What’s Up Doc?

CHRIS PEARSON outlines the history of Warner Brothers’ famous carrot-chewing wabbit.

When Bugs Bunny first hit the screen, in 1938, he was, as one might expect, totally different from the Warner Brothers character that we know today. In Porky’s Hare Hunt, the unofficial debut of the first prototype rabbit, Porky Pig goes hunting with his dog and before long they come across the abject of their expedition: rabbits. Unfortunately for Porky, however, the rabbit he and his dog choose as the victim of their sport turns out to be a totally obnoxious and completely insane creature who proceeds to drive the two as batty as he is. with Porky eventually winding up in hospital. In his book Of Mice and Magic, Leonard Maltin writes:

He bears more than a passing resemblance, personality wise, to the screw-loose Daffy Duck who debuted a year earlier in Tex Avery’s Perky’s Duck Hunt. He has a nutty laugh: he hops around wildly and even flies, spinning his ears like propellers, dispensing wisecracks at every turn (‘Here I am, Fat Boy!’). In a remark reminiscent of Daffy’s greeting to Porky, the rabbit tells his wood-be hunter, ‘Can’t let me worry you chief — I’m just a trifle pixilated!’ Like later incarnations of Bugs, he drops his wise-guy pose at several junctures: first, to turn melodramatic when it seems that Porky has the drop on him (Don’t shoot’ he pleads); then to feign concern and sincerity (when Pork’s rifle jams he steps forward to examine it, asking. ‘You’re sure it won’t work?’ before taking the opportunity to browbeat Porky even more).

Porky’s Hare Hunt was co-directed by Ben Hardaway and Cal Dalton, and it was Hardaway who in fact inspired the name of Bugs, as Bugs was the director’s own nickname. Mel Blanc, who has gained fame as the voice of the wacky rabbit (and about two thousand other cartoon characters) claims that the original suggestion was to name Bugs the Happy Rabbit, and that he told the animators to name him after his ‘creator’, although Chuck Jones, who possesses the first model sheet has given this credit to its artist, Charlie Thorsen, who marked the drawing; Bugs’ Bunny when he handed them back to Hardaway. (Many claims have in fact been made upon Bugs’ actual creation and quite a great deal of back-stabbing and false assertion have gone on among the various directors, animators, etc, who have worked with Bugs: this article is in fact an attempt to give credit to the real persons instrumental in Bugs’ success).

After Porky’s Hare Hunt came Hare-Urn Scare-Urn (1939) in which the hunting formula is revived for a newly-designed rabbit who aggressively tortures a prototypical Elmer Fuddish hunter and, in the ending which many television networks have censored, finally recruits the aid of his entire family who all pin the unfortunate human to the ground and give him what-for in a malicious rousing finale. Another first for this picture has the rabbit going in drag.

As mentioned earlier, Leonard Maltin has pointed out the similarity between Bugs’ Bunny and Tex’s Duck, and interestingly the Avery film was in fact scripted by Hardaway. But a more intriguing similarity (noted by Maltin) is to that of Walter Lantz’ Woody Woodpecker, who debuted a couple of years later in the film Knock Knock (1940). Both the rabbit’s attitude and design are similar to Woody’s, and it is interesting to note that the first bunny has the ‘ha-ha-ha-Ha-ha’ laugh popularised by Woody from the start. This is surely no accident, for Mel Blanc originated Woody’s voice just a few years later, and what’s more, this film was scripted by Bugs Hardaway too!

A lot of people give credit to Bugs Hardaway for creating Bugs Bunny. But to me, he had no part in it. He had a completely different character. It was called Bugs’ Bunny. If it had been a horse, it would have been a Bugs’ Horse, I give Tex Avery credit for creating the character, I drew the way he looks. At first he was more of a Roman-nosed character with an oval head. Then we made him cuter, brought out his cheeks and head out a little more and gave him just a little nose. ROBERT McKIMSON (in an interview with Mark Nardone).

Regarding the creation of Bugs, Robert McKimson’s comment is just right. A Wild Hare, released on July 27, 1940 opens with Elmer Fudd (coming to the end of his simultaneous evolution) staring into the audiences faces and saying: ‘Shhhh: be veww-wwy quiet…I’m hunting wabbits’ and graciously stalks his prey, replete with shotgun and outsize deerstalker.

Before long, he comes across wabbit twacks’ which lead him, chuckling menacingly, to a wabbit hole, whereupon he attempts to lure the occupant into his hands with a carrot placed carefully outside (‘wabbits wove cawwots’). After a lengthy pantomime in which an unidentified blue-wristed and white-gloved hand feels around for the carrot, assuming the shape and characteristics of a dog or some other quadruped, Elmer becomes angered with this lethargic tomfoolery and begins to dig at the rabbit’s hole with his hands, in a vain attempt to uproot the creature. As he digs, the camera pans past our red-nosed villain and focuses upon another rabbit hole, out of which there abruptly emerges the maniacal head of Bugs Bunny, in his first every on-screen appearance in the form he is best-remembered for (not fully developed as yet, but on the right tracke – or ‘wabbit twacks’). With supposed interest in the activities of Elmer, he casually strolls over to the point where Elmer is scraping the earth and, between carrot-chomps, speaks his first line of dialogue: What’s up, Doc?

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