This month’s feature—AH SAY—this month’s feature is “Foghorn February” on Cartoon Research! Foghorn, that is…
Bob McKimson’s Walky Talky Hawky stars Henery Hawk, a small, pugnacious predator who first appeared in Chuck Jones’ The Squawkin’ Hawk, released in 1942. Henery hadn’t appeared in any other Warners cartoons until McKimson borrowed the character for this cartoon. The little chicken hawk appeared in featured stories for Dell’s Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Comics by late 1943, mainly drawn by Vive Risto, a former animator for Bob Clampett. Henery’s comic stories for LT&MM lasted until 1954, and continued in other series through the mid-‘60s. The original title sequences for Walky Talky Hawky are missing, therefore known copies are “Blue Ribbon” reissues; it’s certainly feasible that Henery Hawk received star billing in its original release, but this is only speculation until—or unless—a cutting continuity surfaces for this title (or by some miracle, a print with original titles surfaces).
The story for Walky Talky Hawky, approved by late 1944, has Henery in search of his first chicken, and encountering a loud-mouthed barnyard rooster and a dog in the middle of their fraternal war. In developing the character, McKimson and story-man Warren Foster decided to base the rooster’s voice on a radio character, simply known as The Sheriff. Character actor Jack Clifford performed the deafened character on an early local variety show, Blue Monday Jamboree (1927-35), which McKimson remembered. Clifford’s mannerisms and voice served as an inspiration for the pompous rooster, particularly the Sheriff’s habit of restarting a sentence, prefaced with “I say…” McKimson wanted to use a different actor for the rooster instead of Mel Blanc, but was ultimately rejected; no surviving records indicate who the actor was. Here’s an example of Jack Clifford’s Sheriff from an early ‘30s episode of Komedy Kapers, courtesy of Keith Scott.
The character associated with the Foghorn Leghorn character is close, but isn’t fully realized; the rooster’s voice is quite gruff compared to his later cartoons. Contrary to popular belief, Senator Claghorn, performed by Kenny Delmar, couldn’t have influenced the voice for the rooster in Walky Talky Hawky. Keith Scott surmised the dialogue track was recorded on January 13, 1945, about nine months before his debut on Fred Allen’s radio show. Besides influences from radio comedy, former Disney effects animator Cornett Wood’s layouts for this cartoon helped establish the character’s presence; scene 33 of the rooster lying over a hilltop — animated by Dick Bickenbach — as he conspires with Henery, is another trait carried over to later entries (for example, 1950’s The Leghorn Blows at Midnight).The delicate posing in McKimson’s layouts is strikingly evident in this, his fourth cartoon. Dick Bickenbach handles a marvelous sequence in scene 7, in which Henery’s father melodramatically lectures his son about a chicken hawk’s purpose in life — to crave and eat a chicken. Don William’s scene 12, as the rooster paddles the tethered hound, leading to a chase until he is stopped by the limit of his rope, established the premise in the rivalry between the dog and rooster, which continued throughout most of the series. This generated, arguably, some of the most brutal violence in Warners’ echelon of theatrical cartoons as the series progressed.
Art Davis leaves a construction line in the middle of the rooster’s beak in his scenes; for instance, his first meeting with the naïve Henery as he convinces him that the dog is, indeed, a chicken. Scene 19, animated by Davis, expands upon Mel Blanc’s vocal performance as Henery (“Oooh, that’s the biggest chicken…ever I seed!”) with amusing results. Henery picking up the dog’s tail — in addition to reciting the slogan for Lucky Strike cigarettes — and biting down is also nicely done.
Released August 31, 1946, Walky Talky Hawky was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost to The Cat Concerto, with Tom and Jerry. As mentioned previously, this copy is a re-issued “Blue Ribbon” title. According to the original cue sheets, the song used under the opening titles was “Buzz Buzz Buzz (Will You Be My Honey?)” by Jimmie Lunceford, Alice Simms and Al Trace. Carl Stalling previously used the song under the opening titles for Bob Clampett’s Baby Bottleneck, released a few months earlier.
Hope you will all enjoy Foghorn February as much as I will! Enjoy, that is…
(Thanks to Michael Barrier, Keith Scott, Jerry Beck, Dave Gerstein, Andrew Gilmore and Paul Bussolini for their help.)