ANIMATION ANECDOTES
April 19, 2021 posted by Jim Korkis

What’s The Story Behind This Picture?

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.

(click to enlarge)

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.

Tom McKimson

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.

9 Comments

  • The Bugs Bunny painting’s owner in 2010 was Greg Duffell, according to this link: http://mayersononanimation.blogspot.com/2010/09/provenance-of-painting.html. The article speculates about the artist being John Didrik Johnsen, but that is beyond my expertise. I am fairly certain though that the Bugs Bunny page in Large Feature Comics 8 was drawn by Carl Buettner.

    • And of course this post from Mike Barrier: http://www.michaelbarrier.com/WhatsNewArchives/2010/WhatsNewArchivesSept10.html#mikemalteseandfriend

    • Wundermild, the Bugs comic page artist is really Chase Craig.

      The style, lettering, and design on Bugs and Elmer are identical to what we see in the Elmer stories of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies Comics #1-14, which Michael Barrier long ago confirmed were drawn by Craig.

      Here, by contrast, is how Buettner’s Bugs design, style, and lettering looked contemporaneously: https://pappysgoldenage.blogspot.com/2010/07/number-770-b-is-for.html

      • David, you are certainly one of the most knowledgable authorities on Golden Age artists out there, so I will have a hard time arguing against. And I stand corrected, after closely comparing the Bugs in both stories of that comic book (I have located a scan online at https://we.tl/t-ma19U2Rrhu for comparison: The first story reportedly drawn by Craig, the backup story by Buettner; the page with the painting is the inside back cover). Do you attribute the art on the front and back covers to Craig as well? Then my source for confusion would be the drawing of Elmer in the lower right corner of the gag picture, which is very different from the Elmer from the back cover but clearly similar to Buettner’s Elmer. But I will also check out whatever I can find from the first 14 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies issues…

  • Thanks to you both. Barrier’s piece is certainly valuable since it has confirmation from both Maltese and Tex Avery about the artist of the painting.

    This is also a good reminder to me to check a little more thoroughly.. I am a big fan of both Mayerson (who was indirectly responsible for me starting to write for MINDROT) and Barrier (who really blazed the trail for animation historians with FUNNYWORLD) and I am sure at one time I read those posts….and just as quickly forgot them since I was interested in other things at the time. Too bad there is no animation history magazine out there where all this information about the painting could be collected and preserved.

    I thought that the readers of this site might be able to help out and these first two responses certainly did. Many thanks.

  • Doesn’t Greg Duffell own the final painting? I’m not in touch with him but I know a lot of commenters/writers here at CR are, maybe ask him…

  • Now, if we could only track down the painting of the giraffe in a tuxedo that hung in the Addams Family’s parlour….

    • Karl Hubenthal painted the giraffe.
      Someone’s bound to know where it is.

  • This reminds me that in either the NYC or Los Angeles (or perhaps both) recording studios for Decca Records, on the wall was a large painting of an American Indian maiden, with “WHERE’S THE MELODY?” in big lettering above her. Apparently Jack Kapp, head of Decca, didn’t like when his singing recording artists strayed too far from the notes in the sheet music.
    Here’s a photo of Bing Crosby with Jack Kapp in one of the Decca studios, and you can see just the lower part of the painting in the background. https://jazzlives.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/bingjackkapprecording-th.jpg

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