June 15, 2016 posted by

Robert McKimson’s “Rabbit’s Kin” (1952)


“How many lumps do you want?” “Oh, three or four…” Here’s a Warners cult classic for this week’s breakdown!

rabbits-kin-peteLike Michigan J. Frog from One Froggy Evening (1955), Owl Jolson in I Love to Singa (1936), Bugs’ adversary in this film, Pete Puma, became one of the more remarkable one-shot characters in the history of Warners cartoons. Ted Pierce is credited on the story for Rabbit’s Kin; in a similar structure to Freleng’s High Diving Hare (1949), also written by Pierce, the cartoon is built around a single running gag—in this case, Pete Puma receiving “three or four” lumps on the head, instead of sugar cubes. In an interesting anomaly, a smaller, younger rabbit observes, and later participates, in Bugs’ ingenuity of outwitting his foes. (Bugs’ nephew Clyde, making a couple appearances in cartoons and specials from Friz Freleng, wasn’t as involved in Bugs’ encounters as “Buster” is in this film.)

Brilliantly performed by the late Stan Freberg, Pete Puma’s voice and personality, like many of McKimson’s characters, were derived from radio programs. Freberg based the voice on Frank Fontine’s inebriated panhandler John L. C. Sivoney, a featured character of his stage act. He later performed as Sivoney for Jack Benny on April 9, 1950, which led to a one-year contract for semi-regular appearances later that year. Later, the character was changed to Crazy Guggenheim for Jackie Gleason’s variety shows in Miami during the ‘60s. Here’s a sampling of an interaction between Benny and Sivoney from the November 26, 1950 broadcast, a few months before Freberg recorded his lines of Pete Puma on February 2, 1951. This excerpt also references the earlier April episode:

Each animator included on the main titles is present in the draft, except for animator Keith Darling, who wouldn’t receive screen credit until Chuck Jones’ Beanstalk Bunny (1955). Evidently, Darling was present at the studio long before this film (the earliest animation credited to him is in Jones’ directorial debut The Night Watchman), and even volunteered for picket duty outside the Disney studio in July, 1941. His work on Rabbit’s Kin has almost a “Jonesian” look; he animated for Jones and McKimson throughout the mid-‘50s and early ‘60s.

Rabbit's_Kin_1Herman Cohen handles the opening scenes of the little rabbit frantically explaining to Bugs his encounter with Pete Puma, and the iris out of Bugs imitating Pete’s trademark squeal. Cohen started at the Fleischer studios in New York, then moved West to Warners in the mid-’30s. He left the studio, to participate in Army’s Signal Corp. around August, 1941 (He was discharged in November of that year, but inducted back by January, 1943.) He returned in the mid-‘40s, animated for Art Davis, and left again, presumably for different studio work, of which is unknown, but returned in the early ‘50s to animate for McKimson’s unit. He departed again in mid-1953, after the studio shut down its animation department in the wake of 3-D films, to animate for Walter Lantz.

Rod Scribner’s work on the film is almost hindered under McKimson’s direction, particularly in his close-ups of Bugs. His inhibitions as an animator vanquished these limitations on the other characters. For instance, scene 12, of the little rabbit pulling on Bugs’ foot in an attempt to refrain him from Pete Puma, and the first few scenes of Pete disguised as “the little feller’s mother” (with a great scurrying effect in scene 32), has the character’s faces and bodies take on odd, grotesque distortions, fairly reminiscent of his earlier work for Bob Clampett.

Though viewers may have seen similar videos on YouTube, as an added bonus, here are the little rabbit’s lines slowed down. Interestingly, Mel Blanc uses a slightly higher register of his voice for Sylvester the cat.


Rabbit's Kin-page-2

(Thanks to Michael Barrier, Keith Scott and Yowp for their help.)


  • Friz would complain about pairing Elmer Fudd with Bugs because Elmer was so stupid it weakened him as an opponent. The same thing’s in play here — neither Bugs nor the audience ever sees Pete as a threat, but Stan Freberg’s great voice work and Tedd Pierce’s running lumps gag offsets that weakness. But since Pete makes Elmer look like a member of Mensa, odds are it would have gotten a lot tougher to make the character interesting if this had been more than a one-shot bit

    Keith Darling and Pierce’s names show up (Tedd’s in its original one-D form) in a background inside gag about unionization in 1938’s “Have You Got Any Castles?”, the second of Frank Tashlin’s three things-coming-to-life cartoons. It is possible that the ‘Darling’ mentioned in the gag could be Charlotte Darling, but since Jones would inherit Tashlin’s unit a short time later (plus Keith’s union activity during the Disney strike) would tend to point towards him and to the fact he was established enough at the studio before “The Night Watchman” to justify a gag that the staff would get, even if it went by fast enough so that Leon, Henry and Ray probably wouldn’t see it.

  • Stan Freberg is the Sid Raymond of Warner Bros.

    • SUre is..his other WB “Dumb” roles inc;ude Jr.Bear (after Blanc’s originating the role in 1944 in “Bugs Bunny/Three Bears”., the Hick Elmo (Mel Blanc did the “intoxicated lines”) in “A Hick, ASlick and a Chick” with Bea Benaderet as the hot chick and Mel Blanc as the Slicker mouse, the dumb “foxhound”(who more resembles a beagle) from “Foxy by Proxy” with Bugs (despite the absence of rabbit or similiarly related titles), and Bertie opposite Mel Blanc’s Hubie in the Hubie and Bertie cartoons.

  • I helped put on a “Bugs Bunny film festival” in the early 90s, and was astonished by how many people asked after this film, at every single showing. At the time I had no idea it was that popular.

  • Best part: Pete wobbling in high heels.

    As if his disguise wasn’t already a fail.

    “I don’t want no tea…”

  • Love that little hyperactive bunny chattering away non stop to Bugs (wonder if he was a reincarnation to the blabber mouth version of Sniffles?) Also Pete Puma had a revival as a secondary character on Tiny Toon Adventures as the Looniversity’s custodian and as the Acme Acres fire chief in the classic When You’re Hot episode.

    • Actually, that bunny’s name is “Shorty”. Buster is the TTA character of course.

      I wonder why Shorty never caught on.

  • I wonder if it is possible to find out more on Fleischer Studios’ setback (stereo-scopic) 1930’s technology on Cartoon Research?
    I sure would be grateful as I remember sitting up everytime it flashed on the screen.

  • Owl Jolson is probably the only true one-shot character since both Michigan and Pete had their own sequels decades later in the 1990s by Chuck Jones (Another Froggy Evening and Pullet Surprise respectively).

    • And Michigan J. Frog was the “spokesfrog” for the WB Network and Kids WB.

  • I had the privilege of interviewing Stan Freberg some years ago for a piece I was writing about his 1957 radio series. The subject of RABBIT’S KIN and Pete Puma came up at one point, and I remember that Stan, while grateful for the popularity of his work in that short, expressed bewilderment about it, seeing Pete as a minor part of his “ouvre.” Near as I could get from him, Stan didn’t attach any importance to the character of Pete Puma because he was merely imitating someone else’s voice and mannerisms rather than creating something original.

    • It probably goes a lot towards the source material fading from the public’s mind while the animated version kept showing up on TV. Gleason wasn’t using his Joe the Bartender bit as much by the late 1960s, which was Fontine’s main public exposure to the Baby Boom generation. Anyone who wasn’t a regular watcher of the Gleason show Saturday nights or who was born after about 1962 or so would have no idea where Freberg got the voice, because the only thing from Jackie’s shows that ever got re-run much was the Honeymooners skits.

    • That is interesting as I HAD seen crazy gugenheim, but never would have thought that Stan was doing his take on that! BUT i can also see, as that was a pretty common schtick, that his take was nothing special! Still like both performances.

  • That is a VERY strange cut between the Phil De Lara scene with the cigar and the Keith Darling scene. I never noticed how bizarre it was before now. Here’s why I find it odd: Both shots are static. There is no camera movement. The composition is identical, with no need for a cut. The background changes, but is essentially the same, except missing clouds. Was the gag changed involving the cigar, with the tea sequence added in? If this is correct, why didn’t they use the same background? Something odd happened in production on this cartoon, it seems likely now. For years it seemed a little strange to me that the cigar gag was set up, seemingly comes to nothing, and then a full 40 seconds later returns. Notice the crossed out scene right after, “Pete walks up tree” “Still” …slated to be, or actually animated by, Keith Darllng. Was Pete supposed to have been blown up into a tree by the force of the explosion? The Keith Darling animation, upon examination, does seem less expert than the other animators. In stepping through it, I can see how he’s taking McKimson’s layouts and just inbetweening them. Mostly the problem is in the timing and spacing of the drawings and some awkward drawing and posing especially in the fuse lighting scene in the hole. I immediately thought of the 1955 cartoon “Too Hop to Handle”, that credited only McKimson and Darling for animation. McKimson did the first portion half, approximately, and Darling the rest. The animation in general in “Rabbit’s Kin” is excellent and it’s nice to see Phil De Lara’s work attributed, because it’s really good animation. This is a particularly fascinating post for me, as I thought I’d had this one totally sorted out.

  • Darrell Van Citters directed “Pullet Surprise” for the Jones Studio. Oh, and just a small thing Devon, it’s not the Army Signal Corp. (that’s a corporation), but the Army Signal CORPS. (Pronounced “core”.)

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