ANIMATION ANECDOTES
January 29, 2015 posted by

In His Own Words: Bob McKimson

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I’ve talked about animation legend Bob McKimson before on this site.

McKimson was born in 1910 and passed away in 1977. He died from a massive heart attack while eating lunch with his friends Friz Freleng and David DePatie for whom he was working directing Pink Panther shorts, among other things. Ironically, just days before the attack, he had visited the doctor for a complete physical and got a clean bill of health.

He was best known for his work on Warner Bros. cartoons where he created Foghorn Leghorn, Tasmanian Devil and Hippety Hopper the kangaroo among others.

He worked as an animator and as a director. His 1942 model sheet for Bugs Bunny (and his promotional drawing of Bugs Bunny leaning against a tree while eating a carrot for a local Los Angeles store) set the design for the character for many years.

His two brothers, Charles and Tom, also worked as animators at Warner Brothers and later as comic book artists for Dell.


For the November 28, 1972 issue of PUNCH magazine, writer Lloyd Chester interviewed Bob McKimson on the state of animation.

The interview took place in McKimson’s Beverly Hills home in his den on a rainy morning. I dug this lost treasure out of my archives to share one of the rare times that McKimson talked about his own animation work in print:

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Click To Enlarge

“Bugs Bunny had only one meaning really—to make people happy, to get them to laugh at themselves.

“There were so many of them. Sylvester, Tweety, Roadrunner, Coyote, Foghorn Leghorn and of course, the box-office champ of them all, Bugs Bunny!

“He was a fantastic character. Tex Avery is the man who gets most of the credit for creating him back in 1938. He got his name from Charles Thorsen who worked under the direction of another animator, ‘Bugs’ Hardaway. Thorsen drew some preliminary sketches and at the bottom of his drawings, he wrote Bugs’ Bunny and the name stuck.

“I gave him his face, that mobile, pixie look. I drew him so he could react to any situation, do anything most people would love to do, if they had the nerve. It was his character to be prankish, to take great delight in going up against every rule of society. He was brash and hated pretension but he was never malicious.

“I don’t think any cartoon character had the same impact as Bugs. He’s known the world over. You can walk down any street in London or Tokyo or Mexico City and stop the first person you meet and ask them if they know Bugs Bunny and they smile and reply ‘Of course we do’.

“During World War II, I personally drew over 150 Bugs Bunny insignias for different branches of the Armed Services and another time, during a Bond Rally, I drew a picture of Bugs for a lady for a donation of five thousand dollars.

“He was great, but so were the others, too. They were all wonderful—Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig….

“Everyone could relate to our cartoons. People put themselves in the place of Bugs or Tweety, or Roadrunner doing all those crazy, zany things. It was great fun. I miss them all very much.

“We were a bunch of young guys in the middle of a Depression trying to bring a little happiness to a pretty sad world. We were looking for different things to do and as a result we experimented a lot. We had fun just walking up and down the halls at Warners wearing funny hats—all kinds: civil war caps, derbies, Stetsons, turbans—anything that we turn into a comedy situation.

“We thought funny. We were constantly telling ridiculous stories and jokes to each other and it paid off. Our mad-cap antics were reflected in our cartoons and when you look at ‘em today, hell, they’re still funny.

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Click To Enlarge

“Our story lines were carry-overs from the early days of Hollywood. Our cartoons were based on slapstick comedy…you know…the old pie-in-the-face, slap ‘em with a board, hit ‘em over the head schtick. We borrowed heavily from the masters—Chaplin, Turpin, Arbuckle, Laurel and Hardy. Whatever was good enough for them was certainly good enough for Bugs and Sylvester and the Coyote.

“Mickey Mouse was the beginning and Bugs Bunny the turning point. Walt was the training ground for most of us old-timers and we worked on a lot of funny cartoons. Goofy was one and Donald Duck was another. Everyone in the industry tried to come as close as possible to Disney’s technique of full animation.

“I recall one time Walt didn’t like the way the suspender buttons moved on Mickey’s trousers. I spent a full day working on those damn buttons until Walt was finally satisfied with their movement. He was a perfectionist and he taught most of us what we know about full animation. That was really our secret at Warners. None of our cartoon characters ever stood still.

“We live in a plastic age today. The new animators haven’t been trained in the art of full animation. They’ve been trained to do drawings and the drawings may look pretty but the action is stilted. They hold a character, move his mouth a little and then move him a little bit more. There is no action at all. They are mostly dialogue pictures and the more dialogue you have, the less action is needed. It’s cheaper to turn out. Cost is the big factor today. It’s expensive to make cartoons but then, all movie making is expensive today.

“I guess there will always be cartoons around, in one form or another. A friend of mine—he’s 72 years old—Ken Harris—he’s in England now teaching their young animators the technique of full animation. He’s one of the best around and originally I taught him, so I guess it does get passed on.

“But I don’t know…there’s only a handful of top animators left—they’re getting older or retiring or dying off…

“Say, did I ever tell you of the time I was in Japan and saw a Bugs Bunny cartoon? It was in Japanese and it sounded so funny to me but they love those characters over there and all over the world.”

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14 Comments

  • Good stuff. Mckimson was every bit as good as Freleng etc but you rarely hear it said. Made many fun toons esp ‘look ma I’m a hare-plane!’ And ‘I gotta do what the book sez!” Thanks for posting this.

  • Always good to see a McKimson shout-out.

    Even if his toons started to droop sooner than the others, in his prime his best was as good as anything Jones, Freleng, Avery ever put out. Easter Yeggs, Crowing Pains; plenty to choose from.

    If he did nothing other than design characters, he’d still be a legend. What draftsmanship!

  • McKimson gets the least credit of all the Warners directors, but Hillbilly Hare is one the funniest Bugs Bunny cartoons ever.

  • We need more Looney Tunes Lobby cards.

  • Thanks for sharing. One of personal favorites from you comes from Mindrot/Animania. It is the story you told of a couple of young fellows discussing a problem with a film they were working. An older man passing who overheard them offered several solutions. Then he continued on his way. One of the young fellows said, “That’s the trouble with these old guys. They think they know everything.” The old guy was Tex Avery.

    I was much younger, of course, as were you when I read that. Thankfully not all young fellows are fools. I wasn’t. You weren’t. Jerry wasn’t. Mike Barrier wasn’t. Greg Ford wasn’t. John Kricfalusi wasn’t. There were/are many more bright people it’s just that amidst all that brightness the dull ones stand out. That story helps me deal with the young fools I meet.

  • So great to read about McKimson. To me, he’s the most fascinating of the classic WB directors…and as others said, his work is absolutely on par with the others, and a lot of times better.

  • Mr. McKimson was very much an underrated director. At times, Bob was on a par with Chuck and Friz.

  • The more I learn about Mr. McKimson, the more respect I have for him. I bought Robert McKimson Jr.’s book “I Say, I Say… Son!”, about his famous father and uncles, not long after it came out a couple of years ago. It’s excellent, and I recommend it. I think McKimson’s “Hillbilly Hare” is the funniest Bugs Bunny cartoon ever! I challenge anybody to watch that and not end up ROTFL…

    Actually, not all of McKimson’s later WB cartoons are lame. It was spotty. Have you folks ever seen “A Mutt in a Rut” (1959), with Elmer Fudd and his dog? I think it’s a howl! And his late “Honeymousers” cartoons are good, as is “The Mouse that Jack Built”, with mouse versions of Jack Benny, his wife Mary, and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson. The problem was that the WB cartoon studio had lost a lot of good people by then, and everybody knew the cartoons were not up to par then… even McKimson.

    I think we can be happy that we have what we have…

    OH! By the way… You want to see a REALLY weird McKimson “auteur” cartoon? Watch “Corn Plastered.” (It’s on DVD, on “Looney Tunes Super Stars: Porky and Friends: Hilarious Ham”.) It’s REALLY way out there! McKimson’s “special” cartoons really deserve a look!

    • McKimson seemed to be the go-to guy for TV parodies; in addition to the “Honeymousers” cartoons, he did ‘China Jones” (spoofing the Dan Duryea series “China Smith”), “Boston Quackie.” and “Wideo Wabbit” (the latter parodying Liberace, Groucho and others). And I think he also directed the “drunken stork” epics “Goo Goo Goliath” and “Mouse-Placed Kitten” (or were they from Freleng?)

  • Many thanks for publicizing the article and my father’s accomplishments. He gets far too little credit for what he did as an animator and director.

  • Rnigma: “Goo Goo Goliath” was by Friz Freleng.

    • Ah, it *was* Friz. Thanks.

  • Robert Mckimson also directed the last 7 Looney Tunes Cartoons from 1968-1969. Among them, he directed the only 2 Bunny and Claude Cartoons, a parody of the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. McKimson also directed the only Looney Tunes cartoons of Rapid Rabbit and Quick Brown Fox in Rabbit Stew and Rabbits Too!, inspired by Chuck Jones’ Road Runner Cartoons – and the last Looney Tunes cartoon of the “golden era”: Injun Trouble in 1969. We can assume Mckimson directed the opening credits, before the studio shut down, to the Warner Bros. feature film “The Phynx” (1970).

  • I like the Robert McKimson cartoons as well. As so many have said he’s one of the most under-rated animation directors from the hey-day of Warner Brothers cartoons. I have always wondered if there’s any video footage of Robert McKimson and the reason I ask is because there’s plenty of video clips out there featuring Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, and to a lesser extent Tex Avery, Art Davis, and Norm McCabe but I have never, ever seen any kind of archived video footage whatsoever of Robert McKimson. I’ve seen a lot of photo’s, though. I also have the book “I Say, I Say, Son…” that Robert’s son wrote a couple years ago. One of my favorite cartoons from Robert McKimson is “Birth of a Notion” featuring Daffy Duck battling an evil scientist (a caricature of Peter Lorre). I loved all the parody cartoons McKimson directed as well. The ones featuring the mice versions of the Honeymooners characters and of course the classic “The Mouse That Jack Built”. Rightfully so “Hillbilly Hare” is listed as a favorite Bugs Bunny cartoon from Robert McKimson but a close second, for me, is “Bushy Hare” where Bugs does battle with a wild aborigine. “Easter Yeggs” is another all-time favorite.

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