In the ever-growing list of memorable movie catchphrases, “I tawt I taw a puddy tat” is undoubtedly near the top. First uttered in 1942 by a seemingly innocent little bird with a large head that audiences would come to know as Tweety, the phrase would become one of the most mimicked in film history.
This year, Tweety celebrates his 80th anniversary, making his debut in the short subject, A Tale of Two Kitties, directed by Bob Clampett. Known in-house as “Orson”, he faces off against a pair of felines named Babbit and Catsello (cat caricatures of Abbott and Costello) and first utters the now-famous “puddy tat” line.
The beloved bird was referred to as Tweety in 1944’s Birdy and the Beast (also directed by Clampett). Here we see that Tweety’s not that innocent, as he passively tortures and outwits a cat throughout the short. At the conclusion, as the cat inadvertently grabs a grenade and disappears in an explosion, Tweety observes, “Ya know, I lose more putty tats that way!”
Tweety once again squares off against a pair of cats (one of which is a caricature of Jimmy Durante) in A Gruesome Twosome (1945). In this short, Tweety ratchets up his malevolence and, at one point, hits the cats with a sledgehammer. After they fall to the ground, Tweety notes, “Aw, the poor putty tats! They faw down and go boom!”
The year after the release of Gruesome Twosome, it would prove to be a landmark for Tweety and Warner Bros. animation. In Friz Freleng’s Tweetie Pie (1947), Tweety was paired for the first time with the character who would become his ongoing antagonist, Sylvester, the cat.
The combination of these two personalities proved irresistible, and the short would win an Oscar. In it, Sylvester (called Thomas here) has a master who takes pity on poor Tweety and brings the little bird into the house in a cage, while Sylvester/Thomas attempts to get the bird. Tweety uses everything from a blowtorch to a bowling ball to ward off the cat.
As author Steve Schneider writes in his book, That’s All Folks: The Art of Warner Bros. Animation: “Like Rodgers and Hammerstein, Tweety and Sylvester had enjoyed accomplished solo careers before they worked together. But it was only when they were paired that they reached the most rarefied levels of cultural achievement.”
Some of the highlights of their many appearances together include I Taw a Putty Tat (1948), another short with the “model” of Tweety in a cage, and Sylvester attempting to get him out of the cage and into his mouth. Canary Row (1950) brought in Granny as Tweety’s owner (another foil for Sylvester). Catty Cornered in 1953 has the two involved with two hysterical gangsters, and 1957’s Birds Anonymous (another Oscar winner) is a clever comedy about Sylvester attempting to stop eating Tweety by going, you’ll excuse the expression, “cold turkey.” In 1960, Hyde and Tweet, where Tweety inadvertently eats Dr. Jekyll’s formula and turns into a large, Dr. Hyde version of himself (brought to life with some creative character design).
Tweety has remained an audience favorite with his innocence and a very knowing instinct. In the past three decades, he has been a part of appearances in 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit (in a memorable moment with Eddie Valiant/Bob Hoskins), Space Jam (1996), and Looney Tunes: Back in Action.
In 1995, Tweety returned with the TV show The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries, in which they were partnered with Granny and Hector the dog, solving mysteries around the world.
Through it all, Tweety has become one of the most popular and beloved characters in Warner Bros’ canon and for eight decades of seeing a “putty tat,” a little bird has provided tremendous entertainment.