managed to menace Sweet Polly Purebred (voiced by Norma MacMillan), an anthropomorphic canine TV reporter, as part of their nefarious schemes; she was a helpless damsel in distress most of the time, and had a habit of singing in a somewhat whining tone of voice, "Oh where, oh where has my Underdog gone?", which she sings to the tune of the song "Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone" when in jeopardy. Recurring villains included:

Simon Bar Sinister (voiced by Allen Swift impersonating Lionel Barrymore) - A mad scientist with a voice reminiscent of Lionel Barrymore. He has an assistant named Cad Lackey. A 'Barre Sinister' is a diagonal line on medieval family crests indicating the person is a bastard by birth - a clever inside joke typical of animation writing at the time. Riff Raff (also voiced by Allen Swift) - An anthropomorphic wolf gangster based on noted actor George Raft. His mafia consists of Sandy the Safecracker, Mooch (the Mafia's top gunman), Spinny Wheels (who drives the Mafia's getaway car), Dinah Myte (the Mafia's greatest bomb tosser), the new members, Nails the Carpenter, Needles the Tailor, Smitty the Blacksmith, the Witch Doctor and other unnamed members. Other villains include The Electric (Slippery) Eel, Battyman, Tap-Tap the Chisler, and Overcat. Underdog also regularly faced enemies from alien worlds, such as the Marbleheads from Planet Granite, the Magnet Planet, home to the Magnet Men, the Planet of Zot, and the Saucer Planet, home to the Flying Sorcerers.

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