Saturday, 2 February 2019

The Non-Animated Bugs

It’s really tempting to make assumptions because it saves a lot of work. But you can get burned. To the right, you see a 1916 photo from the Louisville Courier Journal of Bugs Hardaway. It must be THE Bugs Hardaway, cartoon director/writer/bunny namesake, right? After all, how many of them could there be?

It turns out there were two of them. This one, as further leafing through old editions of the Courier Journal revealed, was actually named Earl Hardaway. Our Bugs was Joseph Benson Hardaway.

J.B. was probably more famous after he died than when he was living. His name appeared in the trade papers on occasion, even as the creator of Bugs Bunny, as was stated in the November 5, 1945 edition of Boxoffice magazine. I suspect it was the surfacing of a Charlie Thorson model sheet of “Bug’s Bunny” and the nasty tiff in the 1970s over who really created the character that brought Hardaway’s name to the forefront.

The Los Angeles Times felt Hardaway was important enough to write an obituary story. It appeared on 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 Tempe-Toons Productions 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.
Below is a 1944 photo of Bugs with his military mates.

Hardaway was born in Belton, Missouri on May 21, 1895 to Nathaniel Richard Hardaway and Mary Hamilton; his father died of malaria when Bugs was 2. The city directory for Kansas City lists his early employment; his name is variously “J Benjamin,” “Benson,” and “J.B.”

1913 Pehl Metal Products Co. draftsman
1914 college; agent, National Life and Accident Co.
1915 artist, Kansas City Post
1916 cartoonist, Kansas City Post
1917 artist, National Film Publishing Co.

He is not listed in 1918 and 1919 for good reason. He was in the military, enlisting on June 4, 1917 and discharged on May 14, 1919. He rose to the rank of Sergeant Major of the 129th Field Artillery, 35th Division. He left Brest, France on April 9, 1919 and arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey 11 days later. On returning to Kansas City, he resumed his employment.

1920 artist, Kansas City Post
1921 artist, 404 Jenkins Bldg
1922 cartoonist
1923-24-25 artist, United Film Ad Service
1926 copy writer, United Film Ad Service
1927 adv [no employer listed]

He vanishes from Kansas City and turns up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with his wife Hazel where the city directories reveal:

1928 mgr, Mil Film Ad Service Inc
1929 mgr, United Film Adv. Service Inc.
1930 br mgr, United Film Adv. Service Inc.
1931 adv selr [no employer listed]

Now it was on to the West Coast. Michael Barrier’s Hollywood Cartoons states Hardaway worked briefly as a writer for Ub Iwerks and Walt Disney about 1932, then became a writer at Leon Schlesinger’s studio in the second half of 1933; a Film Daily story of June 24, 1933 still has him as Iwerks’ story director. Tom Klein in Jerry Beck’s fine Cartoon Research blog revealed in a 2016 post that Hardaway and animator Grim Natwick would pitch horseshoes during the noon-hour break at Iwerks.

Schlesinger’s new studio went through early director turmoil. Tom Palmer was fired and crossed the country to work at Van Beuren. Earl Duvall was fired; the story is he got into a drunken argument with Schlesinger. To fill the breach, Hardaway and animator Jack King were promoted along with Friz Freleng. Hardaway’s tenure lasted less than a year for whatever reason. He went back to writing, even getting a story credit on two of Tex Avery’s cartoons when writers finally started getting a mention on screen.

When Friz Freleng left Warners in 1937 to work for MGM, Schlesinger had to find another director. Hardaway had directed before, so now he was directing again. His first cartoon was Porky’s Hare Hunt (1938), where he told painter Martha Goldman he was going to put a rabbit suit on Daffy Duck (early, insane version) and had Thorson design him. Studio publicity material called this character “Bugs Bunny” even though he wasn’t close in design or character to the measured foil of Elmer Fudd he became under director Tex Avery, writer Rich Hogan and designer Bob Givens in 1940.

Friz soon had enough of the politics at Metro. The Exposure Sheet, the Schlesinger studio’s in-house newsletter, revealed Freleng was coming back to direct in mid-April 1939 and Hardaway would return to being a writer. Did that not sit well with Hardaway? The last reference to him at Schlesinger’s in The Exposure Sheet was February 12, 1940. Walter Lantz was revamping his story department and that’s where Hardaway went. His first writing credit was on Recruiting Daze, released October 28, 1940, before he put Daffy Duck in a woodpecker suit and created Woody Woodpecker, even borrowing the ending from his own Daffy Duck and Egghead (1938).

In the mind of Walter Lantz, there was no question who created Woody—he did. I have yet to find an interview with Lantz about Woody where Hardaway is even mentioned. It’s pretty clear from the lineage that Hardaway was directly responsible.

Hardaway eventually had a bigger connection with Woody. Daily Variety reported on January 24, 1944 that Hardaway had taken over Woody’s voice from Kent Rogers, who had gone into training for the war.

Hardaway was no Kent Rogers, let alone Mel Blanc, who originally voiced Woody. His voice was flat and almost expressionless. Woody would have been a much richer and funnier character in the ‘40s if Lantz had paid a radio actor to do the character. He employed Lionel Stander (a wonderfully menacing Buzz Buzzard), Walter Tetley, Jack Mather and Hans Conried. Hardaway must have known his limitations; the Andy Panda cartoons he wrote have far more dialogue than his Woodys.

The Lantz studio should have been reaching a peak in the late ‘40s. It was announced on March 7, 1947 that it had signed a five-year releasing deal with United Artists. Lantz’s cartoons never looked better. But U-A didn’t bring in enough money to keep the studio viable. On December 20, 1948, Lantz finished his final cartoons for the distributor, and shut down. Hardaway didn’t wait. In the December 1948 issue of Warner Club News, it was revealed Hardaway had been signed by Warner Bros. to write for Friz Freleng. The only cartoon with Hardaway’s name on it is A Bone For a Bone, released in 1951 but notice of copyright was made in 1949.

What Hardaway did during most of the 1950s is unclear. He didn’t return to the Lantz studio when it re-opened and was looking for writers. Tempe-toons mentioned in his obituary was run by Sam Singer and produced “Pow-Wow the Indian Boy” cartoons. Singer worked out a deal in January 1957 to have them air on CBS’ Captain Kangaroo Show, except in 11 Western states where Screen Gems would syndicate them. Hardaway couldn’t have worked on them long as he died the following month. (A side note about Tempe-toons comes from the San Bernadino Sun of Feb. 26, 1956 stating Russell Garcia had scored 13 colour cartoons).

It’s a shame not too much is known about Bugs Hardaway, considering his influence in the first two decades of sound animation. We hope more research can be done to unearth facts and not assumptions.


  1. It's interesting that "Rabbit Every Monday", released about the same time as Friz's first effort with the gophers, carries no story credit, and features a Bugs that harkens back to his wilder early-to-min-1940s persona than the more sedate, calculating bunny he had become by the end of the decade. It was also the time when the story department was in a bit of flux with Cal Howard getting co-credit on "Canned Feud" and the Foster-for-Pierce swap with Freleng's unit, so Hardaway might have contributed a little more to the cartoons than just his "Bone for a Bone" credit.

    1. "Stooge for a Mouse" was also a Freleng effort with no story credit - makes me wonder if Ben Hardaway contributed to that short as well. Warren Foster received story credit for its semi-remake as a Bugs Bunny short, "Bugsy & Mugsy".