George R. Newall (pictured top, right), an advertising executive, songwriter, and one of five co-creators of Schoolhouse Rock!, died on November 30 at a hospital near his home in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. He was 88.
Newall died of cardiopulmonary arrest; his wife Lisa Maxwell confirmed to the New York Times.
Schoolhouse Rock, a series of educational and musical animated shorts, ran from 1973 to 1984 – about 40 shorts were produced during that time, and again from 1993 to 1996. Additional episodes were also later produced for a direct-to-video release in 2009. Over the course of its broadcast runs, the program won four Emmy Awards.
The concept for the series came about when Newall and longtime creative partner Thomas Yohe were working at the McCaffrey & McCall ad agency in New York. Newall, a copywriter who also played the piano, was asked by their boss David McCall to set multiplication tables to music for his son who couldn’t figure out multiplication but “can sing along with Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones.”
Newall went out and recruited songwriter Bob Dorough, who put together “Three is a Magic Number” over the next two weeks. Impressed by the earworm, Yohe, an agency art director and cartoonist, produced illustrations and storyboards for an animated short to accompany the song.
Rad Stone, who described himself as the “suit” among the show’s five creators, produced the entire project and eventually pitched it to his contacts at ABC. Stone took Dorough’s song and Yohe’s artwork to ABC children’s programming head Michael Eisner, who was working on the educational variety show Curiosity Shop, produced by Warner Bros. animation legend Chuck Jones. Newall and Yohe recalled what happened at the meeting with Eisner and Jones:
We played Bob’s demo tape and presented our storyboard, frame by frame. At song’s end, Mike turned to Chuck and said, “What do you think?” Chuck’s reply: “Buy it!” And that’s how easy it is to get into show business!
In 1996, during his time as chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, Eisner acquired the series again when his company finalized a deal to purchase Capital Cities/ABC.
Beyond its educational value, Schoolhouse Rock! proved a cultural touchstone for generations of kids for whom the show was as much a part of their Saturday morning rituals as bowls of sugary cereal and sleeping in. The shorts used colorful animation and clever songs set to catchy jingles to educate kids on grammar, government, math, history, and more, but most in the audience had no idea they were learning, or at least they didn’t care, because Schoolhouse Rock! was fun.
Iconic tracks from the series include “Three is a Magic Number,” “Conjunction Junction,” and “How a Bill Becomes a Law.” Newall is credited as songwriter on several Schoolhouse Rock! songs, including “Unpack Your Adjectives,” “The Energy Blues,” and “Presidential Minute.”
The Schoolhouse Rock! IP went on to spawn books, records, and countless parodies over the years. For the show’s 50th anniversary in 2023, two books are being released – Art of Coloring: Schoolhouse Rock! and an update to the 1996 book Schoolhouse Rock!: The Updated Official Guide, co-written by Newall and Yohe. Disney, will also host a primetime special celebrating the show and its cultural impact.
Newall was born in Lakewood, New Jersey, in 1934. After serving for two years in the U.S. Army’s 11th Airborne Division Band at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, he started attending Florida State University in 1955. While in school, he won Florida Composers League awards in 1958, 1959 and 1960, and he earned a bachelor’s in music composition in 1960.
Following graduation, Newall moved to New York City and took an entry-level job in the mailroom of an ad agency. That was the start of a forty-year career in advertising that included stints at Ogilvy and Mather; Wells, Rich, Greene; Grey Advertising; and McCaffrey and McCall.
Among Newall’s biggest advertising hits was Hai Karate, one of the most popular men’s self-care products introduced in the 1960s.
Newall also wrote dozens of spots for Atari starring Alan Alda when that company made a push into home computing in the early 1980s:
In 1978, he and Yohe launched their own animation production company and won an Emmy for the NBC series Drawing Power, another educational series aimed at kids.
Newall is survived by his wife, artist and singer Lisa Chapman Maxwell; stepson, Lake Woloskery; and sisters Jessie Newall Bissey, Kathy Newall Hogan and Anne Newall Kimmel.
Pictured at top: Tom Yohe and George Newall