Friday, 2 December 2011

The Animators of Hillbilly Hare

Today it seems every 14-year-old with an internet connection can divine, with absolute certainty, who animated each scene of every cartoon made before even their parents were born. I don’t say this pejoratively, but wistfully. There was a time when such animation identifications were rare and, therefore, a real delight.

One of the best places—well, it might have been the only place—to talk about Warner Bros. cartoons was on Usenet at alt.animation.warner-bros. The calibre of posters was extremely high and quite a number had worked with the old time animators. One was Greg Duffell, who worked for Chuck Jones but has been living for some years back home in Canada.

One day, Greg posted a breakdown of the animators who worked on one of the Warners cartoons and it was greeted by almost everyone with enthusiasm. It was such an education to me, I actually saved the posts and made hard copies of them (on a 9-pin printer; kids, ask your parents about that) lest I never see them again. One was for ‘Hillbilly Hare,’ one of the McKimson unit’s more acclaimed efforts.

Let’s take a look at that post from June 17, 1998 where Greg reveals all. Just a note, Greg refers to an article in Animato! magazine. I don’t recall if the controversy was discussed on the newsgroup and my subscription of Animato! somehow vanished into the ether after paying for it.

Subject: "Hillbilly Hare" notes

Amidst all the McKimson Animato! is an analysis of a truly great Warner cartoon. This has all the ingredients of a memorable Bugs cartoon: singing, dressing in drag..and lots of violence.

The animation team were: Charles McKimson, Emery Hawkins, John Carey, Phil de Lara and Rod Scribner. Tedd Pierce wrote the film with Robert McKimson directing the crew.

The film starts out with Bugs singing "I Like Mountain Music" animated by Emery Hawkins. He also does the second scene where Bugs first gets prodded by a Martin gun.

Charles McKimson, as per usual in Robert McKimson cartoons, handles the extreme close-ups of Bugs and the following few scenes of the dark haired Martin talking with Bugs. Bugs says "Boo Hoo" mockingly contemplating his demise at the end of a Martin rifle. Bugs plugs up the barrel with a carrot and it's Martin that gets blasted.

Bugs walks away from one Martin right into another, this time, red-haired Martin. John Carey animates this whole section of Bugs outsmarting another Martin.

Scribner's first work is seen as the two brothers walk over an animated hill in search or their quarry.

Next we see a Phil de Lara scene of Bugs singing "Pop goes the Weasel". There is some nice, cute-faced Bugs here....quite different than the way that Bob McKimson usually draws him in his layouts. De Lara also does the next scene of the Martins going in chase.

Hawkins picks up as Bugs runs for a Powder house, followed in hot pursuit by the Martins. Bugs sneaks out and hides behind a tree, encouraging the Martins to keep trying to illuminate the dark powder house with their lighter. The powder house explodes.

De Lara probably animated the next scene of the Martin complaining about his lighter fluid and the next few scenes of the Martins running down a hill and noticing Bugs in drag.

Charles McKimson probably does the close up of Bugs as a woman.

De Lara does a really nice scene of the Martins lusting after the dolled-up Bugs. The dark haired one does a lovely little wind up to walking inside the house and the other Martin does a funny little animal like noise to camera. Phil continues to animate as Bugs puts money in the juke box.

Charles McKimson animated the Hillbillies inside the juke box.

Emery Hawkins was assigned the scenes of Bugs and the Martins beginning the genuine square dance up to where Bugs pulls the plug and starts to masquerade as a square dance caller.

Rod Scribner animates a long sequence here as the Martins and Bugs go out the door, the hillbillies following Bugs' increasingly bizarre call outs. The Martins pull each other's beards only to cut by a quick clip of shears that Bugs pulls out.

Charles McKimson animates a sequence of the Martins swishing around in water and then jumping into a pig pen and dancing with pigs. He also does a nice scene of Bugs playing the fiddle like it's an upright bass, twirling around in a circle and doing a little double bounce step.

The "whomping" and hitting and eye-poking duties are handled by Rod Scribner right through the whole hay bailer sequence.

Emery Hawkins has a tour-de-force, animating the entire ending of this film starting from the "right hand over, left hand under". My favourite scene here is a long panning sequence as the Martins run around jumping over fences and around rocks---it's just masterfully done. Bugs pulls them back from the brink with one of his call-outs...only to send them right out over a cliff right afterward. Here the Martins look a lot like the characters in Davis' "Holiday for Drumsticks", which Hawkins worked on.

Bugs casually finishes his square dance calling looking down on the Martins from the top of the cliff, watching them collapse in a heap. Hawkins gets a nice close-up of Bugs fiddling to finish off this delightful cartoon.

Of course the highlight of the cartoon is the square dance sequence which is nothing short of brilliantly conceived and written. Blanc again proves he's a great singer too. I don't know who did the red haired Martin's voice----it's not Blanc.

This is one of many great McKimson films produced in this era, one I don't think I'll ever tire of.

Greg just dealt with the animators. The layouts were by Cornett Wood and the backgrounds by Dick Thomas.

Yowp Update: I had written the non-Mel Blanc voice in this cartoon remained unidentified. As you can read in the comments, historian Keith Scott has identified it to be radio actor John T. Smith. There are all kinds of internet sources that are not reliable. However, Keith’s research is meticulous so if he says it’s John T. Smith, that’s who it is. Smith is one of the people Keith has been trying to find more information about. If J.T. is known at all, it’s for lending a gruff voice to a number of characters in Chuck Jones’ Warner cartoons around 1950, including the bully dog in ‘Chow Hound’ (1951). Thanks to Thad for the note.

Many of the artists at the Warners studio were involved in lunch-hour square dancing. Jones, especially, took to it and was involved in a square dancing organisation that travelled here and there. You can read about one of Jones’ experiences in a letter to his daughter HERE. You have to wonder if the musicians in the Sourbelly Trio are caricatures of the ones at those noon-hour dances (it is safe to say there was musical accompaniment).


  1. Devon Baxter also posted a breakdown in Dailymotion, and it's accurate to what is written on the notes. I've always liked Emery Hawkins' animation on the square-dance, but never was comfortable with Phil DeLara's animation of Bugs dressed as a hillbilly girl, only because the designs looked.

  2. From the Bugs cartoons I've seen theatrically, this and "Little Red Riding Rabbit" get the biggest audience responses at the finish. It was nice to see Warners acknowledge "Hillbilly Hare" with a special sticker mentioning the cartoon when it came out on the LTGC, and the animators for the square dance scenes deserve the recognition Greg gave them.

    (I'm also assuming -- totally unrelatedly of course -- that 2011-12 is now not going to be the Year of the Newly-Discovered Animator Mosaic on classic animation websites.)

  3. The second hillbilly voice, the red haired one, is said to be John T.Smith. He's heard in several studios's carotons, UPA being another.

    Just among his Warner Bros.cartoons:
    "Homless Hare", the construction worker, 1949

    "Hillbilly Hare", the red-haired hillbilly [presumed), 1950

    "Chow Hound", the title character, possibly a few others, 1951

    "Bunny Hugged", "The Terror" [wrestler], 1951

    "The Wearing of the Grin", one of the Leprechauns, 1951

    "Water Water Every Hare", "E-vil' Scienst, aka "Gossamer/Rudolph's master, 1952

    "There Auto Be a Law", narrator, possibly some others, 1953

    "Forward March Hare", Seargent, 1954

    "No Parking Hare", Construction Worker [almost IDENTICAL to the "Homeless Hare" one, but then again, this is a reworking of that older cartoon's plot]

    Steve C.

  4. Says Keith Scott, as relayed by Mike Barrier here:

    "As Keith Scott has pointed out, the non-Blanc hillbilly in Hillbilly Hare is voiced by John T. Smith, who provided voices for a number of other Warner cartoons in the early fifties."

  5. I'm wondering if Smith also did the unindifentified Sourbelly Trio voice as well (if Scott says it is,m that's the answer). Steve

  6. I do not know if the radio actor, John T. Smith is alive or dead, it remains a mystery to this day.