By Michael Barrier and Milton Gray
Reprinted from Funnyworld No. 12 (1970).
[An introductory note: Milt Gray and I interviewed Bob Clampett (1913-1984) during my first visit to Los Angeles, in June 1969. I interviewed Chuck Jones on the same trip; that interview is reprinted elsewhere on the site. The Clampett interview appeared in the fall of 1970 in the first issue of Funnyworld that was printed, rather than mimeographed.
[I was totally unprepared for the storm that followed publication of the Clampett interview. At that point, very little about the Warner Bros. cartoons had ever appeared in print, and certainly there had never been an interview as long and detailedand in most respects indisputably accurateas Clampett's. It was Clampett's claim to have been critically involved in the creation of some of the major Warner charactersBugs Bunny and Porky Pig in particularthat most aroused the ire of some of his former colleagues at the Leon Schlesinger studio, where the Warner cartoons were made from 1933 to 1944. Jones, who had been nursing a grudge against Clampett for thirty years for other reasons (he professed to believe that Clampett had tricked him out of co-director credit for Clampett's black-and-white Looney Tunes), was especially indignant.
[In those days, it was through claims to have created famous characters that the cartoons' directors could best hope to receive any public recognition. This was when the Warner cartoons could be seen, if at all, only in television's dankest kiddie ghettos. Happily, that situation has changed, and directors like Clampett, Jones, and Tex Avery are now better known for individual cartoons than as the creators of characters. When I interviewed Bob Clampett, though, the directors had every incentive to emphasize their roles in the creation of the most popular characters, and Clampett was not alone in doing so.
[No one disputes that Clampett originated Tweety, or that he animated the crucial scenes in the first Daffy Duck cartoon, Porky's Duck Hunt. That he also played a role of some kind in the creation of Bugs and Porky, among others, seems more than likely, although I believe now that he exaggerated his contribution to the early evolution of Bugs Bunny. (He spoke of model sheets that Robert Givens drew after the release of A Wild Hare, the first true Bugs Bunny cartoon, directed by Tex Avery in 1940, but he was not aware that Givens had also drawn model sheets that the animators used during work on that cartoon. For my own account of Bugs's evolution, see pages 357-365 of Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age.) But that Clampett was convinced of the importance of his contribution, however large it was, I have no doubt; and the brilliance of his best Warner cartoons means that anything he said about his work at the Leon Schlesinger studio will always be of interest.
[Only three Clampett cartoons are available in the new Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD set, but the DVD called Bob Clampett's Beany and Cecil: The Special Edition is filled with fascinating material from Clampett's career outside the Schlesinger studio, including a comprehensive oral history assembled from a variety of sources by Milt Gray. This DVD is an indispensable purchase for anyone who cares about one of Hollywood animation's giants.
[A few factual errors have surfaced since the interview was first published; they're corrected in bracketed notes. I've also added a few clarifying notes and made minor changes in spelling and punctuation, but otherwise the interview appears exactly as it was originally published.
[Bob Clampett's son Robert wrote recently to share his memories of the circumstances surrounding the interview. You can read his comments, and those of other visitors to the site, by clicking here. MB]
Milton Gray and I recorded an interview with Bob Clampett at his office in Hollywood on June 6, 1969. Bob's wife, Sody, was also present. The interview as published here is a distillation of the five hours of tape we recorded that day, plus a number of additional questions that were asked and answered in writing in the months after the taping session. [In his review of the transcript, Clampett sometimes added both questions and answers when Milt and I hadn't given him the opportunity to make points he particularly wanted to make; that accounts for the unusual wording of some of the questions. MB] The interview will be published in two parts. This first part stresses Clampett's career at the Warner Bros. cartoon studio. The second part, to be published in Funnyworld No. 14, will deal primarily with Time for Beany and Clampett's other television programs. [The second part never appeared. Clampett never completed the revisions he wanted to make before it was published. MB]
Barrier: What was the first Warner Bros. cartoon you worked on?
Clampett: I helped animate the first Merrie Melodie ever
Barrier: You must have been quite young. Can you remember when you first began cartooning?
Clampett: I can't remember when I didn't. When I was in school, I drew a full-page comic about the nocturnal adventures of a pussycat that was published in color in the Los Angeles Sunday Times. King Features saw this and offered me a cartoonist's contract to start at seventy-five dollars a week when I finished high school. They let me work in their L.A. art department on Saturdays and vacations. I had a drawing board between Webb Smith, who later became a key Disney gag man, the one who's credited with the classic Pluto flypaper sequence, and Robert Day, later of The New Yorker magazine. I learned a lot from those two fine craftsmen. And from time to time the paper published one of my cartoons for encouragement. They also paid my way through Otis Art Institute, where I learned to paint with oils and to sculpt.
Barrier: Did you go with King Features when you finished
Clampett: No. I became so enchanted with the new medium of sound cartoons that I gave up the seventy-five dollars a week to join Warner Bros. cartoons for ten dollars a week.
Barrier: That was for Harman-Ising, wasn't it?
Clampett: Yes. Hugh and Rudy started Warner Bros. cartoons.
Here's a photo of them taken just a couple of years before I joined
them, when they, Ub Iwerks, Walker Harman, and "Ham" Hamilton
were almost the Disney brothers' whole staff in the making of the
["Alice Comedies"] series. Hugh and Rudy left Disney and
made the Oswalds for Mintz after Walt lost the character. Then they
made the first talking-sync cartoon, a short sales film titled Bosko
the Talk-ink Kid. Rudy appeared in live action combined with
Bosko, who at the end went back into the inkwell and said, "So
long, folks!," which was the origination of the present "That's
all, folks!" end title. Leon Schlesinger, who was the proprietor
of Pacific Art and Title, and a close friend of the Warners, liked
their film and got them the Warner Bros. release.
Barrier: Harman-Ising were independent producers, weren't they, distributing their pictures through Warners?
Clampett: Yes. And Leon Schlesinger had screen credit as their associate producer. Leon's brother-in-law, Ray Katz, was the business manager at H and I. He handed out the raises and pencil leadseach with equal reluctance.
Barrier: Why did you choose to work for Warners rather than Disney?
Clampett: Actually, I was working for Walt just a month
or two before I joined Warners. Not in his cartoon studiobut
in his doll factory. The first time I ever met Walt Disney was when
I walked into his studio on Hyperion carrying the first felt Mickey
Mouse doll, which my "Aunt" Charlotte Clark and I had
Barrier: How did this come about?
Clampett: Well, I had made and performed with my own hand puppets since I was a kid. Before I even reached my teens, I made my first Cecil the Sea Serpent stocking puppet, with my mother's help, and many others. [That first puppet could more accurately be described not as Cecil, but, as Milt Gray puts it, as "a sort of prototype, a kind of nondescript dinosaur sock puppet that later evolved into Cecil." MB] Mrs. Clark, who sold cookies from store to store, thought she could sell an appealing doll if I would design one. I suggested a doll based on the new mouse character that was beginning to be so popular in the movies.
I couldn't find a drawing of him anywhere. The local theater, newspapers,
storesno one had a drawing of Mickey Mouse! So, I took my
sketch pad to the theater, and sat through several shows. I came
out with sketches of Mickey, and Charlotte and I used them when
we made the first Mickey Mouse doll. My dad walked in and said,
"Wait just a darn minute! You can't sell that without permission
from the copyright owner." So, he drove us to the Disney studio,
which was then quite small. Walt and Roy were delighted, and they
set Charlotte up in business in a house near the studio. We turned
out meece by the gross.
In my spare time, I went there and worked a kapok machine, a foot-operated machine that brushed the stuffing off the Mickey Mouse dolls. There were six young French girls who did the sewing. I used to put my hand in the unstuffed dolls and amuse them by talking in the Mickey falsetto. Walt Disney himself sometimes came over in an old car to pick up the dolls; he would give them out to visitors to the studio and at sales meetings. I helped him load the dolls in the car. One time his car, loaded with Mickeys, wouldn't start, and I pushed while Walt steered, until it caught, and he took off.
Barrier: Then you went with Harman-Ising. Who originated the title "Looney Tunes"?
Clampett: Hugh told me that Leon himself came up with the name "Looney Tunes," and later "Merrie Melodies."
Barrier: Was that a takeoff on the "Silly Symphonies" title?
Clampett: Could be, but at that time, the whole gimmick
was music in cartoons. The main reason that Warners okayed the Looney
Tunes deal was that they thought it would promote the songs they
owned, from their movie musicals. When I started there, the rule
was that we had to have a singing chorus in every Merrie Melodie.
We'd have a great story going along, but then we'd have to stop
and have the singing chorus.
The first Looney Tune that Hugh and Rudy made was Sinkin' in the Bathtub, which featured Tiny Tim's favorite song, "Tiptoe Through the Tulips." After the first few Looney Tunes, the studio moved to a rather modern suite of offices, on Hollywood Boulevard, that was owned by Cecil B. DeMille. That was where I joined them. They gave me a desk in the same office with Rudy Ising.
The first few Looney Tunes shown in 1930 made such a hit that Hugh and Rudy started Merrie Melodies early in 1931, which was just as I joined them. And they gave me a number of secondary characters to animate in the very first Merrie Melodie, Lady Play Your Mandolin. We made the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies at Harman-Ising until near mid-1933, when they split with Leon.
The first week I was at the studio, a meeting of the entire staff was called to shore up the story for Merrie Melodie No. 2 [Smile, Darn Ya, Smile!]. It revolved around a streetcar, and they needed a fresh and novel way to gag up the usual singing chorus. Nothing much came out of the meeting, but riding home on the streetcar, I hit on an idea. I submitted a sequence in which the streetcar's advertising cardsthe Smith Brothers, Dutch Cleanser girl, and other famous trademark figurescame to life and satirized the song. My idea was used, and made a tremendous hit in the theaters. A critic called it the first original Warner Bros. cartoon formula, as distinguished from Disney. We followed it with magazine covers, grocery store labels, and on and on. After that, Hugh kept calling me in from animation for story meetings, and encouraged me to turn in ideas.
The funniest cartoons we drew at the studio were done just to amuse ourselves, and most of them never reached the screen. But a few of them did.
Barrier: For example?
Clampett: Well, every day I used to draw caricatures of my immediate boss, Larry Martin, portraying him as a mustachioed, hook-nosed, toothy villain, replete with dirty laugh. Years later, I used these caricatures as the model for my Time for Beany villain, Dishonest John. When this same Larry offered to animate some scenes for me on the first Beany and Cecil cartoon, I gave him a sequence of Dishonest John to do. When he asked for model sheets to work from, I told him, "Just look in the mirror. You were my model for D.J." He got quite a kick out of that.
Also, back in 1931 Rudy Ising went hunting one weekend. The following
Monday, he told in all seriousness of how he tried to shoot this
rabbit, and every time he got a bead on it, it would disappear,
and then pop up behind him. And so on. The more he told of his troubles
with this consarned rabbit, the more hilarious it became, perhaps
because he was a boss. Several of us made caricatures of him in
a hunter's outfit, tracking down the rabbit. Here, I'll show you
one of those 1931 sketches on which I changed the original inscription
of "Rudy Rabbit" to "Wudy Wabbit." During the
ensuing month or two, I thought up a steady stream of "wabbit"
hunting jokes, some of which reached the screen seven years later
in the first Bugs Bunny cartoon.
Barrier: What were some of the other cartoons you helped gag at Harman-Ising?
Clampett: Bosko in Person, The Dish Ran Away with
the Spoon, Shuffle Off to Buffalo, and I Like Mountain
Music, which was the magazine covers coming to life, and was
such a hit that it opened at the Grauman's Chinese Theater with
a stage prologue and Gold Diggers of 1933. Quite an
honor at that time.
Barrier: When Harman and Ising split with Schlesinger in 1933, Schlesinger must have had to organize a whole new studio.
Clampett: Right, and he had a terrible mess at the beginning. Leon took over a building on the Warner Bros. Sunset [Boulevard] lot, put in a lot of unpainted desksthey smelled like fresh pineand set about recruiting a staff away from his competitors. Jack King, who was one of the key men on Disney's Three Little Pigs, was hired as head cartoonist. I was the first one of the original Merrie Melodies staff that Leon signed to a contract. I was put with Jack King and the two of us for a short time sat alone in this big building. At the same time, Leon was making low-budget John Wayne westerns, so young "Duke" would come ambling in and look over our shoulders.
Bosko went with Harman-Ising, so all Leon had were the titles "Looney
Tunes," "Merrie Melodies," and "That's All,
Folks!" But, no characters. For Leon's first Looney Tune [Buddy's
Day Out], a former Harman-Ising gag man named Earl Duvall
created the character Buddy, whom I used to call "Bosko in
white-face," because he had the same routines as Boskothe
dog, the girlfriend, the same routines. The first Looney Tune had
to be remade three times, to make it acceptable to Warners. Across
the alley from us were sound stages, above which were the dressing
rooms used by Busby Berkeley's Gold Digger chorus girls. AI Jolson's
dressing room was in our building, and Cagney, Bogart, and other
top Warner stars used to stick their heads in our windows to see
how cartoons were made. We patterned a lot of things on them. Our
first color Merrie Melodie, Honeymoon Hotel, was directed
by Duvall. It was around the fourth Merrie Melodie that we made
at Leon's. I was followed after several months by Friz Freleng,
Ham Hamilton, Bob McKimson, Tubby Millar and Paul Smith, who is
now directing the Woody Woodpeckers for Lantz. Then TashFrank
Tashlincame from Van Beuren's in New York, and Chuck Jones,
who was still in-betweening, came from Iwerks, and Cal Dalton came
from Ted Eshbaugh's The Wizard of Oz. We had the greatest
divergence of styleseverybody drew Buddy differently.
The Looney Tunes were a series of Buddy pictures, and the Merrie Melodies were different each timea different song with a different subject. Friz directed the majority of those.
Barrier: The story men don't seem to have been assigned to particular units. Were they assigned to different directors or were they working with all of them?
Clampett: At one time, Leon had what he called a gag departmenta
large group of gag men all in one big room. A director would go
in there and they would help him gag his cartoon. Eventually, it
boiled down to where certain gag men were paired off with certain
directors. But, we did trade around.
Barrier: In the early days, though, the animators were assigned to directors, weren't they? There never was a time when they worked for different directors at the same time?
Clampett: Yes, there was. I can remember when, around 1934, a director got ready to hand out a picture, and then all we animators in the studio would go to him for scenes.
For the first several years, Leon had a terrible time finding directors capable of making truly humorous cartoons. Too many of the shorts would elicit only one or two polite laughs in the theater. So, Leon was in there in his shirt sleeves, trying to find the right talent, promoting those that showed promise, and encouraging everyone to come up with funny ideas and characters. After five years of Looney Tunes, Leon still didn't have one well-known cartoon character. And it was becoming a bit of a crisis.
Then, Leon himself had an idea. He said, "Look, Hal Roach has Our Gang, which is very popular. A bunch of little kids doing things together." So, we had a big studio-wide drive to get ideas for our own animal Our Gang. In one of the sessions, I brought up the point that in Roach's Our Gang comedies there was always a little fat boy and a little black boy who was named after something to eat. . . Farina, or Buckwheat. So, somebody, I don't remember who, thought of two puppies called "Ham and Ex." That started me thinking. And after dinner one night, I thought of the name "Porky and Beans."
I made a drawing of this fat little pig, which I named Porky, and a little black cat named Beans. Under the drawing, in imitation of the lettering on a can of "Campbell's Pork and Beans," I wrote "Clampett's Porky and Beans," and turned it in. Everyone liked my idea and Porky and Beans were made members of the gang. Mike, you asked in Funnyworld what was the first Porky cartoonand what was the first color Porky? Well, this cartoon was it. It was titled I Haven't Got a Hat, which was the title of the featured song.
There was a fellow who used to come around the studio, and he actually stuttered. He couldn't help it. At that time, Roscoe Ates was quite a popular stuttering comedian in feature pictures, so it was decided to speed the voice of this fellow [Joe Dougherty], and he was our first voice of Porky. In this first Porky cartoon, we had each little animal in school reciting his piece. Porky recited "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere," and he had an awful time with it. Porky was very laughable, but even more important, he had a touch of Chaplinesque pathos about him. The audience at the same time laughed at and felt sympathy for Porky Pig. He was our first full-fledged star.
About the same time as the first Porky story, Leon announced a
studio-wide contest, with a money prize to whichever member of the
staff turned in the best original story. So many of us entered the
contest that the animation footage went down. My story, which was
about a rabbit family, won first prize, and was made as My Green
Fedora. This gave me a big boost, since I'd just originated
a couple of characters (Porky and Beans) and now I'd won the story
contest. So, from there on out I kept flooding Leon's desk with
story ideas, which I submitted in sketch form. These early story
contributions of mine were filmed under Friz's direction. At that
moment, Tex Avery came through the door for the first time. Tex
was working for Lantz. And Leon, who only had two units at the time,
needed another unit. As Tex was negotiating with Leon, everybody
in the studio was asking, "What's happening? Is somebody going
to be let out?"
Leon made a deal with Tex, and then called me in and said, "Bob, I want you to be Tex's collaborator. You go with Tex. The two of you start a unit in the middle of the lot"in a little wooden building which we named "Termite Terrace." We were right across from radio station KFWB. There was a sly-eyed cowboy named Leonard Slye who walked by our window every day as a member of the "Sons of the Pioneers" singing group. I swore he would make a perfect movie villain. Shortly after, he did get a movie contract, and they changed his name to Roy Rogers.
So Tex and I started production in 1935. Tex had already written
the first story by himself, featuring Beans and some of our other
characters. It was a gold-mining picture and, as a takeoff on Busby
Berkeley's Gold Diggers of 1935, I suggested the title Gold
Diggers of '49. Which Tex liked and used.
Tex was a great story man, and a great gag man. He's even funnier than his pictures. He's very likable personally and looked a little like a good-looking Porky. A very nice guy, and a great innovator. One thing I particularly liked about Tex was that unlike some of the other directors I gagged for there, he was receptive to ideas. If you had an idea that he liked, he would say so. If he didn't like it, he'd tell you why.
I was supposed to help Tex with his stories. He'd almost always originate the angle himself, and then he and I would work together gagging the stories. Tex directed. I would sometimes help him with the layouts, and then animate. Tex's first cartoons were all funny, and all good. He made color cartoons as well as black and white.
At this time we still had only one star, Porky Pig. So we were looking for another star. At this time, Tex came up with the idea of Porky going on a duck hunt, wherein the hunter would try to get the ducks but they would always turn the tables on him. We thought of a ream of gagsthey happened to come easyand we had all these crazy ducks. After we boiled it down, we had two or three times as many gags as we needed. I asked Tex, "What if instead of all these ducks being crazy, you consolidated most of them into one comic relief character?" Tex did that, and when he did, he created Daffy Duck, who turned out to be the second hit character that we had. That first Daffy Duck cartoon was called Porky's Duck Hunt.
As with all characters, the first Daffy didn't look or talk exactly like the later one, but that certain magic was there. Tex put a voice on him that was rather bombastic, with "woo-woos" inspired by a Warner comedian, Hugh Herbert.
Tex gave me the first scene of Daffy to animate. In this scene, Porky confronts Daffy, who in trying to explain he's harmless says, "I'm just a crazy darn fool duck" and then was to swim off across the water. Tex told me, "Make him exit funny." I asked, "Can I do anything I want?" And he said "Yesanything." So I had Daffy cross his eyes, do a Stan laurel jump, and then do cartwheels, and do a ballet pirouette, and bounce on his head, and so forth. Now, at that time, audiences weren't accustomed to seeing a cartoon character do these things. And so, when it hit the theaters it was like an explosion. People would leave the theaters talking about this daffy duck.
We had a bit of a problem finding just the right name for him. We were sure to get criticism from the public if we called somebody imbecilic. Porky's stuttering was criticized. One of the first names suggested for our duck was "Dizzy," after the famous baseball player, Dizzy Dean. But Leon said, "No, you can't call him Dizzyit sounds as if he's going to faint." And then we thought of Dizzy Dean's brother, who also played ballDaffy Dean. And thus Daffy Duck was named. The name was used for the first time in the title of Tex's second duck-hunt picture, and the first in color, Daffy Duck and Egghead.
Barrier: Television was in its first experimental stages back in the thirties, when you were at Warners. Did you feel any interest in television at that time?
Clampett: In 1935, when I was at Termite Terrace, I went during my summer vacation to the San Diego International Exposition. And in the Palace of Science they had something I'd never seen beforecalled television. I wanted to see how cartoons would look on TV, so I made some quick sketches and had them held up to the camera side so I could see them on the viewer. Then I went and got my Cecil hand puppet from the glove compartment of my car, and made him talk to the newfangled contraption. A crowd gathered and was quite amused. That was the first time Cecil was ever on television.
Barrier: Just when did you become a director at Warners?
Clampett: At the end of 1936. Leon gave me a color cartoon sequence in a Joe E. Brown feature picture called When's Your Birthday? It featured all the signs of the zodiac as cartoon characters.
That was the first time I officially directed at Warner Bros., but I had made several commercials all by myself while I was still at Harman-Ising, and earlier in '36 I was directing a film of my own, based on Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan and Mars stories, in full animation. [The film was actually to be based only on the Mars stories; Tarzan was not part of it. Test footage is included on the Beany and Cecil DVD. MB] I wanted to do something quite imaginative, with tongue-in-cheek humor throughout. I directed a sales film, which Chuck helped me animate and BoboRobert Cannonin-betweened. In fact, I filmed Bobo in live action as the herohe was very heroically built, all shoulders and no hips. I filmed him in Griffith Park, and we rotoscoped part of it. I was planning to leave Warners to make that series on my own, but Leon said, "I'll give you direction and more money if you will stay."
Ub Iwerks, who was famed for having done all the drawings in Walt's first Mickey Mouse cartoon, had a studio out in Beverly Hills, and he came to the end of his contract in late 1936. Leon needed more pictures, so he in effect said, "Look, Ub, make some Porkys for me in your own plant." Then Leon called me in and said, "You know our characters, Porky was your creation . . . ," and he sent me to help Ub make the Porkys. Leon's brother-in-law, Ray Katz, came along as the business manager.
Ub made a couple of pictures, and then one Monday morning when I walked in they told me, "Ub's gone. You're the director now." I had to sit down at Ub's desk, in Ub's chair, with Ub's stopwatch, to make my first cartoon. All of Ub's old staff were looking at me like, "What the blazes are you doing sitting in Ub's chair?" I felt the same way, because we all revered him.
Barrier: What was the title of your first cartoon?
Clampett: I called it Porky's Badtime Story. I originally titled this cartoon It Happened All Night, after Capra's Oscar-winning movie, It Happened One Night. They said that sounded risque, and asked me to think up another title. On my next cartoon, I had no gag man. So, I wrote and sketched the next Porky story "by self," and called it Get Rich Quick Porky. I created a couple of new characters for this story. One of them was an oily villain named "Honest John," but the one who stole the picture was my little gopher, who came up out of a hole in the ground and did feats of magic.
I used to perform a magic act when I was in school, and I was always fascinated with sleight of hand. So, in this cartoon, each time a dog tried to bury a bone in the ground, I'd have my gopher take the bone and perform sophisticated sleight-of-hand tricks with itmaking it disappear and appear again, much to the dog's consternation.
One of the ways I had the gopher coming up out of the ground was
to have the earth bulge, then pop open, as the gopher came up in
a "spin" action, then settling down into his by-play with
the dog. When this film played the theaters, my friends called me
regarding the little magician character, whom they loved. But nobody
quite knew what he was, referring to him as the groundhog, the prairie
dog, and whatnot. So, for the follow-up story, I decided to transform
my gopher into a magician's white rabbit, which gave me all the
wonderful magician's props to work with. I started sketching a new
story with just my dog and white rabbitwho came out of a silk
hat instead of a hole in the groundand again used his magic
to outwit the dog. I didn't want to clutter up the situation with
Porky, but Katz insisted he be the prime character in every Looney
Tune, so I put my story aside for later use as a Merrie Melodie.
Barrier: The first Porky Pig cartoon was made before Mel Blanc came along. Was Porky's first voice similar to the one Blanc did, or was it markedly different?
Clampett: Originally, Mel matched our established Porky voice, and then went on to do it much better.
Barrier: I was wondering if Blanc gave the Porky voice new twists.
Clampett: Definitely. The original fellow would get stuck, stuttering in the wrong places. But with a pro like Mel we could give him much better lines to say. For example, we'd have Porky say variations of the basic switch joke, "I'm g-g-g-going to P-P-P-Pasade-aden-I'm g-g-g-going to P-P-P-Pa-sade-adenheh, hehI'm going to Glendale."
Barrier: What did Harman-Ising do after they parted company
Clampett: Well, first they made a couple of Cubby Bear cartoons for Van Beuren, and then they became independent producers for MGM. In 1935, Hugh made The Lost Chick, which won the Brussels Award. Rudy created Little Cheeser in 1936. Hugh did The Old Mill Pond in 1937; it won the exhibitors' award as best cartoon of that year. Hugh made some Boskos in color, one of which introduced an original hit tune, "Eastertime Is the Time for Eggs, and the Time for Eggs Is Eastertime." Then, they made Merbabies for Disney. (They filmed this two blocks up from my studio, in the building that is now Walter Lantz Productions, and in the twenties was the lab that developed Disney's early cartoons.) In 1938, they signed as MGM contract producers and moved onto the lot. There, Rudy created Barney Bear, who did a wonderful Edgar Kennedy slow burn. Rudy made a cartoon that started a trendone character in a cave. It was called The Bear That Couldn't Sleep. In 1940, Rudy made The Milky Way, which won the Oscar. They had seven Oscar nominations. And Hugh made the antiwar Peace on Earth, which was nominated for an Oscar and the Nobel Peace Prize.
Then in 1942, Rudy went to the Roach studio, where he was the officer
in charge of all animation and training films for the Air Force,
over 150 service and civil service people, including John Hubley
and some of our boys. I used to visit them there.
Barrier: Carl Stalling was one of Disney's original key men also, wasn't he?
Clampett: Yes, Carl Stalling was Disney's original musician
at the studio, and was with Iwerks in Beverly Hills when I arrived
there. So when I took over from Ub as director, and then brought
the unit back to the Warner Hollywood lot, Carl came with me. He
did the score on the first films I made there, and then all the
films we made when we moved back on the Warner lot. [Although Stalling
scored the cartoons Clampett made at the Iwerks studio, he had already
joined the Schlesinger staff in 1936. MB]
Barrier: When you worked with Carl Stalling, how much direction did you give him as to the kind of music you wanted?
Clampett: Well, we didn't work quite that way. When I completed a story, I would take my finished storyboard to Carl's music room. I would act out the entire story for Carl, illustrating where I wanted various moods in the music, changes of tempo, etc. Carl would suggest using particular pieces of music to me, and I would say, "No, I want a type of feeling like this," and he would say "Then, how about this?" So, I would sit with Carl and we would plan what tempos and what tunes we were going to use throughout the picture. Carl would be at the piano, and if he had an idea he would play it for me. He was a wonderful guy, no temperament, he'd just work wonderfully with you.
When you read in The Disney Version [by Richard Schickel] that there was an organist in Kansas City who loaned Walt money at a critical time, that was Carl Stalling. Carl is a fellow who has devoted his lifetime to cartoons and yet, he wasn't mentioned by name. Just called "the organist." Carl told me that Walt at one time offered him thirty percent of the Silly Symphonies.
Barrier: That's strange, I'd never heard that.
Clampett: But then, sometime later, things were looking
so bad, Carl said, the general talk was that Walt was going broke.
So, Carl went with Van Beuren's, thereby losing his percentage.
Carl's parting shot to me was, "Walt went broke in reverse!"
Hugh also told me some interesting things about Walt in the early days. Hugh said his brother Fred Harman, who later created the "Red Ryder" comic strip, and Walt were partners in a little cartoon studio in Kansas City. And Hugh and Walt were partners in the making of [Alice's Wonderland,] the first "Alice in Cartoonland" film, which the two of them finished all by themselves back there.
Hugh said that when he was animating on the "Alice" series for Walt in Hollywood, Walt was searching for characters, and looked up to Pat Sullivan's Felix the Cat and Paul Terry's cat in the Aesop's Fables. Walt put a cat named Julius in "Alice," but he had very little character. Walt then made Oswald the Rabbit, who, according to Hugh, had no character. . . just images.
Walt had a penchant for a mouse as a character; Hugh continued.
Walt proposed calling the first one Mortimer Mouse, and then changed
this mouse's name to Mickey. Hugh said the first drawings of Mickey
didn't look anything like those of two years later. Mickey was gradually
Barrier: Tell us what you know of how some of the other key Warner Bros. characters came into being.
Clampett: Well, I remember when Leon called us in and said he thought Porky should have a girl friend. And Tash got busy and created the character Petunia.
Barrier: She wasn't used in many cartoons, was she?
Clampett: Not too many. But, see these ceramic figurines
of all the Bugs Bunny cast of characters on my sideboard. I put
these out for sales to stores around 1940, for which I received
a percentage. That photo there is of the original clay models from
which the figurines were cast. And here's Petunia. She was important
enough at that time to be a ceramic.
I was working with Tex when he created Egghead, a little man with a bulbous nose, derby, and a costume patterned somewhat after that of Ben Blue, the nightclub comic. Some of us, including Tex, thought Egghead was a little gross. So, Tex changed his name, gave him a nose job and facial, and that was how Elmer Fudd was developed. [Actually, Egghead and Elmer were always two distinct characters. See page 358 of Hollywood Cartoons. MB]
Barrier: In an Avery cartoon called A Feud There Was, Elmer is identified on a little satchel that says, "Elmer Dudd, Peacemaker," and I was wondering if that was the first appearance of Elmer. [Elmer is identified as "Fudd," not "Dudd," in that cartoon. I can't account for my error. MB]
Clampett: Well, the "Elmer" name change preceded the development of the final likeness. Tex and I and one of the gag men had a session in which we talked about how to "cuten up" the character. I have a sketch that was done at that meeting. We used an earlier model sheet, and as we talked checks were put by the derby, the high collar and the clothes, indicating they should be kept. But, on the face you can see where Tex sketched a smaller nose and indicated other changes. This was the beginning of the final, "cuter" Elmer.
During 1937, I became very enthused about the newest trend in feature
film comedy, where, in place of comedians in baggy pants, normal-appearing
actors were performing hilarious comedy in a more underplayed and
sophisticated manner. But, when you least expected it, there would
be a broad comedy breakout. These films, which began with My
Man Godfrey, were known in the trade as "screwball"
comedies. I was looking for a character with which to try and capture
the brash but sophisticated spirit of this new comedy style.
Then, in early 1938, one of Leon's units was having story trouble. They had started a story that covered a number of boards and had lots of characters in it. They had a lot of good material, but somehow it wasn't jelling. Leon called me into the office, and asked me if I had any two- or three-character story ideas that were very simple and could go into production quickly. I'm sure he asked the same thing of others. As I recall, there was only a week or so before it had to go to the animators.
So, I looked in my desk drawer, and among my other story sketches, I found this big pile of gags that we didn't use in Porky's Duck Hunt. Now, the second Daffy Duck hunt cartoon was going over big in the theaters, so I went to Leon and I said, "I've got all these great hunting gags left over from the first duck-hunt picture. I could organize them, put in a little new material and have you a story in just a few days." Leon said, "I don't want to give Warners another duck-hunt picture so soon." I said, "What do you object to, another hunting picture?" He said, "No, I just don't want another duck hunt." I said, "Maybe I'll get an idea."
This was on a Friday afternoon. So I took these sketches with me, and driving home I mulled over what else I could do with these gags. Should I switch it into a quail hunt? Or a fox hunt? Or a . . .? And then, recalling some of my 1931 "wabbit" and hunter gags. . . I settled on making him a rabbit.
After dinner, I began putting the duck sketches on my light board, intending to just draw the rabbit doing the duck's actions and gags. But I found that the rabbit simply refused to do the same things that Daffy did. It just didn't feel right. And as my work progressed into the early morning hours the rabbit took on a personality of his own. I had found the character I was looking for. This was the birth of Bugs Bunny.
I worked on the sketches all that weekend, showed them to my folks
for their reaction, and delivered them to Leon Monday morning, He
chuckled through it, thought it was pretty funny stuff, and assigned
it to the Ben Hardaway-Cal Dalton unit to film.
My story timed a little short, so the gag men added some material, such as Bugs spinning his ears and flying through the air like a helicopter, and a few other actions like that, which was off what I was attempting to do. They also added a new end gag. In the pell-mell rush to and through animation, many of the refinements in Bugs's appearance and actions were lost. But, there is one thing that all newly born cartoon stars seem to have in common, and that is a certain indefinable "magic" that endears them to the audience from the moment they first set foot on the screen. This first Bugs Bunny cartoon was a hit.
Barrier: That was Hare-um Scare-um.
Clampett: No, my story was called Porky's Hare Hunt, and came out a full year before Hare-um Scare-um did. In fact, Scare-um wasn't even started until Hare Hunt was already causing talk in the theaters.
The head of Warner Bros.' short-subject sales, Norm Moray, sent us word from the East that people were stopping on their way out of the theater to ask the manager when they could see the next rabbit cartoon. But, there wasn't any! It was then that Leon assigned Bugs to a second hare-hunt story, this time in color. For this film, a model-sheet maker [Charles Thorson] was assigned to try and advance the design of the character. My first sketches were simple, but they were very close to what you saw finally in A Wild Hare. But, instead of progressing Bugs Bunny in the direction his development was headed, the model-sheet maker instead took him back way over into left field, changing him to a dumpy, silly-looking thing which ended up bouncing around the screen a la Daffy, singing how "looney tuney" he was. In a sped voice, yet! This was Hare-um Scare-um. And this was the model sheet that some have mistakenly thought to be "the birth of Bugs Bunny."
Barrier: So, that was the second Bugs Bunny.
Clampett: Yes. So, now, about a month after Hare-um Scare-um
was previewed at the studio, Leon assigned the other Merrie Melodies
units to do the next rabbit cartoons. Chuck was given the third
hare hunt to do, which was his first. It was called Elmer's Candid
Camera, in which the rabbit was hunted with camera instead of
gun. And as you pointed out, Mike, Chuck used roughly the Hare-um
Tex was assigned the fourth hare-hunt cartoon, which was his first. Tex was a little scared of it, since there was some confusion as to how the rabbit should be handled. Now, after seeing the Daffy-like regression of Bugs in Scare-um, I decided to stay close to all future storyboard development, and worked with Tex in order to help get Bugs back on the track to what I had envisioned in the first story sketches. This film, A Wild Hare, was the first with the more sophisticated and underplayed treatment that I had hoped to see. And it was the first cartoon in which we used Elmer's "wabbit" voice, and Bugs Bunny's famous catch-line, "Ehhh, what's up, doc?"[Elmer's "wabbit" voice, by Arthur Q. Bryan, was actually used first a few months earlier, in Elmer's Candid Camera; Bryan had used the voice for other characters in earlier cartoons. MB] A Wild Hare was nominated for an Oscar, and Bugs Bunny was on his way up the ladder. He made it to the top five years later; when we were voted the No. 1 short.
Barrier: Was there any particular effort to keep the same character from going in divergent directions in different directors' cartoons?
Clampett: Yes. For example, I talked to Tex and then went
to Leon and initiated model sheets of Bugs that would really give
everybody something to work from. Leon okayed my using whoever I
needed to work out a final model sheet. I had excellent help from
several artists but the most important role, that of finalizing
these sheets, was that of Robert Givens, and resulted in the first
truly definitive set of model sheets. They were printed up, and
given out to the entire studio.
Barrier: A standard line you have in your cartoons that I've often wondered about is "Agony, agony!" Is there a particular source for that?
Clampett: Yes, there is. There was a little hillbilly cameraman
at the studio named Smokey Garner. He was from the Ozarks, and a
real nice little guy who had first worked for Leon at Pacific Art
and Title. He was the one who shot, developed and projected our
pencil tests for us.
Gray: Oh, that's why there's a Smokey mentioned in your Bugs Bunny cartoon What's Cookin', Doc?, where Bugs says, "Okay, Smokey, roll 'em."
Clampett: That's the Smokey. I'd tell him I've got to see that test by three o'clock today, and he'd say, "Oh, agony, agony, agony!"
Barrier: What is that award on your wall?
Clampett: That's the Grand Shorts Award that I won for The Lone Stranger and Porky, which was voted the best cartoon in its category for the year 1939. Popeye won second place, but I also won third prize for another Porky cartoon, Injun Trouble. That same year I made Porky in Wackyland, which the critic on the LA. Herald called "a masterpiece of preposterous fantasy." I designed the backgrounds in the manner of surrealistic, Picasso-like modern art, and it got all sorts of critical attention. This was the first of its kind. What we were trying to do, UPA did beautifully after us. Leon would walk into the projection room when I was running the dailies, and he'd say, "Egad! Clampett's wet dream!" These black-and-white Porkys were very popular, and it's interesting to note that I only had about three thousand dollars and three weeks to make each short. [The release schedule actually required that Clampett complete a cartoon about every four weeks. MB]
Gray: It's amazing those cartoons came out as well as they
Clampett: Ray Katz used to tell us, "We don't want quality, and we don't want it in the worst way." We were always trying to do something really good, but we were having to do it on a nickel-and-dime basis.
Barrier: Your budgets were smaller than those of Disney and MGM, and you didn't have a lot of time; were there frequently occasions when you wished you had more time and more money?
Clampett: Was there ever a time I didn't? Even though our budgets for a color Merrie Melodie and Bugs Bunny moved up, we were competing with Disney cartoons that we understood cost something like forty thousand dollars on up to even as much as sixty thousand dollars. So the only way we could top them was if we came up with cleverer ideas and characterizations.
Gray: I was reading in Playboy about the censorship problem that faced motion picture producers back in the thirties and forties and I noticed that they mentioned that the word "buzzard" was forbidden. You came up with the character Beaky Buzzard, and I was wondering if you were trying to get around the censors.
Clampett: If I had known it was censorable, I most likely would have been. I introduced my little Mortimer Snerd-like bird in Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid, and he made a big hit. Warners made some two-reelers with my friend Edgar Bergen, and Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, so I ran these shorts for my animators and we had a lot of fun studying and developing the actions and personality of what I originally called "The Snerd Bird." Then I thought up the name "Beaky" for him in time for his second appearance in The Bashful Buzzard.
But, speaking of censorship, the early Disney and Harman-Ising
cartoons had, as Mike mentioned in Funnyworld, a proclivity
for bare-butt gags. Walt thought that these outhouse, thundermug,
goosing, bare-butt, and udder gags were the funniest things in the
world. But when he began getting scads of letters from the parent-teacher
associations he suddenly went to all sweetness and light.
Gray: I was noticing in your cartoon Baby Bottleneck, which is one of my favorite cartoons, that toward the end of that cartoon you have a sequence where Porky and Daffy get tied together in a diaper and are carried to a mother gorilla in Africa. When Daffy sees her he starts crying. So the mother gorilla pulls the pin on Daffy's diaper, and Porky's pink, bald head sticks out and looks at her. I was wondering if it was what I thought it was intended to be.
Clampett: I always did what I thought was funny, and when I had Porky's head come out of the diaper, I'm sure I thought it was funny.
Gray: I thought it was funny, but I was wondering how it ever got past the censors.
Sody Clampett: I think the censorship that had to be put up with in the ABC cartoon series was ridiculous. Bob would put things in especially for them to cut out.
Clampett: If I wanted to be sure that certain things were left in, I'd put in a few extra "goodies" just for the censors. They'd cut those, and leave in the ones I wanted.
Barrier: I recall one especially, in a Beany and Cecil cartoon, when Cecil refers to a "robin redvest" and then says, "I'm too young to say 'chest'." It was easy to tell what had been in there originally and had been cut out.
Clampett: Surprisingly, Mike, that's the way I originally
wrote the lineas if it had already been censored. And, you
know, on my live puppet show, I'd have Cecil, about to sing a song,
say, "Music my-ass-tro, please," night after night, and
nobody objected. In the forties, I made a cartoon with Mr. Meek
called The Wise Quacking Duck, in which I had Daffy do a
strip-tease. Daffy unbuttoned his feathers in the back, let them
fall down, revealing his bare shoulders, then dropped them completely
and did a fan-dance with the parsley. The audience just roared,
but, of course, this was in the period of the war, and during the
war there was a permissiveness in the theater very much like what
we are getting now. The boys were all in uniform and they wanted
this kind of gag. And that's why there were all those "wolf"
gagsa wolf howling at a babe. And they particularly loved
Bugs Bunny for his lack of inhibitions. What everyone else would
have liked to do, he did.
Barrier: Going back through my notes, I was struck by the extremes of my feelings toward your cartoons. Most I love, but a very fewHare Ribbin, Buckaroo BugsI really can't stand, principally because Bugs Bunny is so very aggressive in them. I don't think I react so strongly to any other director's cartoons, except possibly to Tex Avery's, and to some of Chuck's.
Clampett: Well, the two cartoons you mention, Mike, were made at the peak of World War II. Bugs Bunny has been loved for over a quarter of a century now, but he has never been loved the way he was during those war years. Just as America whistled the tune from Disney's Three Little Pigs, "Who's afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?," in the dark days of the Depression, so, Bugs Bunny was a symbol of America's resistance to Hitler and the fascist powers. In both instances, we were in a battle for our lives, and it is most difficult now to comprehend the tremendous emotional impact Bugs Bunny exerted on the audience then. You must try to recapture the mood of a people who had seen the enemy murder millions of innocent people in gas ovens, blitzkrieg defenseless civilians, sink our fleet in a sneak attack, and threaten our very existence.
Psychologists found that the public subconsciously identified the stupid little man with the gun and his counterparts with Hitler, and strongly identified the rabbitunarmed except for his wits and will to winwith themselves. They further advised that justification was already established and that the sooner and more often that the audience's alter-ego (Bugs) could get back at the Hitler symbol, the greater the therapy.
In fact, Mike, it was during those war years, from Pearl Harbor to January of 1945, that the Bugs Bunny cartoons, all of which were made by the other two directors and myself, passed Disney and MGM for the first time to become the No.1 short subject. And in 1944 the studio chose my Bugs Bunny Falling Hare as their entry for the Oscar race. [Falling Hare was not actually nominated for an Oscar, however. MB]
But, of course, Mike, when the war ended, we all looked upon any overt aggressiveness in an entirely different light. During those war years we all jumped in and made Private Snafu training films for Frank Capra's Army Signal Corps unit. Tash directed the first Snafu. And one of mine, Booby Traps, was credited with saving thousands of lives and was given a special government citation. My Snafu was the only one to be given a two-page spread in the history of wartime documentaries and training films, Movie Lot to Beachhead.
I also collaborated with Hank ("Dennis the Menace") Ketcham on a Navy version of Snafu called Hook, for which Arthur Lake (Bumstead of the "Blondie" series) did the lead voice for me. We also made technical training films for the government, and did a special Bugs Bunny bond-selling short for theaters, Any Bonds Today?
Barrier: How long was Tash at Warners?
Clampett: Well, I used to kid Tash about his being the world's
largest Yo-Yo. For you see, Tash's main interest was newspaper panels
and live action, so Tash would come and go, come and go. He created
a pantomime panel as a satire on his boss in New YorkVan Beurencalled
"Van Boring," which he left Warners to do in 1934. He
was back as a unit director in 1936, and again in late 1943. I noticed
that Tash used his cartoons to experiment with live-action camera
angles such as up-shots, down-shots, angle shots, etc. And, of course,
Tash eventually became a very big movie director, co-authoring and
directing Jerry Lewis, Jayne Mansfield, and Doris Day feature comedies.
Tash and I played tennis on weekends. He told me that he had always
dreamed of coming to Hollywood with its sunshine, palm trees, and
bathing beauties. So, when he stepped off the train at the LA depot
he was dressed in a white Palm Beach suit, straw hat, two-toned
shoes. . . and it was pouring down rain.
Barrier: How many Bugs Bunnys did Avery direct before leaving for MGM?
Barrier: I've always thought that Avery's MGM cartoons were
extensions of his Warner cartoons; he had a little more money so
he could try more things.
Clampett: Yes, definitely. Hugh and Rudy told me just the other day that when they left Leon and got an MGM contract the money per cartoon almost doubled.
Barrier: What has Tex Avery been doing recently?
Clampett: After he made all those wonderfully cartoony cartoons for MGM, Tex joined Walter Lantz, where he made the Chilly Willy cartoons. Then he opened his own company, which makes TV commercials. He does many of his animations in association with Roy Seawright's company, Cascade. Sody and I visited Tex there recently. Some of Tex's commercials, like the Raid bugs, are quite funny, and remind you in spots of his work at Warners. You know, Tex was the first one to come out with the gag of a man's shadow on the screen. At first the audience thought it was somebody in the theater who was blocking the view, but actually, it's in the cartoon. We rotoscoped Tedd Pierce doing that. Tex also made those travelogue satires. I helped him on the story of the first one, The Isle of Pingo Pongo, but I take no credit for it.
Gray: Did a story man have a lot of time to do other things,
to read magazines and books and develop his storehouse of ideas.
. . is that the way they worked?
Clampett: Not really. Our gag men never really had a lot of extra time on their hands. As to how they worked, that greatly depended on which director they worked for. Under Leon's system, each team of gag men worked closely with their directorwere part of his unit. And directors went about their stories differently. Tex usually originated his own story angle and then was "lead dog" in his gag men's hunt for ideas. Friz, on the other hand, expected his gag men to fill the boards with ideas. Friz would walk in, look over the storyboards, chew his gum, and walk out. He wouldn't say what he liked and didn't like. The gag man would then frantically fill another board, and Friz would repeat the process. Then, after the gag man, like a hen, had laid all the golden eggs he could, Friz would make a beautiful omelet of them.
Gray: Did you work more like Tex or like Friz?
Clampett: Tex. After I had decided what my story was, I used to conduct what I called a "NO-NO" session. I would encourage each of us to think up the wildest, most impossible ideas imaginable, and no matter how wild the gags got, NO, but NO one was allowed to say, "Oh, NO!" Thus the name, a "NO-NO." I've had the pleasure of gagging cartoons with such great guys as Warren Foster, Tedd Pierce, Mike Maltese, Tubby Millar, Rich Hogan, Cal Howard, Dave Monahan, and Flash Gee. And many, many others.
Gray: You created Tweety, didn't you?
Gray: What was the name of the first Tweety cartoon?
Clampett: My first Tweety was called A Tale of Two Kitties. And then, I was the only one to make the Tweetys until such time as I left Warner Bros.
Gray: Your first Tweety was a takeoff on Abbott and Costello,
Clampett: Right. I started out to do a thing about the then tremendously popular comedians, Abbott and Costello, as pussycats named "Babbitt and Cats-tello." I introduced my little bird in the nest as the foil for the pussycats. But when I had Tweety say, "I tot I taw a putty-tat! I did, I did, I taw a putty-tat!" he stole the picture from the pussycats. That was my first Tweety, and then in the second one, Birdy and the Beast, I teamed Tweety with one black putty-tat, which was the first step towards the final putty-tat, Sylvester.
All the time I was growing up, my mother insisted upon keeping
out a baby picture of mein the nude. I detested that picture
all my life. So, when I was making the first sketches of Tweety
in his nest, completely naked, I was actually satirizing my own
Gray: What made you think of the name "Tweety"?
Clampett: I have some idea sketches that I drew, before
Tweety's birth, of two little newly hatched baby birds. As a takeoff
on the Halloween phrase, "trick or treat," I named them
Twick 'n' Tweet.
Gray: Where do you get your ideas for characters and stories?
Clampett: Much of the time from that "wee small voice" in my cranium . . . that whispers endless ideas to me, the source of which I usually haven't the foggiest. I find that I am continually thinking of little individual ideas, like a piece of distinctive business, a prop, or a unique characteristic. . . or a funny name. . . a type of character I'd like to try. . . a catch line. . . or a funny pose, facial expression or attitude. . . and these many thoughts, like individual pieces of a jigsaw puzzle will remain with me, sometimes for years. . . and then, in one magical moment a number of these little individual pieces will suddenly fall into place, forming a new character concept. . . or story idea. And I get much inspiration from working with my gag men, or from reading the classics or the headlines, and from things I've observed in daily life, the theater or motion pictures. And I can usually trace these ideas back to their source.
For example, I loved Frank Capra's hit comedy It Happened One
Night and went to see it a number of times. The two most talked-about
scenes in this picture were the "fall of the walls of Jericho"
in the motel, and the sequence where Clark Gable tried to show Claudette
Colbert the techniques of thumbing a ride from passing cars, all
of which whizzed past him. Finally, she stepped forward, lifted
her skirt, and a car immediately screeched to a stop. That's the
way everybody has always described the scene for years now. But,
as I looked at this sequence, the thing that stuck in my memory
was that all the time Clark Gable was talking, he was at the same
time chewing on a carrot. As I looked at him, I didn't see
Gableall I saw was a big rabbit chewing on a carrot.
Several years later, while sketching the first hare hunt story, this idea came back to me, and I gave Bugs Bunny his first carrot in one of the dialogue scenes. But the carrot was left out of the finished picture because the powers that be thought that it would be too complicated and time consuming for the editor to have to cut carrot sound effects in between the words in the dialogue. I explained that I'd figured it could be done easily by just recording the carrot chews right along with the dialogue, the way Gable had done it. They hadn't thought of doing it that way.
I worked the carrot back in, in the next Bugs Bunny story I worked on. We experimented with the biting and chewing of apples, celery and other items, but nothing sounded quite like a carrot, except a carrot. Mel's voice was usually choked up in the first part of the day, so we always tried to schedule his voice recordings in the afternoon. And the thing that choked Mel up more than anything else was when he had to chew on a carrot. You might say that the voice of Bugs Bunny was allergic to carrots!
Gray: How did Sylvester's voice come about?
Clampett: When I was directing the Porky and Daffy cartoons,
Daffy's voice didn't sound much like a duck. So, I asked Mel if
he couldn't add a little something extrasimilar to, but different
from, the effect Clarence Nash achieved when doing the Donald Duck
voice, by forming an air pocket in his cheek and then forcing it
out the corner of his mouth as he spoke. So, Mel gave me a "s-s-spit"
out the side of his mouthwhich he felt was the way the voice
would sound sliding out the long beakand when sped it sounded
more duck-like. I always thought that this "sibilant"
voice sounded much funnier before we sped it up for Daffy. This
was our first use of what later became famous unsped as the Sylvester
"Sufferin' succotash!" voice.
Gray: Didn't you write some of the music for your cartoons?
Clampett: While at Warner's, I wrote the lyrics for such
immortal and world-famous compositions as the first "I Tot
I Taw a Putty-tat," "For, There's Food Around the Corner,"
sung by my flea character in An Itch in Time, and Beaky's
song, sung to the tune of (get this, Mike) "The Arkansas Traveler."
This was the scene in The Bashful Buzzard where Mama Buzzard
sent her four babies out with the instruction to each to bring back
some meat for the pot. The three little cocky buzzards fly home
with such things as a horse, a cow and an elephant. I then cut to
Beaky flying in slow motion and clutching a comparatively infinitesimal
bumblebee in his claws as he sang, "I gotmy. . . selfa
bay. . . bee-BUM
. . . ble-beee!" (John Culhane of Newsweek reminded me of this, one of his favorite scenes, just the other day.)
Gray: Did you also write music for your own productions?
Clampett: Yes, I've written over a thousand songs which were used on my Time for Beany and other puppet and network cartoon shows, and Sody and I collaborated on the Beany and Cecil theme song. I'm a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, and also have a music publishing company.
Barrier: What's the story behind this Easter greeting from Bugs Bunny?
Clampett: Once that Bugs Bunny started to become tremendously
popular, Leon got numerous requests from various groups asking for
an appearance of Bugs Bunny, or the cartoonist who had conceived
and first drawn the character. So, Leon sent me on all sorts of
P.A.'s (personal appearances) for the studio to schools, universities,
churches, chamber of commerce luncheons, and what have you. And
they sent me to do a big annual Bugs Bunny Easter show at one of
L.A.'s leading department stores. They would advertise the event,
and there would be crowds lined up completely around the block.
I did these shows on the stage of their auditorium, and I would
do things like drawing two huge sketches of Bugs Bunny on an easel
(one with his mouth open, and one with it closed) which I would
then flipas I did the Bugs Bunny voice, giving the illusion
that the drawings were talking. They loved that stunt. Then, I would
have youngsters come up on the stage with me, and I'd hand out chalk
and carrots to them, and award prizes to the ones who did the best
drawings and impersonations of our "wabbit." We also ran
a number of Bugs Bunny cartoons, after which I autographed and handed
out hundreds upon hundreds of these Easter greetings from Bugs.
The winners of the contest would get a free trip through the Schlesinger studio. And every time I took a group of these winners through, showing them every single step of how we brought him to life, they'd always end up asking me, "Yes, but when do we get to meet Bugs Bunny?" These kids actually believed Bugs Bunny was an honest-to-goodness, living, breathing creature. And, you know, sometimes I began to, too.
Gray: Tell Mike what you told me up in Montreal, how you would overhear people on the beach talking about your cartoons the way they talk about hit records today.
Clampett: That's true. I would overhear the UCLA college kids on the beach at Santa Monica bring up my latest cartoon. They would discuss it, analyze, dissect, and usually praise it, as they now do a hit comedy record. It was wonderful. In the theaters they clapped for all cartoons, but when our "WB" shield first zoomed up"bboo-inng" signalling the start of one of our cartoonsthey would really tear the house down. Just to show you how well our characters were known, I have letters which I received through the mail that had nothing on the envelope but "Master Bugs Bunny, care of Bob Clampett," with no address, or just "Bob 'I tot I taw a titty' Clampett, Hollywood" on them. Now, let somebody send a letter to the "Fearsome Foursome" or whatever it is they're making for Saturday-morning TV, and see how fast it gets to the right studio.
Gray: There's a Warner cartoon that I've seen, and I've never been able to find out the title or who directed it. It's about a cat who goes to a night club, and on the way to the night club he passes a Salvation Army group. Did you do that cartoon?
Gray: What was the title?
Clampett: Tin Pan Alley Cats.
Sody Clampett: Isn't that the one they buried in Washington?
Clampett: Yes, but not for the reason you'd think. The Library of Congress chose this film as a "prime example of the music and mores of our times" and buried a print of it in a time capsule so future generations might see it. The highlight of my film was an imaginative "trip" motivated by a jam session. So, I brought in an all-black band for the recording, and I had a heck of a time putting that through. They said, "No, you've got to use the regular Warner orchestra"you know, all the little men with the violins. I said, "No, they can't do this score." My friend Eddie Beal and his band recorded the score completely ad lib.
Barrier: I've heard you had ways of foiling efficiency experts, such as some system of warning lights so that the animators would all be busy when the boss came by.
Clampett: We had an electrical hookup like that my first year at the studio. When Ray Katz walked into Tom McKimson's room, Tom would press a button which flashed a red light on my desk in the next office. And I was known as one of the "fastest draws in the West" for my split-second switch from caricatures of the boss to drawings of Bosko.
Three quarters of the fun at a cartoon studio wasn't on the screen.
When I first started there, at Harman-Ising, the staff consisted
primarily of boys who'd worked with Walt, Ub, Hugh, and Rudy back
in Kansas City. We'd all go to the corner drug store for lunch,
and would occupy almost all the seats along the soda fountain counter.
There might be a little old lady or man who wasn't with us, and
they, of course, wouldn't know that we were all together. Now, each
of our fellows had mastered the ability to burp at will. So, starting
at one end of the counter they would begin a rhythmic "Burp.
. . burp. . . BURP" down to the other end and back again, like
a wave washing onto the shore and receding. The effect was beyond
description, and you should have seen the expression on the face
of the little old lady.
Several years later, when Chuck and I were animating in a room filled with other animators, we sold Leon on the idea that we would be able to turn out more footage if he would let us move into a private office of our own on the second floor of the studio, which just happened to look right into the Gold Digger girls' dressing room. We were even given our own assistant, a new, nice, quiet, well mannered little fellow from San Berdoo [San Bernardino], who brought along his own pencil, eraser and coat-hanger, on which he had neatly lettered the name "Bob Cannon." He said very little but "Oh." So, I began calling him "Bob 'Oh'," which I shortly condensed to "Bobo."
Now, Chuck and I naturally had our desks by the window, and poor little Bobo was stuck back in the corner. So we'd start saying, "Hey, Bobo, look at these chorus girls. . . what beauties!". . . "Wow! Look at that one!" Eventually, unable to stand it any longer, Bobo would come over to our window to look at one particularly pretty girl who was walking down the alley. And as he leaned forward to look, Chuck and I would immediately place our hands behind his head and hold it rigidly out the window. We would then scream out in shrill falsetto voices, "HELLO, PRETTY GIRL!!!" followed by a string of quite intimate and unprintable suggestions. The girl would usually stop, turn, and look up at our window. . . but, all she could see would be this nice, quiet . . .Bobo.
The year before, Chuck and I were in a downstairs room with Nelson Demorest and Ham Hamilton, a very small man with a very big talent. Ham animated the key "personality" scenes in our cartoons, and they always received enthusiastic applause from the staff when previewed at the studio. Ham could do amazing things with his diminutive fingers. He would often catch a jar full of flies, then make dozens of tiny paper airplanes, onto each of which he would glue a fly, feet down. Occasionally visitors entering our room would, much to their amazement, see a whole fleet of paper airplanes flying overhead.
Barrier: Do you remember any other stories from those days?
Clampett: Here's another one you might get a kick out of.
There was a compo-board partition between one of our story rooms
and the darkroom where we projected our pencil tests. A hole had
been knocked through the wall in one spot where we hung story sketches.
Someone had drawn the figure of a little man around the hole on
the wall so that it came in the place where his nose should have
been. When Harold Soldinger would escort some important visitors
through the studio, one of our guys would duck out of the story
room into the darkroom, and put himself through the hole. No. Milt,
not his finger. And so, as the visitors were shown the storyboard,
their eyes would pass right by this drawing of this little man with
what appeared to be a large protruding "schnoz."
All this horseplay throughout the studio enabled us to keep our "funnybones" in good repair. You speak in Funnyworld, Mike, of what you call the "Golden Age" of Warner cartoons. And you might very well be right, for during this relatively short span of time from the mid-thirties to the mid-forties we created almost all of the all-time great Warner cartoon characters and distinctive story formats. But, what was it we started to talk about, Milt?
Barrier: The studio's "efficiency experts."
Clampett: Actually, they had little "efficiency" and few "experts." But, our bosses had some very effective money-saving devices. For example, when a little in-betweener would go to Ray Katz to ask for a small raise, Ray, who was a little hard of hearing, became very hard of hearing. And Leon had his own system. You could get in to see Leon almost any time to show him a new story or character idea, but you had to make an appointment with his secretary to see him about money. So, he'd be ready for you. Leon would go to bed early the night before, and when you entered his office he would be frowning, intently studying papers on his desk, instead of giving you his usual friendly welcome. He would keep you waiting for what seemed like an eternity, then suddenly look up and, bark, "What do you want?!?!" (as if he didn't know). He would then pace the room bellowing like a stuck bull, "THAT'S GRATITUDE FOR YOU! I GAVE YOU YOUR START, AND NOW YOU WANT A $2.50 RAISE!" etc. Being unable to compete in the shouting department, I found over the years only one way to cope with this. I'd stand up, thank Leon for everything, vaguely refer to another purely imaginary offer, and then walk out the door. He would call me back in, bellow some more, and I would again bid him "adieu" and leave. I found that after "leaving for good" the third or fourth time, I usually got what I wanted.
So, as you can see, life in a cartoon studio wasn't always a laughing matter. For you not only had "efficiency experts" to contend with, but sometimes also your co-workers. When you were just one of the boys there was a great feeling of comradeship; but if you began to stick your head a little above the crowd there was usually someone waiting to chop it off.
Here is a caricature I made satirizing the annual group photo always taken of the entire studio staff at our annual Christmas party, and is a prediction of how I thought it might look in 1935. You can see that the boys from the other units, Friz, Dalton, Ham, McKimson, et al., even Johnny Burton, are smiling sweetly, and have their arms wrapped around me and the other boys in Tex's unit. But, on closer observation you discover that we have been stabbed, beheaded, and hung and are simply being held upright long enough for the picture to be snapped.
Then in 1936, when I was filming the Tarzan and Mars stories on my own, and then was given direction by Leon, the knives were plentiful. Here's a drawing Chuck made of me and himself walking into the studio with our backs pressed tightly together so that we wouldn't get "stabbed in the back."
Here's a newspaper write-up about Schlesinger's from around a year earlier. It was a big laugh on me at the time. What happened was this. A movie columnist came through the studio with Leon. Later, Leon's publicity aide tipped me off that during the interview I was mentioned as the creator of Porky. So, I rushed out and bought up practically the whole newsstand when the paper came out. And I was mentioned . . . thusly: "Schlesinger is the Svengali to the Trilby of his most successful star, Porky; a pig thespian, who has the lead in the majority of releases. Porky just came along, a master stroke of one of the artists."
Just to the left of this paragraph was the headline of a bordering article: "DO YOU STAND OUT IN A CROWD?" From which I drew an arrow to the mention of "me."
Gray: Porky at one time was quite fat, drawn almost round, wasn't he?
Clampett: As I mentioned a little earlier, Porky Pig began his career as the little fat boy of our animal Our Gang. But, when I began directing Porky I put him on a weight-watcher's diet, and you can see that a much "cuter" Porky Pig resulted.
Barrier: I've seen some very poorly drawn Porkys in the posters and advertisements for Looney Tunes.
Clampett: The reason for that is that when Warners required the studio to make new drawings for their use in advertising, we couldn't spare any of our best Porky artists, so they usually assigned these drawings to our poorest Porky people. And then, when the poster artists at Warners' New York office got through with them, any resemblance was purely coincidental.
Another thing that has confused many is the way Leon credited his
artists. If an animation buff attempts to follow the work of one
of his favorite animators by the screen credits on the earlier Warner
cartoons, he'll end up talking to himself. For Leon used a system
of "rotating credits." A top animator might do his most
outstanding work in one film, but this animation screen credit will
be given to a beginning animator. Then in a subsequent film containing
little or none of the top animator's work, he will receive the sole
The same was true for the gag men. Even if a gag man had one or no gags used in a certain cartoon, if it was his turn for screen credit, the title would say "STORY by JOE BLOW." And a director who might have originated the story angle, half the gags, done a voice on the sound track, drawn the original model sheets, and a multitude of other creative things would be given "supervision" credit, which could have meant anything.
But, I will say this for Leon, when he finally found a director
he had confidence in, he let him alone. Leon gave us directors almost
complete freedom within a set budget and schedule. Short deadlines,
short money, but he let us make the pictures without interference.
And he let us try new ideas. At Disney's the directors didn't make
the pictures, we were told, Disney did. But under Leon's system,
we directors were the "Disneys." Correction; the "poor
man's Disney." Leon wouldn't even look at our storyboards,
usually, until we projected our silent cutting print of the finished
cartoon for him. (I'd always do the voices and sound effects vocally
during those runnings of my cartoons.) So, once Leon found the directors
he had confidence in, he began going to the races more often.
Barrier: How did you feel about the way Disney operated?
Clampett: Well, I hand it to Walt and Roy for the way they went and secured the money so that their artists had time to make quality cartoons. The other cartoon producers either weren't inclined or able to do that. Walt told me "Money is like manureyou use it to make things grow," And, of course, Walt had a great story mind. I happened to remark to Walt once that when I first went to work at Harman-Ising, almost all his old friends tried to sell me the idea that someone else, not he, had created Mickey Mouse. Walt sat down and gave me an hour-long history of every little detail of how Mickey Mouse came into being, how he made his earliest cartoon, etc. I wish I had had a tape recorder going that day.
Gray: Did Disney's films ever inspire any of your stories or characters?
Clampett: Disney films always gave us much inspiration, in all phases of cartoon making. I particularly was taken with their personality animation, like Art Babbitt's inebriated-mouse sequence in The Country Cousin. Chuck and I went to the premiere of Walt's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Carthay Circle Theater in December of 1937, and were both excited about the many advances in technique. I was particularly fascinated with Disney's use of "descriptive names" for the DwarfsGrumpy, Happy, Dopey, Sneezy, etc. So I began toying with my own set of descriptive name possibilities, and hit upon the name "Sniffles." I sketched him as a little mouse with a "code id da dose" wearing a muffler and earmuffs. My figure was inspired in part by the tipsy mouse of Country Cousin, and also by a winsome little boy in oversized clothing from the "Joe Palooka" comic strip.
Shortly after this, Friz left Warner's to go to MGM. His quota of cartoons was partially filled by Cal Howard and Cal Dalton, and then I heard from the grapevine that Leon was looking for another director. So Tex and I went to bat for Chuck, and he got the job. There were several new characters and story ideas of mine that Chuck had expressed his liking for, so, as a "going-away present," I gave him whatever drawings I had on them. One of these was "Sniffles." And he made a wonderfully cute series of films starring him.
Gray: Just how long was Friz gone from Warners, at MGM?
Clampett: It seems to me that it was around a couple of years.
Gray: You haven't mentioned Friz directing any of the first
so many Bugs
Clampett: As I recall, Friz was away during the period we
made the first three or more Bugs Bunnys, but he returned and was
assigned direction on the seventh Bugs Bunny made, which was his
first. That was Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt, an excellent cartoon.
Barrier: How long was it after Porky's Hare Hunt that this seventh one, Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt, was done?
Clampett: Nearly three years.
Barrier: What did you do after the completion of A Wild Hare?
Clampett: I worked on Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd model sheets
and several new storyboards, and Leon asked me to design an Oscar-like
statuette of Elmer Fudd. So, I did this first "Elmer Award,"
given for noteworthy achievement in cinema in 1940 by Movie-Radio
Guide magazine to Fredric March and Ingrid Bergman. They were
photographed holding "Elmer" on the cover of the magazine.
Don't think that wasn't a thrill. And Leon even gave me a credit
in the magazine.
This was about the same time that my figurines of all the Bugs Bunny cast of characters, which you see here, were begun. And at the same time, I was making Porkys, Daffys, etc. Then Tex took MGM's lucrative offer, and I was moved up into his spot. In 1941, I finished up The Cagey Canary, featuring a canary, a cat, and their mistress, a plot I later reprised for Tweety. I also made the first Bugs Bunny cartoon with "wabbit" in the titleWabbit Twouble. It's funny, in 1931 I first wrote the word "wabbit" on a drawing, and now exactly ten years later I'm writing "wabbit" on a title. I think this was the one in which I also put all the credits in "wabbit" talk"Wobert Cwampett," etc. This first "w" title caused a small crisis at the Technicolor lab. They thought they had lost the negative, but then found that they had been looking under "R" instead of "W."
I followed this with The Wacky Wabbit. And I did a cartoon titled Crazy Cruise, which featured a body of water called "Veronica Lake." I later gave prominence to that gag on Uncle Captain Huffenpuff's map on my Time for Beany puppet show. And the next film I directed was what we thought to be the first theatrical color cartoon based on a Dr. Seuss book, Horton Hatches the Egg. And I must say, Mike, I was very impressed with your perceptiveness regarding cartoons when you said in Funnyworld that this cartoon was a "unhappy mixture of Seuss and standard Clampett gags."
Barrier: I hope that wasn't what caught your eye first.
Clampett: Actually, I had an awful battle getting Leon's approval to let me acquire and film such an untypical Looney Tunes-Merrie Melodies subject. Leon's argument was that if I filmed the book exactly as written, it would cause a big silent smile in the theaters, but wouldn't get any laughs. So, he gave me the go-ahead only on the condition that I would guarantee some theater laughs. By the time all the arrangements had been made, Mike Maltese and I only had about two sessions in which to gag the story. We didn't even have a storyboard on Horton, but sketched the added ideas right on my copy of the book. Then, as of a Friday night I told my animators, who were all struggling to draw Bugs Bunny alike, "Guess what, boys? First thing Monday morning I want you to all draw like Dr. Seuss!"
But, surprisingly, when Horton played Warner Bros.' Hollywood theater the majority of the audience had never read the bookand roared at the Maltese-Clampett gags. And this was one of the films that the UCLA kids loved. But I got squawks back from Warners' head of sales, Norm Moray, that in the farm country, Middle West and South, they didn't know what Hortonan elephant sitting on a tree hatching an eggwas all about. They'd say, give us more chickens and ducks. So, at the time, there were many things that the sales people and exhibitors felt weren't widely enough understood. There was a definite demarcation between a city audience and what they called a "rube" audience. But today, with television, you can play the same thing in the small town that you do in the big city.
Barrier: Were you in at all on the first Dr. Seuss cartoon back in the early Thirties?
Clampett: I noticed in Funnyworld that you asked about 'Neath the Babada Tree.
Gray: It's listed on that Family Tree of American Animation
[a large chart intended to show the relationships among cartoon
studios] as having been made at Harman-Ising in 1931.
Clampett: Well, the Family Tree of American Animation that I saw in Montreal had a number of glaring errors and omissions. And I told them so. I was at Harman-Ising in 1931, and we made no such Dr. Seuss story. In fact, I mentioned this to Hugh and Rudy recently, and they had never heard of it either.
Gray: You mentioned to me in Montreal that you didn't like
your Bugs Bunny cartoon Corny Concerto, and I've always
Clampett: It was a considerable departure, an experiment, for me to animate Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and our other characters in synchronization to such classical compositions as Tales of the Vienna Woods and The Blue Danube. Imagine mixing "Ehh, what's up, Doc?" with Strauss. But, when I first saw the rough cut run with the music track. . . I could have then made it beautiful, almost perfect, by making some minor adjustments in the timing.
Gray: But you didn't have the money to go ahead and change it?
Clampett: Oh, no, we never had.
Gray: It was a takeoff on Fantasia, wasn't it? With Elmer Fudd as Stokowski and Deems Taylor combined?
Clampett: Yes, that's also very perceptive.
Barrier: You did some other musicals, though, didn't you?
Clampett: Yes, one I did which was tremendously successful at the time was Russian Rhapsody (The Gremlin from the Kremlin). This was a story of Hitler and his "New Odor" bombers leaving Nutzi-land to try to bomb the Kremlin. We did a devastating caricature of Hitler ranting and raving. Then all the little Russian gremlins took apart Hitler's plane in synchronization to stirring Russian music. It's a wonder they didn't enlarge the "Hollywood Ten" to the "Hollywood Eleven."
Gray: I mentioned to you in Montreal how much I liked your musical "rubber band" in Tin Pan Alley Cats.
Clampett: Yes, I had this little band of rubber bands that
marched through the scene carrying a sign that said "RUBBER
BAND," and each individual rubber band formed the outline of
a little man playing an instrument. My sped music track was wild.
I still meet people who say, "Hey, didn't you have a little
'rubber band' in one of your cartoons?"
Barrier: What other continuing Warner Bros. cartoon characters did you contribute?
Clampett: There were several characters for which I came up with just the germ cell, or a character that grew into another.
Barrier: Tell us how one of these came about.
Clampett: The satire that I had done a couple of years earlier on the Lone Ranger was so well received that I decided to do a second western satire, this time combining the figure and voice of two famous red-headsRed Ryder and Red Skelton's radio cowboy characterization. So I created a sawed-off, redheaded cowboy named Red Hot Ryder and pitted him against Bugs Bunny in Buckaroo Bugs. I used a gag of little Red trying to stop his horse by bellowing out in a loud whiskey voice (a la Skelton), "Whoa horse! Whoa. . .Whoa when I say whoa! Oh, now, come on horse please whoa!" (CRASH!)
My little cowboy was such a big hit in the theater that Mike and Tedd came to me and got my O.K. to use him in a future story. They asked to see the cartoon again, so I had Smokey run it for us, after which we went back to my room and I got out some sketches of Red and the three of us had a discussion on how the character could be improved. Mike thought he should be made older looking, which he suggested could be done by adding larger eyebrows and a huge mustache. Tedd suggested some revisions in the costume. So I penciled in the mustache, etc. and he looked much better. Mike then wrote a storyboard for Friz, which I followed the progress of with interest, with Bugs Bunny again pitted against the little redheaded cowboy. And so, just as Egghead had become Elmer, this revised Red Hot Ryder became known worldwide by his new nameYosemite Sam.
Barrier: One last thing on Bugs Bunny. You mentioned that you all used a single model sheet, but was there any effort to keep Bugs' personality the same in the different directors' cartoons?
Clampett: During those first eight or so years of Bugs Bunny
we were busy exploring all possible personality traitsall
the furtherest boundaries of Bugs Bunny's possibilities. And we
originated and developed a number of divergent formats, each of
which was tremendously successful. For one of the strengths of Bugs
Bunny is that, like all we humans, he has varying "moods."
At one time he is at peace with the world and slow to react to an
invasion of his privacy. At another time, he is in a playful and
mischievous mood, full of practical jokes. At other times he is
irritable, bugged by the claim that a tortoise can beat a hare,
or whatever, and from there on out he is outwitted and frustrated
by his tiny adversary. And there are many other fine shadings to
his personality. So, to answer your question, Mike, yes, we made
every effort to keep Bugs in characterto retain his true personalitybut
this never meant keeping him at all times exactly the "same."
Gray: You are an animator, a puppeteer, a writer, a song writer, do voices, direct, and what not. How would you describe your function in the making of your films?
Clampett: Primarily as a storyteller and an actor. Not an
actor in the sense that I appear on the screen myself, but in the
sense that I act through my characters. In finalizing my scripts,
I always create my characters' complete performanceeach movement,
facial expression, voice inflection, and nuance; you know, each
gesture of the hand, a lift of the eyebrow, everything. If I'm doing
Porky Pig I don't stand off removed from Porky directing him, I
get inside of Porky and I think like Porky, I talk like Porky, I
have a s-s-sp-speech p-p-p-problem. I walk like Porky, and I feel
like Porky. I, too, was short and chubby as a child, and I know
exactly how Porky feels. I am helpful, trusting, concerned, kindly,
and sometimes a trifle p-p-p-ut out. S-s-s-shucks, I am Porky.
Gray: And when you do Bugs Bunny?
Clampett: Bugs' personality is quite the opposite of Porky's. And much more fun to do. When I do Bugs Bunny I get inside of him, and I not only think like, feel like, walk and talk like Bugs but, confidentially, Doc, I AM THE WABBIT! Some people call me cocky and brash, but actually I'm just self-assured. I'm nonchalant, imperturbable, contemplative. I play it cool, but I can get hot under the collar. And above all I'm a very "aware" character. I'm well aware that I am appearing in an animated cartoon. If you think I'm kidding, obsoive all my asides to the audience. . . "Funny situation, ain't it?" or "I do dis kinda stuff to him all through the picture" or, in the middle of my fake dying scenes, "Hey! Dis oughta win me the Academy Award."
And when Elmer Fudd comes sneaking up to my wabbit hole for the
umpteenth time dressed as a hunter, carrying a hunting rifle,
and I ask him, "Ehhh, what's up, Doc?" does anyone in
the audience for one teensy weensy moment think that I don't know
the answer to that question??? I'm usually just toying with him.
And I sometimes chomp on my carrot for the same reason that a stand-up
comic chomps on his cigarit saves me from rushing from the
last joke to the next one too fast. And I sometimes don't actI
react. And, I always treat the contest with my pursuers purely as
"fun and games." When momentarily I appear to be cornered
or in dire danger and I scream, don't be consoinedit's actually
a big put-on. Let's face it, Doc, I've read the script and I already
know how it all comes out. Of course, Mike, Bugs Bunny is much too
complex a personality for us to fully explore his "psyche"
in these few minutes.
Gray: Your cartoons had a certain look about them that no other director's cartoons have ever had. How much did you control your cartoons?
Clampett: Under the Warner system I had nearly complete
creative control over my own films, within severe money and time
limitations. I conceived and then transmitted my characters' complete
performance on to the final film through my voice people and animators.
I had my own very workable ways of doing this, and I successfully
carried a similar approach over into my puppet shows.
Gray: I noticed that the animation in your cartoons was more cartoony, more exaggerated than the animation in the other directors' cartoons, and I was wondering how you got that kind of performance out of your animators.
Clampett: Well, a good animatorand I had very good
animators at Warnersalways tried to do each scene exactly
in the manner that I had originally conceived it. I not only acted
out my characters' performance for them, but also gave them layout
sketches of each key pose and expression, and I made rapid sketches
for them of important exaggerations in the action, squashes, stretches,
etc. I even had a fresh supply of carrots daily which I used when
acting out Bugs Bunny, all of which they cleverly captured with
Some of the fine artists who have animated for me are Lou Appet, Bobo Cannon, Jack Carey, Artie Davis, Izzy Ellis, Lucifer Guarnier, Manny Gould, Chuck Jones, Norm McCabe, Bob and Tom McKimson, Bill Melendez, Phil Monroe, Vive Risto, Virgil Ross, Rod Scribner, Sid Sutherland, and even, for a short time, Art Babbitt and Shamus Culhane. And Cal Dalton, a wonderful fellow and a fine animator. When a few of us met in out-of-the-way places to form the Screen Cartoonists Guild, most of the smoke in our smoke-filled rooms was furnished courtesy of Cal Dalton's cigar. Over a period of several years my artists and I had developed what I felt were improvements and refinements in Bugs Bunny's design. But we still had the original model sheets above our desks. So, an excellent updated model sheet, incorporating all our latest thinking, was finalized by my top animator, Robert McKimson. Here's a copy of that sheet. So, as you can see, we refined Bugs Bunny step by step, like going up a ladder, except for that one cockeyed one for the second Bugs cartoon that went way over into left field.
Gray: In some of your Bugs Bunny cartoons, Bugs does a spin
as he comes up out of a hole. What made you think to do that?
Clampett: I first used this action in my magician gopher, pre-Bugs Bunny, then later used this identical action in Bugs. Several of the actions and personality touches that I first sketched for the magician gopher and magician rabbit stories later became part of Bugs Bunny's repertoire.
Gray: What about the rabbit kissing the dog?
Clampett: I have the true origin sketch of that gag in my Warner cartoon collection.
Barrier: Which characters did you particularly enjoy working
Clampett: I always felt more akin, in natural feelings, to Bugs and Cecil the Sea Sick Sea Serpent.
Barrier: You mentioned you already had a Cecil puppet as far back as 1935; how did Cecil come about?
Clampett: I created him first as a drawing, and then made him into a hand puppet.
Barrier: You said earlier your mother had helped you make your first Cecil puppet.
Clampett: That's correct. You know, some years ago she was interviewed on tape as to her recollections regarding the birth of several of my key characters, including Cecil, and she remembered certain details I didn't. Therefore, I'd like to include some of her recollections with mine.
Barrier: Fine. Where did the idea for Cecil come from?
Clampett: Well, I was always drawing comic-strip serials and putting on puppet shows for my friends. Then, one summer vacation, I saw a silent movie filmed in the technique of the later King Kong, in which huge prehistoric monsters moved around the screen in a very realistic manner [presumably The Lost World, with Willis O'Brien's stop-motion animation]. Now, I'd never seen anything like it before, and it made quite an impression on me.
The plot had to do with a bearded explorer who had a map showing where a prehistoric land was located. He and his party traveled there and eventually captured a long-necked prehistoric creature which they brought back to civilization. But it escaped, falling into the water, and as the film ended it swam out to sea, as the explorer looked forlornly after it. My mother says, "That was the end of the story for the rest of the audience, but was only the beginning for" me.
I designed a comical sea-going serpent-like characterinspired by the completely serious figure in the filmand began drawing comic strips of him swimming through the water passing boats. He would say, "Howdy!" to the passengers, and they would return his greeting, then make monumental double-takes. And so on.
And I then drew a chubby little explorer character and had him
chase across the ocean in his own little boat after this long-necked
character, whom I later named Cecil the Sea Sick Sea Serpent. The
thing that intrigued me was the fact that the huge animated figure
in the film wasn't a drawing, but an actual dimensional figure.
I had to know how this was done, how this monster was made to move
and do all the things he did. Nobody's explanation satisfied me,
and it practically became an obsession with me. I then hit on the
idea of making Cecil a dimensional figurea hand puppet.
To quote my mother, "I helped [Bob] cut and sew an old sock so that it fit his arm and hand, and we cut some cardboard to hold its mouth shape, and I sewed on buttons for eyes and nostrils, which he chose from my sewing basket." I colored it with Crayolas, and later made a little boat from a cardboard box and put on puppet shows for the neighborhood children, using the front porch railing as the stage, from below which I moved the puppets. The vines and plants became jungle. And the Cecil puppet made an immediate hit with the children as I would make him reach up and tug on the vines and chew on the leaves, and take bites out of the cardboard boat, and play pranks on the explorer, and other things of that nature.
Barrier: Am I correct in assuming that the man in the beard
and pith helmet was the direct ancestor of Captain Huffenpuff?
Clampett: Yes. But I gave Uncle Captain a completely different and original personality.
"I don't recall how the voices sounded at first," my mother continued, "but when [Bob's] voice changed seemingly overnight to a deeper tone and he spoke for the Cecil puppet. . . it suddenly came to life, sounding very similar then to the way he did years later on television. And those hearing him speak laughed. And he seemed to each time become more of a personality until he became quite believable and even amusing to the adults."
You see, Mike, I crystallized Cecil's voice and personality at the very moment that I'd grown from a short, chubby youngster to a tall, skinny adolescent. I suddenly felt as if my neck was six feet tall, and when I spoke it sounded to me as if my voice was coming from somebody else. A Sea Serpent is a thing apart. And that's exactly how I felt. Clumsy, unwanted, a minority of one, but with high hopes and great surges of newfound power.
All the pains and pleasures, intense feelings, and emotions of
my own adolescence are ingrained in Cecil. So much of what I put
into Cecil in my puppet show was deep-rooted emotions, which I am
able to convey to other people. When you look at a Cecil gag you
might say, "Oh, that's just funny." But there's a tear
to it, too.
Barrier: Especially Cecil's loneliness and lack of a female sea serpent.
Clampett: Right. In my daily puppet show I was able to develop
Cecil's personality and changing moods much more slowly, and get
the feeling of loneliness and sadness. And Cecil has great changes
of pace. He is very slow to catch on to how Dishonest John is conning
him. He is slow to anger, but when he finally realizes that little
Beany boy is in trouble and D.J.'s got him, well, ol' Cece really
tears the place apart. Then you feel better about it than if he'd
gone into action the very first moment. And then, I'd have that
wonderful warm feeling between Beany and Cecil, ending with a "slurp
kiss." So, you see, Cecil was with me all those years, until
the right time came along. Some felt he was actually my alter ego.
Barrier: How long after this first Cecil puppet was it that you helped make the Mickey Mouse dolls for Disney?
Clampett: About four years. And this proved very helpful, because I gained more experience in converting drawings into dolls and puppets. And Charlotte helped me make an improved version of the original Cecil sock puppet as well as a paper pattern which became the guide for later versions.
Barrier: Speaking of Disney, did you have any contact with
Walt later on?
Clampett: Yes, I did. I saw and talked with him quite often. I was particularly pleased when Walt complimented me on some of my Bugs Bunny cartoons which he'd seen and enjoyed. And then, after my Beany television show first caught on, Walt likened its impact and excitement to that of his first Mickey Mouse cartoons.
I was good friends with Walt's niece Margie Davis. She invited Uncle Walt and me to one of his grandnephews' birthday parties. I brought a basketful of Beany and Cecil toys and merchandise. And Walt walked in with an armful of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck toys. It so happened that Walt's own grandnephews were such great fans of my Beany and Cecil TV show that they ran around all day wearing Beany caps, playing with Beany balloons and games, with Cecil and Dishonest John puppets on their arms, giving the D.J. laugh, "Nya ha ha!" Well, Walt's eyebrow went sky high. But, of course, it was no time at all until he went on the air with his Mickey Mouse Club and wonderful Disneyland TV program. And I'm sure that his grandnephews thereafter wore nothing but Mousekeeteer capscopyright WDP. Speaking of Disneyland, I was at Walt's house when he had the start of the park in his back yard, laid out in miniature.
Barrier: After you went to work at Warner cartoons, did
you still find time for your puppets?
Clampett: Sometimes I was so busy that I didn't have much time for them, but then in the late thirties I had a tremendous resurgence of enthusiasm, and I opened my own puppet studio across the street from Warners' Sunset studio, where I was directing the cartoons. It was there that I invented and patented a dimensional animation puppet process in association with one of my Porky aides, Al Kendig, a talented young sculptor who shared my enthusiasm for puppetry and dimensional animation.
Buyers advised me they'd be interested in my puppet idea if I secured a well-known character as the star. We approached Edgar Bergen and proposed that we film a series starring Charlie McCarthy. So, the wheels in my puppet studio began turning on an animation of Charlie McCarthy.
Charlie became very real to me, and I'll never forget the shock I got the first time Al and I went to Bergen's home and found Charlie McCarthy sitting on a chair in the front roombeheaded. Edgar explained he always wrapped Charlie's head and put it in a drawer overnight for safekeeping.
We also filmed a reel of my own puppet characters, and I developed
my friend Cliff McBride's popular newspaper comic-strip dog character
Napoleon (and Uncle Elby) as a hand puppet.
Not satisfied with the immobile facial expressions of the top dummies and puppets of that day, I began work on the development of a way of giving my own puppets mobile, but controlled, facial expressions, such as we achieved in our cartoons by a simple stroke of our pencils. After a long period of trial and error, beginning with metal skeletal joints and mechanical controls, I finally arrived at a method of "finger-tip control"controlled expressions.
My mother recalls visiting me at that studio and says I showed her "a third version of Cecil which" I "was able to make do facial expressions such as smiling, frowning, looking sad and quivering his lips, etc."
Due to the fact that my exclusive contract with Leon gave him ownership of everything I created, I had to negotiate a separate agreement with him which allowed me to develop my puppets, but gave him the right of "first refusal" on everything I did. So, when I finally got my puppets up to a point, I showed them to Leon and said, "Here it is, I'm ready to go." And he looked at my films and at my hand puppets and he said, "That's awfully good. That's clever. But a shoemaker sticks to his last." Which was his way of saying his factory was set up to manufacture cartoons, so why poop around with puppets.
I was bitterly disappointed at the time, but, of course, Leon's
rejection of my puppets was the luckiest thing that ever happened
to me. Otherwise, Warner Bros. would today own the Cecil puppet
and so many other elements of my later TV shows.
Years later, when Leon was in the hospital gravely ill, he sent me word that the only bright spot in his day was at six-thirty, when it was Time for Beany.
Gray: I noticed that in some of your early cartoons you
used gags about hand puppets.
Clampett: That's true. They say coming events cast their shadows before them. And you'll see numerous places where I first tried out a little idea which I later used full blown on my TV puppet shows, over a decade later.
Barrier: For example?
Clampett: In the late thirties I did a cartoon about a sea captain, who when warned on the map that his boat was approaching a "sea serpent area," scoffed, "That's silly. There's no such thing as a sea serpent!" At which point a huge sea serpent appears and asks, "So what am Ia brook trout?" Then, I had him swim off, gaily singing "I'm the biggest serpent in the C. C. C."
Ten years later, I used this exact "That's silly. There's
no such thing as a sea serpent!" line on my very first Time
for Beany show, said by sea Captain Huffenpuff. Beany believed
in Cecil, but Uncle Captain always just missed seeing him. So, my
"no such thing" line and situation was a cornerstone plot-wise
daily for the first couple of years, until I finally allowed Uncle
Captain and Cecil to meet.
In another cartoon about a boy and a dinosaur I first used a touch of Beany and Cecil's boy- and dog-like devotion to each other, and the later famous Cecil "slurp-kiss" on the screen for the first time. And I illustrated the manner in which I later did my "Time for Beany" hand puppets in The Hep Cat.
Barrier: You won the Emmy for your first year of Beany on TV, didn't you?
Clampett: Right. And a reference to this award concludes
my mother's written recollections. She says, "When my son won
the first of his three Emmys for the Beany show, I was present at
the awards dinner, and he presented his Emmy to me in thanks for
helping him make his first Cecil puppet. . . and I still have this
award in my front room, which I enjoy viewing."
Gray: Getting back to the Warner cartoons, there's a cartoon called Slightly Daffy, in color, in which Daffy and Porky are at a fort that's attacked by Indians. You made a picture with that plot in black and white, and I was wondering if you had redone it in color.
Clampett: Yes, and I also took one of my prize-winning black-and-whites called Injun Trouble, and retraced it in color. The new version was called Wagon Heels.
Barrier: Was there much of that, re-making black-and-white cartoons in color?
Clampett: No. I think I started it with a color version of my first black-and-white Porky, retitled Tick Tock Tuckered. The studio was looking for some cost savings, with all the wartime shortages, so I said, "Look, we've got the finished picture and sound track. It's a good story. All that has to be done is for an assistant to trace it off on the rotoscope. That will give you a big saving in money."
Barrier: Why did it have to be traced?
Clampett: The studio, always penny wise and pound foolish, had already cut up the animation from finished cartoons into story sketch paper. It's always interesting to look on the back side of many of my early story sketches and see the animation of that period. So there were a few remakes like that, but not many.
After I had left, they took a cartoon of mine that was a beautiful cartoon in black and whiteit got all sorts of critical attentionand they remade that, changed it all around, and it was a complete nothing. That was astounding, because it was a remake of my hit Picasso-like short [Porky in Wackyland, remade as Dough for the Do-Do].
Barrier: What was it like in 1944 when Warner Bros. bought
out Leon Schlesinger and replaced him with Eddie Selzer?
Clampett: Sort of like when Harry Truman took over after Franklin D, Roosevelt. They plugged up the holes and painted the walls, put carpets on the floors, and installed neon-tube lighting and a shiny new time clock. It was a lot like what happened at Disney's when they moved from the friendly old Hyperion studio to the new hospital-like plant in Burbank. Everything was prettied up and much more organized. But the boys could no longer throw pushpins into the ceiling to see how many would stick, and there were no longer holes to put one's "schnoz" through.
And so, as I bade farewell to the "wabbit factory," the fun sank slowly in the west.
Barrier: How did the big bosses in TV compare to bosses at the movie studios?
Clampett: Well, a fellow I've enjoyed talking to at partiesDavid Levy, former producer of the Jack Benny showsaid, regarding the broadcasters, "The upper crust is really just a bunch of crumbs held together by dough."
Actually, Sody and I have some wonderful friends throughout the
TV industry. Some of these friendships date back to the early forties,
when the Screen Cartoonists Guild chose me as its first television
chairman. I looked into everything being done in those beginning
days of TV for the Guild. One of the new magazines devoted to video,
Telescreen, for the Arts of Television, did a special issue
on the animated cartoon's future in TV, and there were articles
and art from Disney and others. I was asked to write the Warner
Bros. cartoon article, in which there's a mention of my puppet studio
and TV puppet plans.
Barrier: Just when was this?
Clampett: Around a year or two before I left Warners, and
four years prior to Beany's debut. Bugs Bunny and I further
explored the animator's place in TV in an article in another leading
television magazine, TV, Magazine of Video Fact.
Barrier: You also opened a little cartoon studio for the making of TV commercials, didn't you?
Barrier: What did you do there?
Clampett: Well, I was Mr. Clean, developing a Swan soap
and Rinso-White (happy little washday song) commercial. The Lifebuoy
soap people asked me to develop a character with which to present
their "B.O." (body odor) radio jingle on television. So,
I created "The Lonesome Lovebird," an amorous but lovelorn
little guy from whom all the little girl birds ran, due to his "problem"which
was cleared up by a Lifebuoy bird bath."
Tedd and Mike helped me on stories in their spare time, and some of the things we developed at my studio spilled over back into our Warner cartoon stories. In fact, we three gagged a couple of stories for Warners that grew out of my "lonesome lovebird" character and angle, one of which featured perhaps the earliest use of a cat with the "Sylvester" likeness and personality. And the boys also picked up extra money doing Columbia cartoon stories for me, such as Cockatoos For Two, one about a rum-barrel-carrying St. Bernard who got loaded [Swiss Tease], and one about a black cat and lots of beans which I titled Boston Beanie.
Barrier: Beanie? Was this before you named your puppet Beany?
Clampett: Yes, over two years before. You can see from some of the names I thought up, Beans to Beaky to Beanie to Beany, that I had Beany boy's name on the tip of my tongue for some time.
Gray: Didn't you tell me in Montreal that the censors tried to give you trouble on Tweety?
Clampett: After Tweety became a big hit the censors said, "Saythat bird looks NAKED!" So, I had to change Tweety from a little bare bird in a nest to a canary in a cage, modestly covered with yellow feathers. Before I left Warners, I had a number of stories in work, including several Tweetys. Carl Stalling came to me with an idea for a title; he asked, "How about 'Tweetie Pie'?" which I liked very much. So I started that cartoon and then I left. Mike and Tedd and Friz's unit later made Tweetie Pie, and it won the Oscar. We'd had several Bugs Bunnys nominated, but never won. So, Tweety was Warner Bros.' first Oscar-winning character. And I'm mighty proud of my little guy.
Other stories I'd started, which were later completed by other units and directors, included the one in which I'd created my last two continuing Warner characters, those overly polite gophers, Mac 'n Tosh. And in the same film I introduced a dog who recited Shakespeare, a forerunner of my later William Shakespeare Wolf puppet characterization. The Birth of a Notion was also my title; plus The Big Snooze, which was my last Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd cartoon for Warners, and there were several other bird and cat (Sylvester) stories.
Although I was still quite young when I left Warner Bros. cartoons, I was their oldest employee. Eddie Selzer informed me that I had been with Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes longer than anybody else in the entire studio, and that between 1936 and '46 I had been directing almost a year and a half to nearly nine years longer than the other directors.
Gray: What was the actual reason you left Warners?
Clampett: I was so full of ideas that I wanted to try that I was practically burstingthings that I wanted to do that I couldn't do within Warners' walls.
Barrier: Your cartoons seem a little crowded sometimes,
as if you wanted to do more with the story and didn't have room
Clampett: Right. At Warners I had a wealth of ideas, more than I ever had room to use. Then later, when I started my Time for Beany puppet show with fifteen minutes a day to fill, it was just great! Because now I had sufficient screen time to use and develop all my ideas without slashing, pruning and compressing them.
For Beany on TV, I wrote and filmed more footage in one week, than a director at Warners turned out in one year.
I'd been at Warners almost half my my life, I'd gone as high up in the studio as was possible, and had proven to myself that I could create enormously popular characters for themso, why not for myself? After Leon Schlesinger sold out to Warners, his brother-in-law Ray Katz, with Leon's backing, took over the Columbia cartoon studio, Screen Gems. They came to me and said, "We want you to be the creative head of Screen Gems, at double what Warner Bros. is paying you." So, during this transitional period, at the same time that I was making my Warner cartoons, I was running my own studio, and shaping up the Columbia cartoon stories for them.
But, this was too much of a good thing. So, I decided the time had come to leave the warmth of the Warner womb. Now, I knew that it would be very difficult to get established on my own. Commercial TV was just beginning, and all the theatrical releases were tied up by Disney, Lantz, Terry, and the major studios, so the market for my own studio's output was practically nonexistent. But, after helping Leon and Ray get squared away at Screen Gems, I left to do my own thing.
And, the decision proved right, for in a few years' time my weekly check rose from in the hundreds of dollars to into the thousands. And now my character creations remained my own property, not that of the Warners and the Harry Cohns. And Cecil the Sea Sick Sea Serpent received the true mark of success in Hollywood: his caricature on the wall of the Brown Derby along with Gable, Bergen, McCarthy and Snerd, Groucho, Danny Thomas, and Durante.
Barrier: You did some of the voices for your pictures yourself, didn't you?
Clampett: Before I could write the dialogue for a new character,
I'd sometimes have to first invent the character's voice. Once I
had the voice worked out, I preferred to then transfer it to my
voice people. . . and then, I'd continue to mold and develop it.
Of course, I was the voice of Cecil and some of my other puppets
long before and all during my years at Warners, and through my cartoons
from time to time you'll hear one of my voices or vocal sound effects.
Barrier: Vocal sound effects?
Clampett: Yes. I do vocal impersonations of such things as a leaky faucet, a cow walking through mud, an oil can, a hen who's just laid an egg, a gongin any key, and hum a tune and tap dance vocally at the same timeand perhaps you heard my vocal slide-whistle, "BwoooOOOooop."
Barrier: Is that the sound effect used at the close of some of the Warner cartoons, when the iris is closing in, just before "That's all, folks"?
Clampett: Right. And even after I'd left Warner's and was doing Beany, I'd catch a new Warner cartoon in which our terrific sound man Treg Brown had cut in one of my old "BwoooOOOooops."
[Posted December 14, 2003; correction posted December 15, 2003; addition posted January 17, 2004; wording of fourth paragraph of introductory note clarified, February 10, 2008. Original interview copyright 1970 by Robert E. (Bob) Clampett.]