A Suspended Animation Extra Column
The older I get the more animation history mysteries I seem to stumble across that no one else has documented. To make matters worse, most if not all the original sources who could have shared some valuable information about them have all passed away.The readership of this site is composed of some of the most knowledgeable animation authorities with a wide range of expertise. So, I thought I would try to tap into some of that obscure knowledge for help in calming my rampant curiosity.
Decades ago when I was living in Southern California, at a Los Angeles comic book convention I picked up a fair copy of a 1942 Looney Tunes comic book (Large Feature Comics #8). One of the reasons for my purchase was the inside front cover (at right) had a brief illustrated biography of Bugs Bunny and in those days, there was little if any information about Warner Bros animation history.
One of the things that surprised me was an illustration accompanied by a blurb that stated “In the office of Leon Schlesinger, there is a huge oil painting of Bugs — a Christmas present from the employees of the Schlesinger Studio.”
In 1942, Bugs Bunny was hugely popular appearing in Case of the Missing Hare, The Wabbit Who Came to Supper, Hold the Lion Please, The Hare-Brained Hypnotist, The Wacky Wabbit, Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid, Fresh Hare and the ninety second propaganda short directed by Bob Clampett Any Bonds Today? that was meant to encourage audiences to buy defense bonds.
That short was also illustrated and blurbed in the one page biography and I am not a good enough art expert to make a guess who drew that page.
It certainly wouldn’t have been odd that in 1942 Schlessinger would have wanted a portrait of his top star to adorn the office wall behind his desk.Illustration magazine ran a terrific article on the H.J Ward Superman painting that hung in the DC comic book offices for decades and was retouched in 1942 to help win a lawsuit against Fawcett’s Captain Marvel. Unfortunately, no one has ever written about the Bugs Bunny painting to the best of my knowledge.
When I was living in Southern California, a friend whose knowledge of animation artists I respect guessed that the painting may have been done by Tom McKimson, the brother of Robert, who had been working at Warner Brothers for quite some time.
He also illustrated Dell comic books featuring the Oscar winning rabbit as well as Little Golden Books and coloring books that had painted covers of Bugs Bunny done by him. I certainly don’t have a better guess but perhaps some reader will know more.
The painting came up in a Howard Lowery auction in 1994 where Mr. Lowery wrote: “Oil on canvas. 29 ½ by 23 ½. This outstanding portrait was created in the early 1940s by an artist at Warner Brothers and reportedly hung in the office of producer Leon Schlesinger.
“With the closing of the WB animation studios in the 1960s, it took up residence in the study of writer Michael Maltese. Minor surface wear, varnish has aged and a professional cleaning would brighten the colors considerably. Framed.” It sold for $10,640.
Lowery liked the painting so much that he used it as the cover of his auction catalog for the November 13, 1994 auction. I really miss Lowery’s printed auction catalogs and dropping by his physical store in Burbank.
I don’t know where the painting is these days, probably in some private collection, but I hope it is being well taken care of and that somebody somewhere, maybe even a reader of this site, can help me piece together its story.