Artist Joe Harris, who created Underdog, the Trix Rabbit, and many other cartoon characters, died at the age of 89. He passed away March 26, at his home in Stamford, CT.
Photo by Sophie Harris, illustrations by or based on the work of Joe Harris
Joe Harris was born in Jersey City, NJ, on Jan. 5, 1928. He served his country honorably in the U. S. Navy and the United States Marine Corps. He studied art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn before becoming a commercial illustrator for Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, one of New York City’s most successful advertising firms.
I was the supervisor of animation for all of General Mills’ products. This included all of their cereals and sulfurizing flour, and Gold Metal, and all of that.
Joe Harris not only created the Trix Rabbit for General Mills, he also came up with the slogan: “Silly Rabbit! Trix are for kids.” His friend and long-time colleague, Chet Stover, made sure that Harris was given full credit for his work.
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…. I want you to know that I have long held the opinion that any bum can draw, but only writers can think. I still hold this opinion and offer as an explanation of Joe’s performance that he is basically a copy writer and somehow fell in with evil companions.
Harris, Stover, and their Dancer Fitzgerald Sample co-worker W. Watts “Buck” Biggers, later joined by Treadwell Covington, formed Total TeleVision. Buck Biggers did the music. Chet Stover did the writing. Joe Harris did the art. He was in charge of storyboard art and character design. He was also a producer, and co-wrote the Underdog theme song.
I was given the role of creating the characters, doing all of the storyboards for all of the episodes. Also, I had to oversee the production of the animation.
Which characters did Joe Harris design? King Leonardo, Odie Cologne, Tennessee Tuxedo, Klondike Kat, Tooter Turtle, Chief Running Board, Ruffled Feathers, and of course, Underdog and Sweet Polly Purebred. When Total TeleVision went out of business in 1969, Harris returned to the world of advertising. He wrote and illustrated the children’s book The Belly Book in 2008.
Joe Harris was twice married, to Janet Opel from 1957 – 1981, and to Vanessa Campbell from 1983 – 2002. He is survived by three daughters, Merrie Harris, Sophie Harris, and Joelle Malec and three grandchildren, and mourned by cartoon fans all over the globe.
Joseph Benjamin Harris, January 5, 1928 – March 26, 2017