Animation History
April 27, 2013 posted by Jerry Beck

How Old Is Bugs Bunny?

bugs_evolution

This weekend, Leonard Maltin and I will be presenting a tribute screening, at the TCM Fest in Hollywood, to the 75th anniversary of Bugs Bunny. But if you ask Warner Bros. today they’ll tell you Bugs Bunny began in 1940 – and that’s IF they’ll admit to any birth dates at all!

Major international conglomerates will do what they have to do to protect their corporate assets. “Bugs Bunny”, as far as they are concerned, looks a certain way, acts a certain way and says certain things (“What’s Up, Doc?”) in a certain sounding way. That certain way began in 1940 – with Tex Avery’s A Wild Hare.

Bugs_comic_page

However, Warner Bros. themselves (and Leon Schlesinger before them) had traditionally pointed to 1938 as the birth year of the wabbit. The inside cover of the vintage Bugs Bunny comic book above attests to that. The copyright sheets below (courtesy of David Gerstein) were all prepared prior to the release of A Wild Hare, all three identify the zany rabbit as “Bugs Bunny”. (Bugs was first named on-screen in 1941′s Elmer’s Pet Rabbit). Heck, even in a 1939 Schlesinger merchandising manual (below, at right), ‘Bugs’ Bunny is identified as such a year before his “official” birth in A Wild Hare.

Click thumbnails below to enlarge and read. Below that is the “Any Bonds Today” short mentioned in the comic page above. Oh – and Happy Birthday, Bugs – You don’t look a day over 73!

Hare-um_Scare-um-copyright_synopsis Elmer's_Candid_Camera-copyright_synopsis Wild_Hare-copyright_synopsis looneybook14

17 Comments

  • The “evolution” panel is kind of interesting in that, Bob McKimson’s Bugs was always chubbier than, say, Chuck Jones’, so it’s kind of difficult to map his evolution. I don’t have any representative pictures, but one thing I’ve been able to do, in my little amateur way, is to usually be able to tell who the supervisor was on any given Bugs cartoon w/o seeing the credits.

  • It should be emphasized that saying Bugs debuted in PORKY’S HARE HUNT takes nothing away from Tex Avery. Even if you concede that Ben Hardaway came up with the seeds of the eventual Bugs, he was completely unable to accomplish anything of merit with his own idea.

    Tex was the one who made that rabbit into a fully-fleshed character who would win an Oscar, be beloved by fans the world over and make WB a jillion dollars. And as such, Tex deserves the lion’s share of the credit for Bugs’ development.

  • My impression is that Warner prefers not to discuss Bugs’s age, or the age of their cartoons, at all. Any reference to year of release is always noticeably absent from DVD issues of the films.

  • “Any Bonds Today” was Bugs’ favorite cartoon? Interesting.
    It’s also interesting that the copyright sheet for “Hare-um Scare-um” notes the actual ending for the short.

    • Re: “Any Bonds Today.” Given that World War II was going on, choosing this film as “Bugs’s favorite” was undoubtedly the patriotic choice.

    • Or maybe he just loved doing his Al Jolson impression.

  • Bugs changes a lot , bith physically and in his character, from director to director, and even from role to role. The jones bugs of “super rabbit” is very different from the jones bugs of the daffy/Elmer rabbit duck season trilogy and its not just the character evolution that most cartoon characters go through. The directors altered him to suit the film.

    The only true constant is , of course, the voice by Mel blanc. It started out as a deep somewhat lugubrious voice, but once it became the brooklynesque wise guy, it stayed the same throughout hs career.

  • Whoever did the last page must have failed to see pntential box office boffo in the scwewy wabbit to designate him an incidental character! You always dig up an interesting trivia piece

  • It’s very true that WB is hyper-sensitive about the age of their cartoons. Years ago, when the “Warner Bros. Cartoon Companion” was being considered for a WB site, the suits wanted to delete all references to the years cartoons came out. Which would have removed the entire point of the WBCC, since the WBCC explained the historical references in the cartoons. It’s not as if this information was secret — witness Beck & Friedwald’s essential book.

    • Yeesh. That is one of the many reasons why I don’t trust those Warner suits.

    • Disney’s even worse when it comes to copyright and year info on their DVD’s-there IS no year, not even on copyright, thus (c)(fill in the Disney unit of your fave choice).

  • Notice, when the name is used in those pre-1940 references, “Bugs” is in quotes: “Bugs” Bunny or ‘Bugs’ Bunny. It looks like it wasn’t quite an official character name yet; it was still just signifying that this was “Bugs” (Ben) Hardaway’s new character.

    Meanwhile, his nemesis was also evolving, and Egghead was already being billed as “Elmer Fudd”. Elmer’s first true appearance was Elmer’s Candid Camera. I would say this “John Soupruss” character in Hare-Um-Scare-Um was the intermittent stage between Egghead and Elmer. He’s a hunter who chases the prototype Bugs, and now that I’ve seen the original ending (I think the link to the video it was on another posting here), he clearly acts like Egghead at the end. Egghead with a moptop hairdo and different voice and personality.
    (People have claimed that Dan McFoo was the bridge between the two characters, but the Bryan voice is the only thing connecting him to Elmer; he has nothing to do with Egghead; he was actually a dog who looked nothing like either).

    • “Bugs” is in quotes because the Hare-um Scare-um model sheet had used the quotes, too: “Bug’s” [sic] Bunny, with the quotes to indicate that Bugs was a nickname—in this case Hardaway’s.
      When WB publicity picked it up, the quotes now indicated the publicists’ understanding that Bugs was a nickname for the rabbit, a la “Bugsy” Malone; at the time, “bugs” was a slang term for “crazy.”
      Even after Avery “finalized” Bugs, various early 1940s items kept right on putting the quotes around his first name. In the comics, the practice continued on and off until 1944, when Tom McKimson drew a whole story turning on the fact that “Bugs”‘ proper name was really George Washington Bunny—a point that, afterward, was never mentioned again.

  • Whoever was in charge of most of Bug’s cartoons at the time made the character suited to their own style. For instance, there is a big difference between Tex Avery’s Bugs and Chuck Jone’s Bugs.

  • Happens in live action as well. Harold Lloyd’s iconic “glasses character” was originally just another slapstick comic despite the novelty of looking ordinary. It actually took a while for Lloyd to fill in the all-American boy persona we see in his later shorts and features.

  • If you don’t relegate lineage to just one cartoon studio, Hardaway’s rabbit did have a long career — as Woody Woodpecker.

    In the same way he took Avery’s duck and put him in a rabbit suit, to borrow Friz Freeling’s line, he took his rabbit from Warners to Universal and stuck him in a bird costume at the same time as both Avery was redesigning the personality and look of Bug’s bunny and Freeling was bumping Hardaway and Dalton out of the director’s chair and immediately took to calming down and rationalizing Daffy’s actions in “You Ought to Be In Pictures”. Hardaway simply took the personality that Warners’ other directors considered too limiting and brought it to the Lantz studio (where Woody also would be calmed down by the mid-1940s).

  • Now I don’t know how old Bugs is but he is funny.

    I like how he says “meh..what’s up doc”?

    That’s down right hilarious!!!

    XD

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