Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Bugs Bunny's Nonexistent 20th Anniversary

I'm always interested in finding old articles about the Warner Brothers cartoon studio -- there weren't many, at least not until after it was closed down, so finding one is a rare treat, even if it's not a particularly good article.

In researching something else, I came across this article from March 31, 1956. It's by Aline Mosby of the United Press (now known as United Press International or UPI) and it's about the 20th anniversary of Bugs Bunny. Except, of course, that it wasn't the 20th anniversary of Bugs Bunny; even if you define "Porky's Hare Hunt" as his debut, that only takes you back to 1938. 1956 was sort of the Warner studio's unofficial 20th anniversary of making really great cartoons, since 1936 was a key year in that respect, but it wasn't Bugs Bunny's birthday. Oh, well.

WB cartoon producer Eddie Selzer provides the interview quotes for the article; his reference to Anna Magnani is based on the fact that she'd won the Academy Award the week before (where the WB cartoon studio had picked up its first Oscar in several years, for "Speedy Gonzales").

The only bit of information that's semi-new is Selzer's comment that they were reluctant to do a Bugs Bunny TV show because of the fear that it might make him over-exposed and dilute his popularity. (A few years later, of course, Warners did do a Bugs Bunny Show, but theatrical cartoons were collapsing by then and it wasn't feasible to have a character do only theatricals.) The article mentions that Bugs was a licensing and marketing bonanza for Warners, but you knew that.

I think this may be the first article to mention the much-repeated story that Mel Blanc was allergic to, or at least hated, carrots. Blanc denied that he was allergic to carrots, though he did repeat the story that he had to spit them out. I wouldn't be surprised if Selzer invented the allergy part or at least threw it in to embellish the story; Selzer started out as Warners' director of publicity (where he was extremely well-liked; Louella Parsons called him "one of the most popular publicity directors in town"), and making up little soundbite stories about actors was pretty much what publicity guys did.


United Press Hollywood Writer

HOLLYWOOD (UP) -- One veteran star has buck teeth, wears no clothes, is sassy and has a whining Brooklyn accent -- but today he celebrates his 20th anniversary as the boxoffice champ of Hollywood.

Bugs Bunny has been Warner Studio's top money-maker and the head of Hollywood's boxoffice poll for 20 years. No other actor can make that statement.

Unfortunately, Bugs, like Doris Day and Susan Hayward, never has won an Oscar. But his creators sigh that many a top ticket-seller never makes the artistic grade.

On Bugs' 20th birthday and 20th anniversary in pictures I dropped in at his home, the Warner cartoon department where Bugs is spoken about as if he were a two-footed veteran such as Spencer Tracy. The busy bunny shows no sign of dropping in popularity.

"We've just licensed Bugs Bunny carrot juice, carrots and waffle and gelatin molds in the shape of the rabbit," beamed Edward Selzer, chief producer of the cartoon department who is a pixie type himself.

"Bugs gets many offers to appear on TV. But if a star is on TV all the time, people get tired of him."

The racy rabbit started his film career as an extra in a cartoon, "Harem Scarem [sic]." Two years later the studio decided to star him in "Heckling Hare." Bugs was a smash.

Marilyn Monroe has changed in appearance since her first film. So has Bugs. His legs and body are longer and he's switched from tawny fur to blue-gray fur. But his personality remains the same.

"Bugs is sassy and happy-go-lucky," explained Selzer. "When we develop a story for him we select it with as much criticism and care as if he were Anna Magnani. We won't put him out of character."

Bugs appears in cartoon books and as the insignia for countless branches of the armed forces. During World War II he actually was transferred from one Marine outfit to the other -- complete with documents in triplicate. His service record with the Marines is still on file.

Bugs has starred in 146 movies, including this year's "Napoleon Bunny-Parte," and "[Roman] Legion-Hare." He appeared twice in live movies. Always the lop-eared star has the voice of Mel Blanc.

"Blanc," insists producer Selzer, "actually is allergic to carrots. So we leave his carrot munching line of 'What's up, Doc?' to the end when we record the sound. Mel tried celery and apples but nothing sounds like a carrot. Funny, but Blanc just can't stand carrots."


Yeldarb86 said...

Not only did they get some of the facts wrong (Bugs' official debut was in A Wild Hare), but given the date and occasion of this interview, that would've been Porky's 20th anniversary.

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

Blanc must have changed his position on the carrot issue because in his autobiography he does assert that he's allergic to carrots.