Philadelphia, Pa. – February 25, 2014 – The DreamWorks Animation motion picture, “Mr. Peabody & Sherman,” which opens in theatres nationwide on Friday, March 7th, contains the following credit: “Sherman and Peabody are based upon the characters and format created by Ted Key.”
Although his name is unfamiliar today, when Key created the characters that became Peabody and Sherman in the late 1950s, he was one of the best-known cartoonists in the country. The reason was “Hazel,” his comic panel about a bossy-but-warm-hearted maid that appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, a weekly general-circulation magazine published by the then-Philadelphia-based Curtis Publishing Co.
Hazel would shortly become even better known as the title character of a situation comedy that ran in prime time from 1961 through 1966, garnering its star, Shirley Booth, two Emmy Awards.
Key grew up in Fresno, Calif., graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1933, moved to New York two years later and spent the last 57 years of his life outside Philadelphia in Valley Forge, Pa.
Key’s involvement with Peabody and Sherman came at the behest of his brother, Leonard, who was trying to help his long-time friend Jay Ward land a sponsor for a cartoon show featuring a plucky flying squirrel named Rocky and a dimwitted moose named Bullwinkle.
Cereal maker General Mills agreed to sponsor the show, but wanted it to be a half hour. That meant Ward needed more characters. So, Leonard Key turned to Ted Key, who responded by creating a storyboard for an animated cartoon called “Johnny Daydream.” It featured a boy named Johnny Daydream and his pet, Beware the Dog, who traveled through time using devices on Johnny’s belt and Beware’s collar.
With input from Ward and his co-producer, writer and voice actor Bill Scott, the time-traveling boy and dog became a time-traveling dog and boy. Beware, who was a snooty, talking dog in the Johnny Daydream storyboard, morphed into Mr. Peabody, a genius dog scientist, and Johnny became his adopted boy, Sherman.
When “Rocky and His Friends” debuted in the fall of 1959, Peabody and Sherman were in it. The pair starred in 91 episodes of “Peabody’s Improbable History” over the next five years.
Key’s role in creating Peabody and Sherman wasn’t mentioned in the credits for “Rocky and His Friends,” but he was listed as a claimant in the copyright registrations for both characters, along with Ward and Scott.
Hazel ran in The Saturday Evening Post through 1969 and has been distributed to newspapers by King Features Syndicate since, even though Key stopped drawing it in 1993 and died in 2008. Eleven collections of Hazel cartoons have been published in book form. All five seasons of the Hazel TV show are available on DVD and the show airs in the United States on Antenna TV.
Key’s other notable creations include:
• Three children’s books published by E.P. Dutton & Co. – “So’M I,” “Phyllis” and “The Biggest Dog in the World,” which was the basis for the 1973 movie, “Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World;”
• The stories for three 1970s Walt Disney Co. movies, “The Million Dollar Duck,” “Gus” and “The Cat from Outer Space,” the last of which Key wrote the screenplay for and novelized;
• “Diz and Liz,” a two-page cartoon spread about a brother and sister that ran in Jack and Jill, Curtis Publishing’s monthly magazine for children, for much of the 1960s;
• “Positive Attitude Posters,” a line of motivational posters featuring Key’s cartoons that were sold to businesses biweekly from the mid 1960s through the end of the 20th century.
Key’s youngest son, Peter, wrote gags for the “Hazel” comic panel from 1975 through 1983 and, after getting an MBA, worked as a business journalist from 1985 through 2013, spending the last 15 years at the Philadelphia Business Journal. Peter Key talks about his father’s contribution to Peabody and Sherman in the new documentary currently streaming on Netflix documentary, “DreamWorks Presents: Mr. Peabody & Sherman – A Journey WABAC.”
For interviews with Peter Key about his father, Ted Key and his creations, please contact Jim DeLorenzo at 215-266-5943 or firstname.lastname@example.org.