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‘Hazel’ creator Ted Key passes at age 95

Ted Key, who created the beloved, bossy maid Hazel in the 1940s, the iconic time-traveling cartoon characters Peabody and Sherman, and the television characters Rocky and Bullwinkle, died Saturday at his home in Tredyffrin Township, Pa., outside Philadelphia. He was 95.

“Ted Key’s wonderful cartoons have been adored by millions of readers for decades,” said Brendan Burford, King Features comics editor. “We at King Features feel fortunate to have been able to represent the work of such a legendary cartoonist.”

In 1933, Mr. Key graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and moved to New York to freelance cartoons to the many magazines then based there. He also wrote for radio, penning a play called “The Clinic” that aired on NBC and was included in a book, “Best Broadcasts of 1939-40,” which was edited by Max Wylie.

Mr. Key’s big break came in 1943, when he sold a maid cartoon to The Saturday Evening Post, a national, weekly magazine put out by The Curtis Publishing Co., the giant publishing concern that had its headquarters in Philadelphia.

The maid quickly became a feature in The Post, acquiring the name of Hazel and a family, the Baxters, which employs her to this day. Her popularity grew so rapidly that when E.P. Dutton & Co. published the first collection of Hazel cartoons in 1946, it sold 500,000 copies, a huge number for the time.

By then, Mr. Key had moved to the Philadelphia area, where he bought his current house in 1951.

Dutton eventually published eight collections of Hazel cartoons in hardback. Bantam Books put out six of them in paperback and Curtis Books issued three other Hazel collections in paperback.

In 1961, Hazel got her own eponymous prime-time TV show, which ran for four years on NBC and one year on CBS. The show starred Shirley Booth, who won two Emmy Awards for her portrayal of the maid, making her the first actor to have won Emmy, Tony and Academy awards.

Mr. Key acquired the rights to Hazel from The Post in 1969, when Curtis succumbed to the financial trouble that led to its move to Indianapolis. That year, King Features Syndicate began distributing the comic panel to newspapers. It still does, using cartoons drawn by Mr. Key before he retired in 1993.

In addition to Hazel, Mr. Key created Diz and Liz for Curtis. The brother and sister appeared in a multi-panel cartoon in the company’s monthly children’s magazine, Jack and Jill, from 1961 through 1972. They also were featured in three books, two of which were collections of their Jack and Jill cartoons.

Despite Hazel’s popularity in her heyday, Mr. Key’s best-known creations today are probably Peabody and Sherman. Mr. Key came up with them for Jay Ward, a childhood friend of his brother, Leonard Key, who needed enough material to build a half-hour show around the adventures of a flying squirrel named Rocky and a moose named Bullwinkle.

Mr. Key was diagnosed with bladder cancer in late 2006 and suffered a stroke last September. He is survived by his second wife, Bonnie; his sons, Stephen of Providence, R.I., and David and Peter of Philadelphia; and three grandchildren. His first wife, Anne, passed away in 1984.

In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made to the American Cancer Society.

Community Comments

#1 Steve Greenberg
May/5/2008
@ 4:12 pm

Ted Key created Rocky and Bullwinkle?? I believe the characters were created by Alex Anderson and Jay Ward in Berkeley. What connection did Ted Key have to this?

#2 Alan Gardner
May/5/2008
@ 4:15 pm

Steve – see the third to last paragraph.

#3 Charles Brubaker
May/5/2008
@ 4:40 pm

Remember liking those “Peabody” segments (‘tho I loved just about anything Jay Ward produced, with the exception of “Aesop and Son”)

#4 Dawn Douglass
May/5/2008
@ 5:14 pm

Wow, I remember my parents watching Hazel when I was young.

And Peabody’s Improbable History was second only Fractured Fairy Tales on my list of Bullwinkle favorites.

95! Wow. Sounds like he had a great life.

#5 Larry Levine
May/5/2008
@ 5:17 pm

It’s a sad loss but Ted Key has left us one heck of a legacy! RIP

#6 Rich Diesslin
May/7/2008
@ 1:12 am

A legend for sure.

#7 Steven Rowe
May/8/2008
@ 7:20 pm

So, prior to his retirement, he produced enough new material to last at least 15 years?

#8 Charlotte Weinreich Leone
January/13/2009
@ 8:53 pm

Mr. Keys had me type some script for him at my work Executive Commons where we supply office services. He presented me with a hand drawn picture of “Hazel” and a notation to thank me.

Thank you Ted Keys for the lasting memory.

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