Friday, 10 February 2012

Hardaway Sign Language

Shamus Culhane hated Bugs Hardaway’s signs.

Culhane arrived at Walter Lantz’s studio as a director and found Hardaway had a penchant for writing stories with “thirty or forty feet of bad puns lettered somewhere on the background.” Culhane tried to find ways of getting rid of the worst ones, realising he was stuck doing a pan over Phil DeGuard’s backgrounds because it saved money (no animation).

Hardaway actually had two types of sign puns. Some were names of businesses that were plays on words.

Ration Bored (1943)

The Loan Stranger (1942). “Hudson C. Dann” will go over a lot of heads today.

Woody Woodpecker (1941).

This one’s so stupid, it’s funny. And are those construction lines I see?

Then there’s the type Culhane cringed at, when the camera stops to let the audience read each groaner. They’re so bad, I’m only going to give a couple of examples.

The Hollywood Matador (1942).

The Dizzy Acrobat (1943).

All these were made before Culhane arrived. In some cases, Culhane’s signs are even worse because Woody (played by Bugs Hardaway) stands there and stiffly tells us what they say. We can already see them. Why is he reading them aloud?

Someone loved “Prof. Bernie Burny.” A different circus sign by Brunish with him on it showed up in the 1952 cartoon “The Great Who-Dood-It,” written by Homer Brightman.

Hardaway arrived at Lantz in 1940 and stayed until the studio shut down at the end of the decade. After that, he managed to sell one story to his former employers at Warner Bros. but work was fairly slim. He might have done well in television with limited animation on the horizon but he died before it ever really got off the ground.

Here’s his obit from the Los Angeles Times, February 6, 1957.

Joseph Hardaway, Bugs Bunny Originator, Dies
Animated Cartoon Story Man, Pioneer in His Field, Also Worked in Television

Joseph Benson (Bugs) Hardaway, 66, animated cartoon story man who was instrumental in originating Bugs Bunny, died of a heart attack Monday night at his home, 11211 Kling St., North Hollywood.
Mr. Hardaway, onetime cartoonist for the Kansas City Post, served as Capt. Harry S. Truman's top sergeant in the 129th Field Artillery during World War I.
Early in Animation Field.
He was one of the early arrivals in Hollywood's animation field. He was a story man for Leon Schlesinger, Warner Bros. cartoons, from 1933 to 1939. His own nickname was adopted from the subsequently famous rabbit character.
In 1940 he went to work for Walter Lantz, aiding in the development of Woody Woodpecker. Recently he had been doing stories for Temple-Toons Productions [sic] for television.
Member of Guild.
He was a longtime member of the Screen Cartoonists Guild. He leaves his widow Hazel; a son, Robert, of 1907 N. Highland Ave.; a daughter, Mrs. Virginia Kirby, of Lafayette, Cal.; a brother, Frank, of San Francisco; and three sisters, Mrs. Ella Mitchell, of Bronson, Mo.; Mrs. Louise Vogel, of Fresno, and Mrs. Elizabeth Killinger, of Visalia.
Funeral arrangements are pending with Forest Lawn Memorial Park.


  1. What is Temple-Toons Productions?!

    1. Mark Kausler sent me this note:
      Some one asked what Temple-toons were, and I replied that it was Sam Singer's company called "Tempe-toons". Ben Hardaway wrote for "Pow-Wow the Indian Boy", for one of them, he adapted his Woody story "Who's Cookin' Who?". Sam Singer was a TV cartoon pioneer who started in Chicago with "Paddy Pelican" and went on to do "Pow-Wow the Indian Boy", "Bucky and Pepito" and "The Adventures of Sinbad, Jr." which Hanna-Barbera inherited. Singer had a bit of the bucanneer in him. He would often close-up shop overnight and leave town, with his animators un-paid and high and dry. This happened to Amby Paliwoda, maybe Ben Hardaway as well.

  2. Hardaway's own nickname was not adopted from the character but just the opposite. Hardaway clearly had the nickname for at least 17 years before the character was named. The book "Boomer Jones" library of congress copyright 1921 lists the artist as "Bugs Hardaway". It is posted here, . The index of the book is similarly linked. Also, the drawing that likely became known around the "termite terrace" as Bugs' Bunny is posted.

  3. It appears that the signs with puns are Hardaway's traits.

  4. If Hardaway had lived into the Golden Age of made-for-TV cartoons starting in 1958, I'm just trying to imagine what a cartoon co-written by Ben and Charles Shows would look and sound like (If you think Ben's rhymes at the start of "Barber of Seville" were bad...)