The Stars of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies
A convenient alphabetical listing of the twelve main characters of the Warner Bros. cartoons, with a summary of their personalities, creators and histories. A list of minor characters will follow soon!
Arguably the most popular and enduring of the Warner Bros. cartoon characters, Bugs Bunny appeared in well over 150 cartoons. Bugs' first official cartoon was 1940's "A Wild Hare", directed by Tex Avery, but a precursor to him appeared in several cartoons prior to that, directed by Ben "Bugs" Hardaway and Chuck Jones. Generally associated with "wabbit" hunter Elmer Fudd, Bugs also squared off against a horde of other memorable characters, including regulars Yosemite Sam, Daffy Duck, Wile E. Coyote, and the Tasmanian Devil, and other well-remembered adversaries like Cecil Turtle and Pete Puma. More on Bugs can be found HERE.
The name says it all. The little black duck that first appeared in the black-and white Tex Avery short "Porky's Duck Hunt" in 1937 was so popular that he was immediately launched into a series of cartoons that continued until the final days of the Warner theatrical cartoon studio. Originally concieved as an insane counterpart to mild-mannered Porky Pig, he quickly became a headlining star in cartoons directed by Avery, Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Robert McKimson, and just about every other director who ever worked for the studio. Throughout the 1940's, Daffy was played as a nutty anarchist who would often drive his enemies as crazy as he was. In most of these, Daffy is fond of bouncing around on his head and uttering his trademark yell of "Woo hoo! woo hoo! "In several cartoons during World War II, he was even unleashed on the Axis dictators, most memorably Hitler in "Daffy the Commando". By the mid 1950's, a different side of the character began to show in the cartoons of Chuck Jones. Daffy became greedy and at times bitter, and in many cartoons he was more the villain than the hero. It was in this era that his classic feud with Bugs Bunny began, in a trilogy of cartoons alongside Bugs and Elmer, and many others. By the early 60's, Daffy and Bugs had become a natural pair, and not only Jones, but Friz Freleng and Robert McKimson also created Bugs and Daffy shorts. Daffy also appeared in over 20 low-budget chases with Speedy Gonzales in the waning days of the Warner cartoons. More on Daffy Duck can be found HERE.
Elmer Fudd is a short, bald-headed, game hunting little gentleman with a speech impediment. He tries to be tough, but his speech pwowbwem and his relatively low intelligence makes him only minor threat to those who cross him. Elmer Fudd can generally be seen hunting Bugs Bunny, as he did in his first formative appearance hunting an early Bugs in Chuck Jones' "Elmer's Candid Camera"(1940.) To credit Jones exclusively for his creation, however, is a bit inaccurate. Elmer Fudd evolved from a Tex Avery character called Egghead, a bizarre little man with an egg-shaped head and red nose who wore a derby hat and high-collared green coat, much like the formative Elmer Fudd. The name originated in 1938's "A Feud There Was", in which Egghead serves as a peacemaker to a group of feuding hillbillies, and his motor scooter identifies him as "Elmer Fudd: Peacemaker." Much credit can also be given to Arthur Q. Bryan, the radio actor who voiced Fudd from 1940 until his death in 1958. Before Bryan signed on, the Egghead/Elmer character was given a voice that varied from film to film, either pretty generic or, most memorably, a caricature of comedian Joe Penner. Chuck Jones put it all together in "Candid Camera", and Tex Avery defined it forever in "A Wild Hare", also from 1940. From then on, Elmer Fudd was usually paired with Bugs Bunny, although he made solo appearances over the years and was also paired with Daffy Duck, Sylvester, the Goofy Gophers, and others. His most popular catch phrase, "Be vewwy, vewwy quiet, I'm hunting wabbits!" has become a household saying.
A loud, Southern rooster, Foghorn Leghorn was based on a radio character called Senator Claghorn from Bighorn. That's just about where the derivative part stops, however, as he quickly became his own character under the direction of creator Robert McKimson. Originally intended to be a secondary character to Henery Hawk, a young chickenhawk created by Chuck Jones, he quickly eclipsed Henery in popularity, and became the star character almost immediately. Foghorn first appeared alongside Henery in "Walky Talky Hawky"(1946), and continued in a series of 28 cartoons between 1946 and 1963. The basic idea of the Henery Hawk cartoons is that Henery is too young to know what a chicken is, and Foghorn Leghorn tries to trick him into thinking that someone or something else is a chicken. Another regular player in the Foghorn series is Barnyard Dawg, Foghorn Leghorn's chief nemesis, who almost always gets mixed up between Foghorn and Henery and exchanges pranks and practical jokes with the big rooster. Henery Hawk and Barnyard Dawg were not the only residents of the Robert McKimson barnyard, however. Foghorn also had run-ins with a hungry weasel, a fox, an obnoxious college buddy named Rhode Island Red, and a lovesick widow hen named Miss Prissy. Sylvester and Daffy Duck also made token appearances in the series.
Pepe Le Pew
Chuck Jones' amorous French skunk creation, Pepe Le Pew tried and failed to capture the girl of his dreams from 1945 until 1962. The only problem is, Pepe's love interest is generally a black cat with a white stripe painted down her back, and she finds Pepe Le Pew's odor repulsive. Naive Pepe rarely realizes that his odor offends, and thinks that the cat's desperate attempts to escape his arms are merely a game. He never gives up and remains confident and cheerful in his pursuit of love, and occasionally, Pepe wins, though generally when the cat runs out of gas or has no choice. Though primarily set in France, the series found itself in settings worldwide, including Africa, Switzerland, and the United States. In one cartoon from 1959, "Really Scent", Chuck Jones animator Abe Levitow was given a chance to direct a Pepe short, and decided to turn the formula upside down by making the cat, in this case born with an irremovable stripe, love Pepe and try to overlook the odor. In fact, it is often the case that the cat (in some cartoons identified as Penelope, in others Fifi or Fabrette) doesn't mind Pepe's advances at all at first, until she smells him.
Warner Bros' first breakthrough cartoon star, Porky Pig began as a character in Friz Freleng's "I Haven't Got A Hat"(1935), an early color Merrie Melody in which he tries to recite "Charge of the Light Brigade" in school without stammering, with humorous results. The cartoon was created to test the waters for a new group of characters loosely based on the "Our Gang" live action shorts, and quickly popularized two of them, Porky and a cat named Beans. After several black and white adventures in the Looney Tunes series, Beans was dropped, Porky remained, and would continue to headline the black and white Looney Tunes well into the early 1940's. His voice over from the closing titles around this period, "Th-th-That's all, Folks!" became his trademark. The series gave rise to some of director Bob Clampett's best work, and served as a major hotbed of creativity from which emerged the likes of Daffy Duck and the early Bugs Bunny. Eventually, Porky emerged as an ultimate straight-man to the antics of Daffy Duck and others, and this incarnation of sidekick rather than headliner continued up until the early 1960's. Chuck Jones' series of movie genre parodies in the 1950's with Porky and Daffy, among them "Duck Dodgers", "Dripalong Daffy" and "Rocket Squad", are among the most memorable cartoons ever created.
The smiling, gray-and-purple bird with a need for speed first appeared in 1949, in Chuck Jones' "Fast and Furry-ous." Originally intended as a parody of cartoon chase conventions, it was so popular with audiences that it became a series starting with "Beep Beep" in 1952. The Road Runner really has very little personality of his own, except for his tremendous speed and habit of uttering "beep beep!" as he runs down the desert roads. Set in the American Southwest, the series focuses mainly on Road Runner's nemesis, Wile E. Coyote, as he tries and fails to catch and eat the bird using outlandish booby traps and gadgets. Most of Wile E.'s supplies come from the Acme corporation, creators of everything from explosives to rocket powered roller skates. No matter what the coyote tries or how close he comes to catching the Road Runner, he is the eternal loser. Sympathy, therefore, remains with Wile E. Coyote. The Road Runner rarely harms the coyote directly, except for occasionally scaring him off the edge of a cliff or stepping on him as he speeds by. The series continued until Chuck Jones left the Warner cartoon studio around 1963. After 1964 when the studio closed and reopened as part of DePatie/Freleng Enterprises, Robert McKimson directed two Road Runner cartoons, and the series was continued for eleven more shorts under the direction of Rudy Larriva. More on Road Runner can be found HERE..
Speedy Gonzales first appeared in Robert McKimson's 1952 cartoon "Cat Tails For Two", and had surprising longevity despite his rather one-note personality. The fastest Mouse in All Mexico, Speedy serves as a sort of mouse superhero, rescuing his friends from danger and starvation against a colorful cast of adversaries. His second appearance, alongside Sylvester in Friz Freleng's "Speedy Gonzales"(1955) won the studio an Oscar, and from then on his main, but not exclusive nemesis would be Sylvester. Friz Freleng and Robert McKimson were the only directors until the late 1960's to direct the series, and in addition to Sylvester, Speedy also ran into several one-shot villains, including El Vulturo the Bandito Bird, two musical alleycats called the Mexicali Schmoes, a Yosemite Sam-like bandit named Pancho Vanilla, and a hungry, unnamed alley cat with a fondness for preying on Speedy's two drunken buddies, Pablo and Fernando. Speedy Gonzales' cousin, Slowpoke Rodriguez, appeared in two cartoons and is the exact opposite; the Slowest Mouse in All Mexico (but instead of speed, he uses hypnotism and packs a gun.) In the 1960's during the DePatie/Freleng years and on into the final days under producer Bill Hendricks, Speedy was paired almost exclusively with Daffy Duck for around 27 cartoons. More on Speedy Gonzales can be found HERE.
Thuffering Thuccotash! Friz Freleng's lisping alleycat creation from 1945's "Life With Feathers" proved to be possibly Warner's most versatile character, appearing in a stunning number of shorts from his creation until 1965 alongside just about every major character in the cartoon stable, minus Bugs Bunny. Nearly every director in the studio's history used Sylvester in a cartoon at some point. Usually associated with Tweety, Sylvester also starred in a few other recurrent parings, including Robert McKimson's cartoons starring Hippety Hopper the kangaroo and Sylvester's son, Sylvester Junior. Sylvester was also the main foil for Speedy Gonzales during the late 1950's and early 1960's. In the 1950's, Chuck Jones made four cartoons starring Sylvester, casting him as both a silent, less anthropomorphic pet to Porky Pig, and as a swashbuckling villain (in "The Scarlet Pumpernickel, 1950). Sylvester could be a sympathetic character or a very convincing villain depending on the situation he found himself in. More on Sylvester can be found HERE.
Tweety Pie, the lovable but brutal yellow canary, first appeared in Bob Clampett's "A Tale of Two Kitties" in 1942. In the cartoon, Tweety was a bit different from the character we know today; he was pink, naked and extremely violent towards the two cat characters chasing him, Babbit and Catstello. Clampett followed it up with two cartoons before leaving the Warner Bros. studio in 1946. In 1947, Friz Freleng resurrected Tweety and paired him with Sylvester, and the result, the short "Tweetie Pie", won WB Cartoons its first Oscar. Freleng made him cuter, gave him yellow canary feathers and kept Clampett's baby-talking personality, minus the hyperactive violence. From then on, Tweety was paired exclusively with Sylvester and directed exclusively by Freleng. Though he looks innocent, Tweety is no stranger to taking a mallet to Sylvester or any other "puddy tat" who decides to get too close. In later cartoons, he became much like the Road Runner, doing very little to harm his adversary, rather, letting Sylvester just burn himself out.
Wile E. Coyote
Wile E. Coyote, the eternal loser, also made his debut in 1949's "Fast and Furry-ous." He is one of the closest-associated characters with Warner Bros. cartoons, as well as with his creator, Chuck Jones. Though mainly known for his failure to catch the Road Runner, and for his use of Acme products, Wile E. Coyote also set his sights on Bugs Bunny in four cartoons. In the Road Runner series, the coyote never speaks, except for an occasional "ouch", and his pantomime facial expressions are often the funniest part of the cartoon. In his bouts with Bugs Bunny, Wile E. Coyote is an egotistical braggart, calling himself "Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius" and vocally complimenting himself on his great ideas even as he watches them (or himself) go up in flames. Regardless of how often he is blown up, flattened, dropped from dizzying heights, or mangled, Wile E. Coyote always tries again to catch his prey. More on Wile E. Coyote can be found HERE.
Small but dangerous, the loud cowboy Yosemite Sam was director Friz Freleng's signature character, and surprisingly versatile in his roles. He's loud, cranky and stubborn. Originally conceived as a cowboy outlaw in the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Hare Trigger"(1945), Sam would go on to star in many more Bugs cartoons and two non-Bugs outings, including "Along Came Daffy"(1947), in which he and his twin brother attempt to eat salesman Daffy Duck during a winter famine. Sam wasn't always cast as a cowboy or even in the West at all, rather, he popped up in Bugs Bunny's way all over the world and throughout history. Sam has appeared as a viking, a prospector, a pilot, a Swiss mountainclimber, a pirate, a marooned sailor, a Confederate soldier, a spaceman, a Medieval knight, the lord of a castle, and a royal cook, among other aliases. One might venture to call him the John Wayne character of cartoons...no matter what role he plays, he's still Yosemite Sam. From 1945 until 1964, Friz Freleng was the only director to ever use the character, supposedly because of Sam's similarity to Friz himself.
content (c) 2004 Matthew Hunter. All characters and images (c) 2004 Warner Bros.