Friday, March 9, 2012

Elmer J. Fudd

Elmer J. Fudd/Egghead is a fictional cartoon character and one of the most famous Looney Tunes characters, and the de facto archenemy of Bugs Bunny. He has one of the more disputed origins in the Warner Bros. cartoon pantheon (second only to Bugs himself). His aim is to hunt Bugs, but he usually ends up seriously injuring himself and other antagonizing characters. He speaks in an unusual way, replacing his Rs and Ls with Ws, so "Watch the road, Rabbit," is replaced with "Watch the woad, wabbit!" Elmer's signature catchphrase is, "Be vewy vewy quiet, I'm hunting wabbits", as well as his trademark laughter, "huh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh".

The best known Elmer Fudd cartoons include Chuck Jones' masterpiece What's Opera, Doc? (one of the few times Fudd bested Bugs, though he felt bad about it), the Rossini parody Rabbit of Seville, and the "Hunting Trilogy" of "Rabbit Season/Duck Season" shorts (Rabbit Fire, Rabbit Seasoning, and Duck! Rabbit, Duck!) with Fudd himself, Bugs Bunny, and Daffy Duck.

In 1937, Tex Avery introduced a new character in his cartoon short Egghead Rides Again. Egghead initially was depicted as having a bulbous nose, funny/eccentric clothing, a voice like Joe Penner, provided by radio mimic Danny Webb, and an egg-shaped head (thus the moniker "Egghead"). Many cartoon historians believe that Egghead evolved into Elmer over a period of a couple of years. However, animation historian Michael Barrier asserts "The Egghead-Elmer story is actually a little messy, my sense being that most of the people involved, whether they were making the films or publicizing them, not only had trouble telling the characters apart but had no idea why they should bother trying." Egghead made his second appearance in 1937's Little Red Walking Hood and then in 1938 teamed with Warner Bros.' newest cartoon star Daffy Duck in Daffy Duck and Egghead. In 1938 Egghead continued to make appearances in the Warner cartoons, including The Isle of Pingo Pongo, and A-Lad-In Bagdad. In A Feud There Was (1938) Egghead made his entrance riding a motorscooter with the words "Elmer Fudd, Peacemaker" displayed on the side, the first onscreen use of that name. Egghead shifts from having a Moe Howard haircut to being bald, and wears a brown derby, a baggy suit, and a high-collared shirt. Egghead himself returned decades later in the compilation film Daffy Duck's Quackbusters. More recently, he also made a cameo appearance at the end of Looney Tunes: Back in Action and was also given in his own story, which starred him alongside Pete Puma, in the Looney Tunes comic book.

Egghead has the distinction of being the very first recurring character created for Leon Schlesinger's Merrie Melodies series (to be followed by such characters as Sniffles, Inki, and even Bugs Bunny), which had previously contained only one-shot characters, although during the Harman-Ising era, Foxy, Goopy Geer, and Piggy each appeared in a few Merrie Melodies.

In the 1939 cartoon Dangerous Dan McFoo, a new voice actor, Arthur Q. Bryan, was hired to provide the voice of the hero dog-character and it was in this cartoon that the popular "milk-sop" voice of Elmer Fudd was created. Elmer Fudd has since been the chief antagonistic force in the majority of the Bugs Bunny cartoons, initiating one of the most famous rivalries in the history of American cinema.

In 1940, Egghead–Elmer's appearance was refined, giving him a chin and a less bulbous nose (although still wearing Egghead's clothing) and Arthur Quirk Bryan's "Dan McFoo" voice in what most people consider Elmer Fudd's first true appearance: a Chuck Jones short entitled Elmer's Candid Camera. The Bugs Bunny prototype drives Elmer insane. Later that year, he appeared in Friz Freleng's Confederate Honey (where he's called Ned Cutler) and The Hardship of Miles Standish where his voice and Egghead-like appearance were still the same. Jones would use this Elmer one more time, in 1941's Elmer's Pet Rabbit; its other title character is labeled as Bugs Bunny, but is also identical to his counterpart in Camera. In the interim, the two starred in A Wild Hare. Bugs appears with a carrot, New York accent, and "What's Up, Doc?" catchphrase all in place for the first time, although the voice and physique are as yet somewhat off. Elmer has a better voice, a trimmer figure (designed by Robert Givens, which would be reused soon later in Jones' Good Night Elmer, this time without a red nose) and his familiar hunting clothes. He is much more recognizable as the Elmer Fudd of later cartoons than Bugs is here. In his earliest appearances, Elmer actually "wikes wabbits", either attempting to take photos of Bugs, or adopting Bugs as his pet. The rascally rabbit has the poor Fudd so perplexed that there is little wonder as to why Elmer would become a hunter and in some cases actually proclaim, "I hate wittle gway wabbits!" after pumping buckshot down a rabbit hole.

Elmer's role in these two films, that of would-be hunter, dupe and foil for Bugs, would remain his main role forever after, and although Bugs Bunny was called upon to outwit many more worthy opponents, Elmer somehow remained Bugs' classic nemesis, despite (or because of) his legendary gullibility, small size, short temper, and shorter attention span. In Rabbit Fire, he declares himself vegetarian, hunting for sport only.

Elmer was usually cast as a hapless big-game hunter, armed with a double-barreled shotgun (albeit one which could be fired much more than twice without being reloaded) and creeping through the woods "hunting wabbits". In a few cartoons, though, he assumed a completely different persona—a wealthy industrialist type, occupying a luxurious penthouse, or, in one episode involving a role reversal, a sanitarium—which Bugs would of course somehow find his way into. In Dog Gone People, he had an ordinary office job working for demanding boss "Mister Cwabtwee". In another cartoon (Mutt in a Rut) he appeared to work in an office and had a dog he called "Wover Boy", whom he took hunting, though Bugs did not appear.

Several episodes featured Elmer differently. One (What's Up, Doc?, 1950) has Bugs Bunny relating his life story to a biographer, and recalling a time which was a downturn for the movie business. Elmer Fudd is a well-known entertainer who, looking for a new partner for his act, sees Bugs Bunny (after passing caricatures of many other famous 1940s actors (Al Jolson, Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, Bing Crosby) who, like Bugs, are also out of work). Elmer and Bugs do a one-joke act cross-country, with Bugs dressed like a pinhead, and when he does not know the answer to a joke, Elmer gives it and hits him with a pie in the face. Bugs begins to tire of this gag and pulls a surprise on Fudd, answering the joke correctly and bopping Elmer with a mallet, which prompts the man to point his rifle at Bugs. The bunny asks nervously: "Eh, what's up doc?", which results in a huge round of applause from the audience. Bugs tells Elmer they may be on to something, and Elmer, with the vaudevillian's instinct of sticking with a gag that catches on, nods that they should re-use it. According to this account, the common Elmer-as-hunter episodes are entirely staged.

One episode where Bugs "lost" in the hunting was Hare Brush (1956). Here, Elmer has been committed to an insane asylum because he believes he is a rabbit. Bugs Bunny enters Fudd's room and Elmer bribes him with carrots, then leaves the way the real rabbit entered. Bugs acts surprisingly (for him) naïve, assuming Elmer just wanted to go outside for a while. Elmer's psychiatrist arrives, and thinking Fudd's delusion has affected his appearance, drugs Bugs and conditions him into believing that he is Elmer Fudd 'after which Bugs starts wearing hunting clothes and acting like Elmer, hunting the rabbit-costumed Fudd, who is in turn acting like Bugs. Their hunt is cut short when Bugs is arrested, as Elmer Fudd is wanted for tax evasion. After Bugs is hauled away, Fudd breaks the fourth wall and tells the audience, "I may be a scwewy wabbit, but I'm not going to Alcatwaz."

Elmer Fudd has occasionally appeared in other costumes, notably as Cupid. He tries to convince Bugs about love, but Bugs is reluctant, thinking to himself "Don't you look like some guy who's always after me?" and pictures the Elmer in hunter's clothes. The Cupid Elmer plots to get even with Bugs, using his love arrows to make Bugs fall in love with an artificial rabbit at a dog track. Elmer also appeared in this form opposite Daffy Duck in The Stupid Cupid (1944).

The Bugs–Elmer partnership was so familiar to audiences that in a late 1950s cartoon, Bugs' Bonnets, a character study is made of what happens to the relationship between the two when they each accidentally don a different selection of hats (Native American Wig, Pilgrim Hat, Military Helmets, Bridal Veil and Top Hat, to name a few). The result is comic mayhem; a steady game of one-upmanship that ultimately leads to matrimony.

In Hare Brush, it is revealed that he is a millionaire and owns a mansion and a yacht.

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