Saturday, 28 January 2017

Bugs Times Two

Want to read in the 1940s about animated cartoons? About all you got was Disney, Disney and Disney.

Here’s a feature story about Bugs Bunny from 1945. Remember, this is back in the days before there were such things as animation historians who compiled the facts about how things really happened. In 1945, Tex Avery wasn’t at Warners any more, so employees there felt no need to mention him at all in connection with Bugs. Thanks to people like Joe Adamson and Leonard Maltin and Jerry Beck, you couldn’t get away with that today.

But the most remarkable thing about this story is the quotes from it resurfaced 18 years later as if they had come from a brand-new interview. In fact, they appeared in a 1960 newspaper story as well—with different people cited as saying them.

We’ll post the 1963 story for comparison in a moment. First, the unbylined New York Times story from July 22, 1945.
It would be amusing, even though incorrect, to report that the popular cartoon character, Bugs Bunny, lives in a bottle of ink. Actually, he resides in the minds, imaginations, yes, even in the hearts, of the 200 men and women who produce him and make him cavort across the screen. Surprising though it may be, Bugs Bunny is both the slave and the master of those who plan his adventures, draw his 7,000-odd likenesses for each of his six to eight cartoons a year, and who stand ready to guard his morals, his manners and his methods of getting in and out of trouble.
He was created, by pencil sketch, some time in 1936 as an “extra” playing in an “Elmer” cartoon in which Elmer when hunting and the then unnamed rabbit was one of the intended victims. He was not an immediate hit. In fact, he had so little screen appeal at the time that he was practically forgotten for nearly two years. Then, early in 1938, the cartoon people at Warner Brothers were called upon to make an added picture in the briefest possible time. Some of the men involved in the task recall it as a “quickie.” The director and writers huddled over the possible development of a new character, and out of that huddle the rabbit who was to be named “Bugs Bunny” evolved.
“Steamlined” Bunny
It, too, was to be a hunting picture, Director I. Freling recalls, and that may have brought to mind the rabbit character which had appeared so briefly two years before. They decided to revamp the rabbit, “streamline him,” they explain, in both character and proportions, and to give him a voice and characteristics similar to the already popular “Daffy Duck.”
At this point, the three artist-directors largely responsible for Bugs Bunny began to interrupt each other with suggestions and recollections concerning the development of Bugs.
“We made him use his wits,” put in Tedd Pierce.
“We gave him a Brooklyn accent,” remarked Michael Maltese.
Victorious Underdog
“He was full of mischief,” added Frileng, “but he always started out minding his own business. “We made a mistake with him once. We started out with Bugs going out to hunt for trouble. It wasn’t successful because it wasn’t true to type. He never starts the scrapes he gets into any more.”
Based fundamentally on the idea that the public enjoys watching an underdog get the better of his oppressors, they constantly try to think of situations in which Bugs could become involved, through no fault of his own, and then turn the tables on the troublemakers. It is, they suggest, one of the simplest of all comedy routines, but they guard their star as carefully as any studio watches the reputation of its living actors.
Bugs Bunny’s first hit, his mentors agree, was made in the hunting comedy released in 1938. The “streamlined” rabbit, the intended victim of a cartoon hunter, came up out of his hole, chewing a carrot, and asked another rabbit, “What’s up, Doc?”
“When we saw that on the screen, we knew we had a hit character,” explains Freling. “He was the most timid of animals, yet he had courage and brashness.” Gradually, through the process of planning and drawing from six to eight Bugs Bunny cartoons each year, the full character and appeal of Bugs Bunny has been developed. He has been kept in the wild state, never given houses to live in or clothes to wear. He has no steady girl friend, although he can have occasional romances.
Mel Blanc, who supplies the voice, accent and all, for Bugs Bunny, according to all the artists, is allergic to carrots, which he must chew, for the sake of realism while speaking the rabbit’s lines. “He doesn’t swallow a piece of the carrot,” laughs Maltese, “because they make him sick.”
The most common adjective applied to Bugs Bunny by his creators is “brash.” He is mischievous but never mean. Things happen to him which bring about a reversal of his naturally timid rabbit nature and make him go on the offensive against his tormentors.
Bugs Goes to War
There would appear to be enough evidence on hand to substantiate the opinion of Edward Selzer, chief of the Warner’s cartoon studio, that “Bugs is the most popular cartoon character on the screen today.” Mr. Selzer went to the filing cabinet and drew out a letter from a seaman off the carrier Lexington, who reported that when the ship went down at least two Bugs Bunny pictures were lost, “Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt” and “The Rabbit Who Came to Supper.”
Mr. Selzer and the others also are proud of the service record supplied by the United States Marine Corps for Bugs. His impertinent likeness serves as the mascot insignia for many branches of the armed services, including the hospital ship U.S.S. Comfort. Bugs and his uneaten carrot was painted on the side of the lead Liberator bomber that made the first attack on Davao, which started this country’s march back to the Phillipines.
Now, here’s a syndicated newspaper feature story (bylined) published April 13, 1963, and suitably updated for television and the Cold War. Neither Maltese nor Pierce were employed at Warners when this saw print. Chuck Jones and Bob McKimson get their names added; McKimson animated on A Wild Hare, while Jones directed Elmer’s Pet Rabbit (1940), where Bugs’ character and voice aren’t quite the way we know him today.
At 27, Bugs Is Still Going Strong

What’s up, Doc?
Carrot-crunching Bugs Bunny, the buck-toothed, madcap hare of Warner Bros.’ perennially popular cartoon series of the same name is getting old enough to be the father of most of his fans.
Bugs’ kiddie fans have been estimated at from 30 to 50 millions. Businessmen, ministers, matrons, church workers, hep teen-agers and sub-teens make-up at least another 50 million dedicated fans.
♦ ♦ ♦
And yet their numbers keep mounting as the years roll by.
Recently turned 27, Bugs obviously takes no back seat to any Hollywood celebrity in terms of durability, fan mail volume or professional acclaim.
He has held a select spot at the top of the hierarchy of stars for more than a quarter of a century.
♦ ♦ ♦
As a matter of fact, although he hand an inauspicious beginning, Bugs loomed on the horizon as a star after what is probably the shortest apprenticeship in film history.
He had one prestardom outing in 1936 as an extra. Two years later when he hit the celluloid again, Bugs chomped his way into the hearts of viewers faster than he chews a juicy carrot.
He has been serving the world a rib-tickling diet of devilment ever since.
♦ ♦ ♦
In every laughter-loving country save those behind the Iron Curtain, the animated hare with the Brooklyn accent is one of film- land’s best-loved characters. This was never better evidenced than by the applause four years ago when the ribald rabbit bounced onto the stage at the annual Academy Awards presentations and hopped off again with an Oscar presented by Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh for his masterful and farsighted performance in the “Knighty Knight Bugs” episode of his show.
♦ ♦ ♦
The exhibitors of America have voted him top favorite in the short subjects category of movie programming for an impressive 15 consecutive years.
In addition, Bugs probably holds the world’s record as recipient of personal phone calls.
When he gave out his number in connection with the Easter promotion of a Baltimore-Washington department store during the five weeks of the store’s holiday sales event when any youngster could dial and be greeted with the familiar “Eeeeeh, what’s up, Doc?”, a total of 2,030,679 calls came in.
♦ ♦ ♦
Never one to forget his less celebrated days in the briar patch, Bugs is quick to point out that his long romp on television very nearly didn’t happen.
In the bit part he played in the 1936 cartoon, another comical character called Elmer Fudd was featured. As a hunter, Elmer’s objective was to get the elusive rabbit into a frying pan.
Bugs dodged the frying pan successfully but attracted so little attention that he landed back inside the cartoon department ink well.
♦ ♦ ♦
“He was put away to mellow,” his creators recall.
And mellow he did. For when Cartoon Division Director Isadore Freleng suggested he be trotted out late in 1938 for another go in the popularity sweepstakes, Bugs rocketed to fame.
Aided by director Freleng, Charles M. Jones and Robert McKimson, along with writers Michael Maltese and Ted Pierce who mastermined “The Bugs Bunny Show,” the cabbage patch rodent hopped from the ink well, this time a revamped rabbit.
♦ ♦ ♦
“We streamlined him both in character and proportions, and gave him a voice and characteristics similar to Daffy Duck whose impudence was already famous,” they say.
“We gave him a Brooklyn accent,” Maltese asserts.
“We made him use his wits,” says Pierce.
♦ ♦ ♦
“He was full of mischief,” adds Freleng, “but he always started out minding his own business.
“We made a mistake with him only one time. We had him out hunting for trouble. His fans cried ‘Foul!’
“They don’t like to consider him the trouble-making type. Now, he never starts the scrapes he gets into.
♦ ♦ ♦
“Most people are like that or they like to feel that they are; so it is easy for them to establish an empathy with Bugs and enjoy his triumphs quite thoroughly.”
And over the years the once dopey looking, shaggy cottontail has made a lot of adjustments to keep up with the changing tastes of the sophisticated youngsters and adults of today’s movie and television audiences.
Once a zany guy given to temperament and pique, he is now a more refined citizen, surprisingly gentle.
♦ ♦ ♦
With great worldliness and sophistication, he suffers in silence, up to a point; then explodes into action and usually comes out ahead.
It should be noted, of course, that while Bugs tops the all-family entertainment polls and has earned millions of dollars, he has personally refused to indulge in any ostentatious display of wealth.
He has never owned a house of his own, wears clothing only on special occasions and has no steady girl friend.
♦ ♦ ♦
Among his creators he is known as an animal with human characteristics rather than a humanized animal.
Jestingly they declare “We can’t get shoes for him because his feet are too big. He doesn’t wear clothes unless the situation demands them since his tastes are so expensive that though privately wealthy even he couldn’t afford to keep himself clothed.”
Significantly, the titles of Bugs’ shows are often as amusing as the melodrama. Bugs made his starring debut in “Wild Hare”; later came out with “Upswept Hare.” He has also starred in “John Brown’s Bunny,” “Rabbit Transit,” “Hare Meets Hair,” “Rhapsody Rabbit” and “Rabbit Hood.”
Errol Flynn played a small part as a guest star in “Rabbit Hood,” swinging from tree to tree as Robin Hood, the role he originally created in Warner Bros.’ full length movie “The Adventures of Robin Hood.”
♦ ♦ ♦
Reciprocally, Bugs has appeared with flesh and blood Hollywood stars in the live productions “My Dream Is Yours” and “Two Guys from Texas.”
A character of great versatility with the daring to meet all competition, Bugs competed brazenly with filmland’s voluptuous pin-up girls during World War II and somehow managed to become widely regarded as Morale Booster No. 1.
Aside from aiding the Treasury Department in bond sales, he was mascot to many Air Force squadrons, tank outfits and infantry companies, not to mention units of the Navy and Marine Corps.
As a matter of fact, he is an official member of the Marine Corps, with his service record now a permanent part of the official files in Washington, D. C.
♦ ♦ ♦
And it is distracting to some that the glib Bugs has really never had a single word to say about all of this since it is Mel Blanc, the man of many voices, who has been Bugs’ voice down through the years.
Blanc does the voices for more than 50 characters on “The Bugs Bunny Show.”
When Bugs celebrated his 25th birthday, The Thalians, a Hollywood charity organization headed by Debbie Reynolds, presented Blanc with a 14-carat gold carrot. The valuable replica of the hare's favorite food is inscribed “in recognition and grateful appreciation of the happy laughter and wholesome entertainment you have brought to so many children of all ages . . . as the voice of Bugs and his playmates.”
And at 27 Bugs seems no more inclined to grow old than Freckles and His Friends. He just keeps hopping along several bounds ahead of all competition.
That's what’s up, Doc!
But some of these particular sets of facts appeared in yet another newspaper story, the only version of which I’ve found is in the Oneonta Star of November 19, 1960. It talks about 1936, the “quickie,” the Daffy Duck voice and characteristics. Freleng is assigned the “Brooklyn accent” quote, while Jones is handed the “wits” observation (Maltese and Pierce are still mentioned in the story). And there are the same insights about no houses or clothes, girl-friend and Freleng talking about “the most timid of animals.”

We can only presume Warners came up with a press handout in the ‘40s and kept pulling it out of the filing cabinet whenever it needed to bash out a new news release. If so, it had a life almost as long as the rabbit himself.


  1. Reading both stories, you can understand why Tex Avery started asserting himself on character authorship by the time General Foods inked their deal with Warners and their ad company execs were asking "Wonder if Avery can draw Bugs Bunny?" for the Kool-Aid ads on Bugs' ABC show and elsewhere.

  2. That junk is almost too painful to read.

  3. Of the list of Bugs Bunny titles that the article mentioned, one is "John Brown's Bunny". Was that a cancelled cartoon or was it reworked into something else?