Saturday, 19 October 2013

And Then I Created...

It’s almost impossible to discuss Bob Clampett without the topic of The Letter coming up. “The Letter” was written by Chuck Jones, disputing claims Clampett made in a 1969 interview with historian Mike Barrier about creating or developing most of the major cartoon characters at the Leon Schlesinger studio.

Clampett directed some great cartoons. But there’s no question that in the days before animation historians began digging through the life of the Warner Bros. cartoons (and 1969 certainly falls in that time period), Clampett either somewhat stretched the truth or let reporters make assumptions about his career. A great example is in a story originally published in the Dallas Times Herald in 1977 when Clampett was on a tour of college campuses with drawings, reels of cartoons and his helmet hair. Today, anyone somewhat knowledgeable about the Warners studio will look at claims of a Clampett Oscar and wonder “What the …?” Or that Clampett created characters for Walt Disney Productions, let alone worked for Disney in 1920 when Walt was in Kansas City and Clampett was 7. The story was syndicated by the Los Angeles Times service and this version was found in a newspaper of February 27th with the accompanying photo.

What’s Up, Doc? A Daffy Career

ARLINGTON, Tex.—“I tot I taw a puddy tat.”
“What’s up, doc?”
Tweety Bird and Bugs Bunny recently lectured at the University of Texas at Arlington.
So did Beany and Cecil, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Sylvester and Elmer Fudd.
That wascally wabbit and his friends actually weren’t there. But their creator, Bob Clampett, was.
Clampett created the characters while working for Walt Disney Productions from 1920 to 1930. He then become a creator of characters for Warner Bros. until he quit in 1946 to open his own Hollywood studio to make television films and commercials.
He won three Emmys for Beany and Cecil and an Oscar for Tweety.
“Tweety was patterned after my baby pictures,” says Clampett.
His mother had a picture of him naked on a bear skin rug.
“It was embarrassing, but that’s where I got the idea for Tweety’s form—round and naked,” Clampett says.
He lamented that cartoons are not what they used to be.
“Now people look at the things we did and say they are classic,” says the high school dropout. They don’t make them like that anymore. They were walkie-talkies back then. Walked a little and talked a lot. But today on Saturday mornings, there is no idealistic push. Ideas are limited.”
Clampett admits there is some violence in cartoons today but in his days at Warner Bros. and Disney Productions, it was “classic slapstick.”
“When Tweety put a firecracker under Sylvester and he exploded, kids knew he would be back in the next cartoon,” he says. “And that’s how we got some of our ideas back then. I would sneak up to someone hard at work and put a firecracker under his chair and he would go to the ceiling.”
In touching on the history of American animation, he compares Felix the Cat to the X-rated cartoon Fritz the Cat and says animation is a medium.
“It can do anything your mind and pencil tell you to do,” he says.
While a high school student in California in 1920, Clampett designed and made a Mickey Mouse doll after Disney created the character. “I got a chance to see Walt one day and walked in and he went crazy over the doll,” says Clampett, who already had begun a comic strip career at age 12. “He hired me as a creator.”
He dropped out of school and soon was working with such greats as Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny.
Does Clampett have a favorite among his creations?
“They become very real to you,” he replies. “It’s like you have 20 kids and someone asks you which one you love the best. You love them all.”

I can’t remember where I first read about Clampett’s claims and Jones’ outrage; I keep thinking it was in Leonard Maltin’s Of Mice and Magic, as that’s the first real animation history book I bought. But I never saw a copy of the interview or Jones’ rebuttal until years later, thanks to the internet. And that same internet today can let you see it. Mike Barrier has posted the interview, his remarks about it and a link to Bob Clampett Jr.’s comments about it HERE, and you can see The Letter with annotations by Tex Avery HERE.


  1. Since you are so perplexed by the statement that Clampett worked for Walt Disney in 1920, which any moron knows could not had possibly happened -- do you suppose that the article you are quoting fucked up with a major typo?

    Clampett told this story his entire life of creating Mickey Mouse dolls when he was a teen and attempted to sell them (his Mom helped work on them). He never professed to work for Walt.

    You are a fount of mis-information. I've never stumbled across your blog before and don't expect to ever again but you need to stop writing and spend a little time doing research.
    You are an embarrassment with all of your faux outrage.

    Gary Johnson

    1. He isn't expressing "faux outrage", merely stating a lot of the false information in this article is result of a mixture of misreporting and Clampett's earlier misinformation. Your condemnation of this veritable fount of properly researched information is beyond ridiculous.

  2. The book you may be thinking of id The American Animated Cartoon edited by Gerald & Danny Peary (The one with the god-awful unauthorized drawing of Woody Woodpecker on the cover) in the chapter, Robert Clampett by Patrick Mcgilligan.

  3. Thanks, Gerard. That'd be it.

  4. There is a typo (after Walt Disney had created the character) it's supposed to be 1930 not 1920.