Day 199: The Looneys’ Supporting Cast

originally published July 17, 2012

On this glorious second-to-last day of my writing project, I… oh… right, it’s 1000, not 200. Damn. Okay, on this nowhere-near-the-endth day of this writing project, I opt to flash back to my youth, to the childhood that’s been baking in the incandescent red-green-blue glow of my TV-tube memory.

Back then, as I often tell my kids (and they never roll their eyes when I tell them this story, I’m almost certain of it), we had Saturday morning cartoons. That was it. During the week I subsisted on sitcoms and – eventually – MuchMusic (which, I also point out to my kids, used to play music. It was a glorious time!). I have fond memories of watching The Transformers or G.I. Joe cartoons, but the Golden Hour came at 11:00am every Saturday when Bugs Bunny & the Looney Tunes gang aired their already-antiquities to my hungry eyes.

I’d love to pen a kilograph to the genre-defining brilliance of Chuck Jones or Mel Blanc, or allow Wile E. Coyote & the Roadrunner (my favorites) to grand-marshal a thousand-word parade, but I’m tempted to do something different. I want to give a little love to the lesser-known crew of the Looney brigade. Everyone remembers Bugs, Foghorn, Daffy, Yosemite, Sylvester, Tweety, Speedy, Elmer, Marvin, Taz, Porky and Pepé. But the supporting cast were the essential soda that washed down our weekly burger of cartoon goofiness.

Beaky Buzzard, who always seemed a little bit… well, let’s say ‘special’, was an occasional nemesis for Bugs Bunny. Like Elmer Fudd, who appeared to bask in a land of constant Wabbit Seasons, Beaky’s aim was to capture Bugs. He hoped to return the rabbit to his mother, where presumably Bugs would be skinned and devoured by the Buzzard clan.

Beaky’s voice, performed by Kent Rogers and (after Kent’s tragic WWII death) Stan Freberg, was modeled after ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s famous character Mortimer Snerd. Bergen is, of course, Candice Bergen’s father, so if you were looking to pull together a degrees-of-separation-from-Murphy-Brown from today’s article, you just found it. Well done.

The problem about Beaky and Elmer was that they were really too stupid to be considered a threat to Bugs. Not that Warner Brothers was necessarily looking to keep its viewers precariously on the edge of their seats – we all know the damn rabbit is going to win – but they wanted someone to make it a little more interesting.

Meet Rocky and Mugsy. Introduced in 1946’s Racketeer Rabbit, the two gangsters were physically modeled (very loosely, I suspect) after Edward G. Robinson and Peter Lorre. Bugs, and later Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Sylvester and Tweety end up pissing these guys off. Warner Brothers wisely stayed away from any obvious racial stereotypes, so no one was really up in arms over these two.

One could find a statement in their cartoon presence, however, were one tempted to ruminate about such meaningless things (and I am always one to do so). Bugs’ nemeses tended to be either animal, moron hunter-guy, or over-excited, over-mustachioed cowboy. Pitting Bugs against two criminals from the organized underworld, at least one of whom is portrayed as something more than a hapless goon, is perhaps a statement to the absolute fallibility of man. A window into humankind’s eventual descent from the top of the food chain.

Or maybe I should stop trying to read stuff into these cartoons.

Hubie and Bertie were another example of a mismatched duo, one smart and scheming, the other dumb and subservient. Which was which actually flipped around between these two – sometimes the brown mouse was the dumb one, sometimes it was the grey guy. The overbite was always a giveaway.

These two characters marked Chuck Jones’ move from drawing Disney-esque cuteness into aiming for pure comedy. He had these two mice torment Claude the Cat, a moron feline who had never seen a mouse before. Their final cartoon appearance was in the curiously morbid Cheese Chasers, in which a despondent Hubie and Bertie attempt suicide (leaving a note and everything) by inviting Claude to eat them. A little heavy for a cartoon, but the Looneys always worked on multiple levels.

Marc Antony (the bulldog) and Pussyfoot (heh…) were an unusual pairing. Rather than being pitted as rivals, Marc was a vicious and brutal monster-type who was slavishly devoted to mothering the little kitten. A typical script would have Pussyfoot get tormented by some third party (Claude the Cat made an appearance here again), while Marc went to wacky lengths to make sure the kitten was never harmed.

I have to take issue with this. The Marc Antony-type bulldog made frequent appearances in Looney Tunes cartoons, either in these shorts or as a nemesis for Sylvester, and I never understood it. Bulldogs are among the least vicious dogs I’ve ever known. I have four at home, and the one who comes the closest to possessing a street-tough, bad-ass attitude still looks like this:

Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog regularly clocked in to tend a flock of sheep, with Ralph inevitably seeking to devour the beasts in their care and Sam shutting him down with a choke or a punch.

I was always confused by Ralph. He is literally Wile E. Coyote with a red nose and a voicebox. Then there were some Wile E. shorts in which he interacted with Bugs and spoke with an eloquent British accent. Sometimes I think the Looneys just wanted us to be confused. I could fill the rest of this article with a dissection of the obvious conflagration of identity archetypes in these cartoons, but again I digress.

Ralph was also a frequent customer of the Acme company, which no doubt bewildered their beleaguered Accounts Receivable department.

Hippety Hopper, seen here toying with another vicious Looney Tunes bulldog (blue? seriously? are we even trying for realism here?) would show up when Tweety Bird needed a vacation so that Sylvester would have someone else to chase. The plot of Hippety’s cartoons were almost always the same – Hippety shows up, Sylvester thinks he’s found a giant mouse, and he tries in vain to capture the kangaroo for consumption.

They changed things up a little: in one cartoon Sylvester had to protect a lighthouse from the kangaroo who wants to turn it off (I guess Hippety fucking hates lighthouses), and in another he must hang a bell around Hippety’s neck in order to join an exclusive club. That’s a bit of an odd storyline; I think Looney Tunes worked best when it was all about the bloodlust.

There are so many characters I could dig into, but I’ll save some for another kilograph. I think I’ve bored my kids enough for one day.

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