Since the Fourth of July is upon us in a few weeks, I thought I would present correspondence about the patriotic film Leon Schlesinger Presents Bugs Bunny, a.k.a. Any Bonds Today (1941).
I am posting a letter dated February 13, 1998, from the late, great, beloved Martha Sigall. I had written to her about her work on Any Bonds Today and asked about her thoughts about Bugs Bunny’s blackface scene in it, whether she thinks the studio associated blackface with patriotism to an extent, and whether the blackface scene was important for the film. I may have asked about whether she had ever heard any negative feedback about the film at the time, but I don’t remember.
The blackface scene and Sigall’s thoughts on it are also discussed in my book The Colored Cartoon, but I quoted from only part of the letter in the book. She was very helpful to my research, and I was very saddened by her passing many years later. Below is her letter in its entirety. To quote Mandrake in Weasel While You Work, “The Fourth of July came a little early this year!”
I received your letter this morning and I am happy to answer your questions the best I can.
I do remember painting on Any Bonds Today which played in movie theaters during World War II. However, when I or others paint on the cartoons, we were not concerned about the content of that cartoon. We were given 20 or 30 cels at a time, and we followed directions on what colors to use. We did see the whole thing when it was finished, and I thought it was well done and made its point of selling war bonds. Jolson himself had nothing to do with the making of the film.
As to your second question about using a black faced Bugs Bunny, I do not think there was anything uniquely “patriotic” or “American” about black face. At the studio, caricatures of movie stars were used often, and I remember Jolson being used on more than one occasion, especially since Jolson was a Warner Bros. star and singing “Mammy” in black face was his “schtick.” I remember that he entertained our troops during the war, and he toured the country with other movie people selling war bonds.
Question #3: No, I don’t think that Any Bonds Today needed the black face segment. But I also don’t feel that it hindered it, either. Bugs Bunny in black face sings “Sammy,” referring to Uncle Sam. The entire bit was only one minute and 30 seconds. And the black face part was only about 10 seconds, not that the brevity of it makes it any more acceptable. I sincerely hope that black people were not offended. I don’t believe there was any intention to offend. By today’s standards, it could be considered offensive, but times were different then.
I commend you for taking on this issue in your dissertation. And I wish you much success. If you have any further questions on any Warner Bros. cartoons, I will try to help you if I can. If you get a chance, would you please let me know who it was who referred you to me. Not that I have any objection, I’m just curious.
NOTE: For more about the film Any Bonds Today, visit Don Yowp’s Tralfaz blog.