“How many lumps do you want?” “Oh, three or four…” Here’s a Warners cult classic for this week’s breakdown!
Like 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.
Herman 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.
(Thanks to Michael Barrier, Keith Scott and Yowp for their help.)