Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Bugs Bunny's original Birthday...

During a news break this morning while listening to the radio it was announced that today marked the 75th birthday of Bugs Bunny. Doing the math, 2013 minus 75 is 1938. It was on April 30, 1938 that an as yet to be named rabbit character appeared in an animated theatrical cartoon titled Porky's Hare Hunt. This rabbit character would evolve over the course of 2 years and visually start to resemble the character we all know as Bugs Bunny. The rabbit got it's name through a chain of events where an employee at Warner Brothers had written the phrase Bugs's Bunny on a model sheet of the yet to be named character. Ben Hardaway's nickname at the studio, according to those who worked with him, was Bugs. Today many historians refer to him as Ben "Bugs" Hardaway. 

Anyway, the alliterative name stuck and from then on Bugs Bunny became the character's name.

However, longtime fans, historians, and those who worked on the cartoons cite 1940 as the official birth year of Bugs Bunny for it was in a July 27, 1940 cartoon directed by Tex Avery titled A Wild Hare which introduced the basic visual appearance that Bugs Bunny has kept over the last 73 years. Porky's Hare Hunt was directed by Ben Hardaway and Cal Dalton. A Wild Hare was directed by Tex Avery. Research shows that there were four theatrical cartoons released between April 1938 and March 1940 starring the future Bugs Bunny. Those cartoons are as follows:

1. Porky's Hare Hunt; 1938  (Ben Hardaway and Cal Dalton)

2. Prest-O Change-O; 1939  (Chuck Jones)

3. Hare-um Scare-um; 1939  (Ben Hardaway and Cal Dalton)

4. Elmer's Candid Camera; March 2, 1940  (Chuck Jones)

A Wild Hare, with the new design of the rabbit, soon followed in July 1940. This is probably the only animated character that has two birthday's. April 30, 1938 and July 27, 1940. Given that the 1940 cartoon by Tex Avery is almost always universally accepted as the first official Bugs Bunny cartoon, 1940 is considered his official 'birth year'. This is why, in 1990, there was a lot of media hype surrounding the character's Golden Anniversary...hitting 50. Ten years later ABC-TV cancelled the long running Saturday morning Bugs Bunny Show franchise (which had evolved into The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show). This particular series, which ran on various networks and time-slots since 1960, had turned 40 in the year 2000. Since that point in time the Looney Tunes characters have mostly aired on cable television, off and on, in addition to a long list of DVD compilation projects. Down through the years I've been able to purchase several items pertaining to Bugs Bunny and his numerous co-stars plus a couple of items about the man who gave voice to Bugs Bunny from 1938 through 1989, Mel Blanc.

At this time I'd like to put on display some of my Bugs Bunny/Looney Tunes/Mel Blanc items from my personal collection...

This is a relatively brand new book. It hit the market late in 2012 and I finally got around to purchasing it a few weeks ago. I have purchased a couple of other books from the pen of Ben Ohmart within the last several years and so when I first learned that a book about Mel Blanc was on the horizon I couldn't wait until it's release. Throughout the book there is commentary from Mel's son, Noel, taken from an unpublished biography that Noel wrote about his father. Ohmart's book, titled Mel Blanc- The Man of a Thousand Voices, it features many, many, many facts about a man who became one of the most busiest actors in radio, cartoons, and records...and later added television appearances to his long list of credits. Speaking of credits...this book gives a detailed account on everything that Mel Blanc took part in from the early days of his career through his final projects in 1989. It's truly a fabulous, unique, and addictive kind of book for those who are not only fans of Mel Blanc but of classic animated cartoons in general, whether theatrically released or made-for-TV. The book is also filled with quotes and remembrances by a long list of celebrities in an out of animation that Mel worked with or were inspired by. Mel's friendship with Jack Benny is explored in more detail in this book, too. The book is lengthy but this is not to be a surprise for an actor of Mel's considerable longevity...before hitting national radio in the late '30s, right around the time he was just starting his decades long run with Warner Brothers cartoons, Mel was a feature on local radio for a period of years in Oregon prior to making the move down to the Los Angeles area. In addition to the written word there are plenty of pictures throughout. Some of the images, I assume, are exclusive to the book as I hadn't seen quite a few of them until now. This fabulous book can be purchased HERE.  
Although this particular book has nothing to do with Bugs Bunny, it's all about Tweety and Sylvester, the canary and cat duo that featured prominently in many of the Warner Brothers releases throughout the mid '40s through the '50s. The book was issued in 1991, written by Jerry Beck. By the early '60s Sylvester's more frequent nemesis had changed from Tweety to the fastest mouse in Mexico, Speedy Gonzales. The book takes a look at every theatrically released cartoon to feature each character, either as a duo or separately. The two characters would, many decades after their creation, star in a television series titled The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries. The series debuted in 1995, the 50th anniversary of the first theatrical cartoon starring Sylvester titled "Life with Feathers". Like Bugs Bunny, Sylvester was a yet to be named character. In fact, he was referred to as Thomas in early cartoons with Tweety.

In 1988 Mel Blanc issued his autobiography titled That's Not All, Folks!. The book is a fascinating look into the life and times of one of animation's greatest voices. As the years went on and more and more fans had gotten older and more and more aspiring voice actors/actresses came along who had grown up watching the various Looney Tunes programs, the book seemed to take on much more scrutiny than it did when it was originally released. There are a few recollections in the book that contradict information later brought to light and then there's the longstanding argument over the creation of the Foghorn Leghorn voice. At the root of the argument, basically, is the origin of the voice and how possible it is that both Mel Blanc and Kenny Delmar were inspired by similar sounding fictional characters and each used that distinctive voice without copying from the other...Foghorn Leghorn debuted right at the height of the Senator Claghorn craze in 1946. Claghorn was a radio character played by Kenny Delmar on Fred Allen's radio program starting in the latter half of 1945. Keith Scott writes about this very subject HERE.  

June Foray issued her autobiography, Did You Grow Up With Me, Too?, a couple of years ago. It was co-authored by Mark Evanier and Earl Kress. I'm proud to say that I wrote the first Amazon review of this particular book. You can read that review HERE. June had quite an impact in the Looney Tunes series as she gave voice to a few characters that have since become animation icons. The original voice actress of Granny and Witch Hazel was Bea Benaderet. Bea would later give voice to Betty Rubble in The Flintstones. Like June, Bea had a lengthy career in radio and on records in addition to the cartoon work. Bea, however, would become even more recognizable as a face actress in the 1950's and 1960's appearing in an assortment of early television comedies. Bea's longest running television role was as matriarch Kate Bradley on the rural sitcom, Petticoat Junction. June stepped into the roles of Granny and Witch Hazel during the 1950's and she's been the voices of those characters ever since. Unlike Mel Blanc, though, June wasn't tied to just one animation company exclusively for so many years. In addition to her Warner Brothers work she concurrently gave voice to another animated icon, Rocky the Flying Squirrel, on the Bullwinkle series of cartoons by the Jay Ward company. She became even more busy in the 1980's. She gave voice to Jokey Smurf and Mother Nature in the Smurfs series throughout the decade. For the Disney company June was the voices of several characters in the mega hits The Adventures of the Gummi Bears and Duck Tales from the mid '80s onward. You can read more about her by getting the autobiography!

This obscure 2005 CD features quite a number of songs recorded by Mel Blanc. What a lot of people usually forget about or don't know is that Mel had a lengthy recording career outside of animated cartoons. Although a lot of his recordings centered around the animated characters that he gave voice to in a series of children's albums there were quite a few recordings where he uses his natural voice, too, but those weren't as commercially successful as the recordings he did with the humorous voices and sound effects. There are 25 songs featured. Some of the highlights, for me, are "Yosemite Sam", "I Tan't Wait Till Quithmuth Day", "The E.I.O. Song", "Morris", "Yah Das Ist Ein Christmas Tree", "Money", "Barney Google", "That Hat I Got For Christmas Is Too Beeg", "I Tell My Troubles to Joe", and "The Missus Wouldn't Approve". For the latter two songs he uses a voice similar to the one he gave to the Happy Postman character on The Burns and Allen Show. He gives a display of quite a few voices as each voice takes turn performing "Barney Google". The CD kicks off with his version of "The Woody Woodpecker Song". The recording had originally been recorded and released by the immensely popular bandleader, Kay Kyser, in 1948. His recording featured the vocalizations of Harry Babbitt and Gloria Wood. The song is a perfect example of an obscurity amongst a general audience in that Mel Blanc provided the original voice of Woody Woodpecker and created the famous laugh heard throughout a bulk of the series. The Woody character was created by Ben Hardaway in 1940...yes, the same one who played a pivotal role in the original version of Bugs Bunny in 1938. In fact, Woody's vocalization as provided by Mel Blanc was almost exactly the way the original version of Bugs Bunny sounded...right down to the distinct laugh. Mel provided Woody's voice in animated form in just the first four releases. This is because in 1941 Mel signed an exclusive contract with the Warner Brothers cartoon division (Leon Schlesinger Productions) and from that point forward Mel's voice could only be heard on cartoons released by Warner Brothers. This exclusive contract was kept intact for nearly 20 years.

However, the exclusive contract applied to animated cartoons only...it didn't prevent him from using his voice on radio and on records. In radio, Mel was heard on dozens of radio programs playing a wide variety of recurring characters. Given that his radio characters were as animated as the characters in the cartoons it wasn't uncommon for the writers of the cartoons to blend both worlds together and have in-jokes flowing all over the cartoons about various radio comedies that Mel was featured on. References to Jack Benny were used the most given that Jack's radio program was the #1 comedy show for so many years and that Mel provided many character voices on that series. One cartoon in particular, 1959's The Mouse That Jack Built, must have seemed surreal to audiences at the time. It was directed by Robert McKimson and featured the actual cast of The Jack Benny Program providing their character voices, drawn as mice. Mel provided the voice of the Maxwell jalopy as well as the unseen Ed, the Vault Keeper. On radio Joseph Kearns provided the voice of Ed. Considering that Ed only had a brief exchange with the cartoon Jack Benny it was probably decided that it wouldn't make much sense to bring in Joseph Kearns for just one single line reading. Later that year he would take on the role of Mr. Wilson on Dennis the Menace.

I've posted several of these images before in numerous other blog entries. The Looney Tunes Golden Collection continues to be, for me, the bible of Warner Brothers theatrical cartoons from beginning to end. The various DVD discs focus on a particular overall theme, pretty much, and so what you get are deliberately selective cartoon entries on each disc that have to do with the overall theme. For example, one of the disc's may be devoted to just the cartoons starring Bugs Bunny (obviously!) and another disc may deal with cartoons that feature only Daffy Duck or Porky Pig. In some of the last collections there was a lot more coverage of the black and white era and the earliest Looney Tunes characters...I'm referring to the characters that arrived prior to the debut of Porky, Daffy, Bugs, Tweety, and Sylvester. If you don't know who those characters were then they'll be a revelation if you purchase the later installments of the Golden Collection series. Also, I've almost wore out one of the disc's...the one that features the World War Two cartoons found in the collection below. The war cartoons are endlessly entertaining but I went to play it one day and it stopped playing during one of the cartoons. I don't know if I really did wear the disc out or if it's one of those unexplained glitches having more to do with the DVD player rather than the disc itself.

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