George Newall, who was an advertising agency creative director in the early 1970s when he helped create what would become one of TV’s most beloved and educational children’s titles with Schoolhouse Rock!, died Nov. 30 at a hospital near his home in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY. He was 88.
His death was announced to The New York Times by his wife Lisa Maxwell, who said the cause was cardiopulmonary arrest.
The series of interstitial animated shorts that ran on Saturday mornings from 1973-84 (later revived in the ’90s) got their start in the early 1970s when ad exec David McCall of the McCaffrey & McCall asked Newall, the agency’s creative director, to set multiplication tables to music to assist McCall’s young son. Newall soon assembled a songwriting team that included Ben Tucker and Bob Dorough, and their output quickly inspired the agency’s art director Tom Yohe to add illustrations.
The end result was a series of short films that the agency presented to client Michael Eisner, then-director of children’s programming at ABC, and Schoolhouse Rock! was born. The shorts, presented during the network’s Saturday morning cartoon block, would include such inspired titles as “Conjunction Junction,” “I’m Just a Bill” and “Three Is a Magic Number” and win four Emmy Awards.
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With its whimsical approach to educational content, Schoolhouse Rock! became a generational touchstone of the 1970s and ’80s, teaching young viewers about grammar, science, math, civics, history and economics. It also generated a number of spinoffs including Grammar Rock, America Rock and Science Rock.
Newall and Yohe co-wrote Schoolhouse Rock! The Official Guide in 1996, the same year Eisner’s Walt Disney Company acquired the franchise. Rhino Records also released a soundtrack album that year, which was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry in 2018.
McCall died in 1999, Yohe in 2000, Tucker in 2013 and Dorough in 2018.
Newall is survived by his wife, a stepson, and three sisters.