Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Buzzard Wrestling With Ernie Gee

There’s a beautifully drawn sequence in “Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid” where Beaky Buzzard tackles Bugs Bunny, they wrestle and it turns into a dance. These are just a few of the drawings. Bugs seems to be enjoying it all.

Bugs does almost a 360 degree turn in perspective. This is the first part of it. The drawings (and others) are re-used in the scene.

The story is attributed to Warren Foster, but Clampett told historian Mike Barrier that isn’t quite true. The explanation was contained on one of the Looney Tunes DVDs and I am taking the liberty of transcribing it. As a background note—near the start of 1937, Leon Schlesinger sub-contracted Ub Iwerks to make a couple of cartoons for him and sent over Clampett to watch over things. It, more or less, became a corporate takeover. Boxoffice magazine announced on May 22, 1937 that Schlesinger’s brother-in-law Ray Katz would get his own unit of 35 to make 10 Looney Tunes for the coming season in a separate building (on Santa Monica Boulevard) from the Schlesinger studio. The following week, Boxoffice revealed Bob Clampett, who it called Schlesinger’s “chief animator,” would be the director.

Clampett: When I started at Iwerks, and then when I took over, I had no gag man for five, six, seven pictures, something like that. Then Ray Katz brought some guy in he wanted me to use. And I said “I really don’t need him.” The fun to me was “Hey, I’m going to write my own stories.” You know, I’d make, when I was driving at home at night I had a pad and I would be thinking and jotting down ideas. I remember doing that on “What Price Porky?”, you know, the spot gags.
But he brought me a guy, I think it was Howard Baldwin, who was kind of a slow, heavy, I don’t mean heavy-built, but sort of a stolid guy with no bounce. He was there for a very few days and I went to Katz and said “Gee, I’m not going to get results this way,” and he sent him over to the other studio.”
He still says to me “Well, you got so much else to do, you ought to have somebody help you on the story.” So that was the time that I said “Well, I got a friend that I knew in school that we used to always think up a lot of funny stuff together,” which was Ernie Gee, Flash Gee. And he’s working in a grocery store, making very little money, so he says, “Well, maybe give him 25 a week or something like that.” So, suddenly, here comes Ernie, who couldn’t draw but he’s sitting in the room by himself, you know, and his dad—who I knew for years—his dad said, “Well, what do you do all day, son?” He said, “I’m thinking up ideas, I’m thinking up gags.” And the dad, who was a plasterer, very practical guy thought, you know, this is no way to make a living, he never could stand it. And he finally got him to go back into being an inspector for the city and that’s the way he retired.
Ernie wasn’t really a guy, a writer, he wasn’t a guy who could consciously sit down and think up a story, or even hardly gags, but when you talked to him, it came fast. A lot of times I’d be so busy in the daytime with the animators that I’d say “Hey, Flash, can we do it tonight?” So we’d go off at night, maybe go over to some place that had night ping-pong, and we’d play a few games of ping-pong and keep talking story. Sit in the drive-ins.
I know even after Flash was no longer with us, I was doing the Beaky story, you know, the Snerd Bird, “Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid.” And I wasn’t satisfied the way it was going at the studio. Warren, I think, was working on it, but he didn’t seem to have a feel for it. And it was getting behind, so I called up Flash who was back working somewhere else, and I said, “Hey, I’d sure like you to help me on a story tonight.” And I picked him up and we went to a drive-in in Glendale, sat there for three or four hours, and talked out the first three-quarters of that picture, from the beginning scene of the mother bird to about when they went into the dance. It was all finished. Later, I walked to a night club and saw a guy in an Air Force outfit and went up to him and his girl and I said “Can I ask you something?” and I got the lingo about “Come and be my Queen.” [?]
But the story was finally well-written at night. So that was Flash. He was a very good man used in the right way.

Any fan what wants to know about life and the people inside the Warner Bros. cartoon studio should gobble up any interviews Mike Barrier graciously puts on his web site. He has some excellent transcriptions of his talks with director Bob McKimson, animator Phil Monroe and writer Lloyd Turner, among others. They are invaluable. You can see a composite interview with Clampett here.

Ernest Gee was born on January 18, 1914 near Chicago, Illinois, the son of Ernie Sydney and Lillian M. (Bell) Gee. Both his parents were English. His father was from Leicester and arrived in the U.S. a single man in April 1909. They were living in Nebraska about 1912, as that’s where Ernie’s older brother was born. The 1940 Census reports Ernie was living with his parents in Glendale, but doesn’t say where he was working (and the 1939 employment numbers are almost certainly wrong, unless he made $1000 in four weeks).

Ernie died in San Clemente, California, on June 22, 1987.


  1. Interesting! I really love the animation of Bugs and Beaky dancing together too.

  2. Unlike the later scene, where we're not clued in that Bugs knows the cattle bones aren't his, Clampett has him do a 'peek' at Beaky behind the cactus here. So in this one, Bob and Bugs basically let the audience in on the impending gag from the outset (which also allows it to look like Bugs is enjoying himself without confusing the audience about why he's happy to be flung around by Beaky), while in the later gag, Clampett makes it painful for the rabbit and uncomfortable for the audience before the rabbit's feet come out of the ground.