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Buck Biggers, 85; created Underdog, Tennessee Tuxedo

Buck Biggers was in character for a 2008 performance benefit to fight violence at the Hampshire House in Boston.

John Bohn/Globe Staff

Buck Biggers was in character for a 2008 performance benefit to fight violence at the Hampshire House in Boston.

NEW YORK — W. Watts “Buck” Biggers — who with his partner, Chet Stover, created the 1960s cartoon “Underdog” and wrote its infectious theme song — died Feb. 10 at his home in Manomet, Mass., a village in Plymouth. He was 85.

The cause was a heart attack, said his longtime companion, Nancy Purbeck of Plymouth and Boston.

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Mr. Biggers was an account manager at the advertising firm Dancer Fitzgerald Sample in the early 1960s when he and Stover, a copywriter, began conceiving a cartoon show to advertise General Mills cereals.

Mr. Biggers and Stover considered dozens of ideas, but nothing seemed right. They knew that they would be competing for a slot with Jay Ward and Bill Scott, who had created “Rocky & Bullwinkle.”

Underdog was a cartoon superhero.

General Mills

Underdog was a cartoon superhero.

“We were going to be the underdog,” Mr. Biggers recalled saying to Stover. The idea stuck.

Underdog, who worked as a humble shoe shiner but transformed into a superhero whenever reporter Sweet Polly Purebred was threatened, won the spot.

Voiced by character actor Wally Cox, Underdog spoke in rhyming couplets (“There’s no need to fear; Underdog is here”) and battled such villains as evil scientist Simon Bar Sinister and wolf gangster Riff Raff. The show had Underdog segments interspersed with other cartoon characters like the Go Go Gophers and Tennessee Tuxedo.

“Underdog” made its debut on NBC in 1964 and proved so popular that Mr. Biggers and Stover left advertising to start a production company, Total Television, with Joe Harris and Treadwell Covington. They wrote more than 100 episodes of “Underdog,” and Mr. Biggers, the composer of the group, wrote the theme music for the cartoons. (He also credited his partners Stover, Harris, and Covington.)

The show is syndicated worldwide, and an Underdog balloon has appeared in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. A live action movie based on the cartoon and starring Jason Lee as the voice of Underdog, was released in 2007.

The theme song pops up in unexpected places. The Blanks a cappella group performed an extended version of the song on the sitcom “Scrubs,” and the hip-hop artist RZA sampled it on the album “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).”

Sweet Polly Purebred was a TV reporter and love interest.

General Mills

Sweet Polly Purebred was a TV reporter and love interest.

William Watts Biggers was born on June 2, 1927, in Atlanta to Rosemary and Bascom Biggers, a big band leader. In addition to Purbeck, Mr. Biggers leaves a daughter, Victoria of Sandwich; a son, W. Watts Jr. of Falmouth; a brother, Bascom III of Chagrin Falls, Ohio; Purbeck’s children, Andrea Condon of Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., and Jeffrey Turgeon of Keene, N.H.; and Purbeck’s four grandchildren. His wife of 39 years, Grace, died in 1989.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. April 6 in St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sandwich.

Mr. Biggers went to work for NBC in the late 1970s and left in 1984 to focus on writing.

In his retirement, he and Purbeck became involved in creating a day that promoted small acts of kindness in Boston. Called “Positive People Day,’’ it has been celebrated on Oct. 29 and supported by a nonprofit group the two started, Victory over ­Violence.

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