Daffy Duck first appeared in Porky’s Duck Hunt, which was released on this date in 1937. The cartoon was directed by Tex Avery and animated by Bob Clampett. Porky’s Duck Hunt was standard hunter/hunted fare, for which Leon Schlesinger’s studio was famous, but Daffy (barely more than an unnamed bit player in this short) was something new to moviegoers: an assertive, completely unrestrained, combative protagonist. Clampett wrote:
At that time, audiences weren’t accustomed to seeing a cartoon character do these things. And so, when it hit the theaters it was an explosion. People would leave the theaters talking about this daffy duck.
This “daffy duck” is nothing like the character he evolved into over the years. Here’s the original:
Without knowing that this duck was to become Daffy Duck, you would not recognize him. That’s evolution for you.
The only aspects of the character that have remained consistent through the years are his voice characterization by Mel Blanc, and his black feathers with a white neck ring. Blanc’s characterization of Daffy once held the world record for the longest characterization of one animated character by his or her original actor: 52 years. The origin of Daffy’s voice, with its notable lateral lisp, is a matter of some debate. One often-repeated “official” story is that it was modeled after producer Leon Schlesinger’s tendency to lisp. However, in Mel Blanc’s autobiography, That’s Not All Folks!, he contradicts that conventional belief, saying, “It seemed to me that such an extended mandible would hinder his speech, particularly on words containing an s sound. Thus ‘despicable’ became ‘desthpicable.'”
Virtually every Warner Bros. cartoon director put his own spin on the Daffy Duck character – he may be a lunatic vigilante in one short but a greedy gloryhound in another. Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones both made extensive use of these two very different versions of the character. Tex Avery and Bob Clampett created the original version of Daffy in 1937. Daffy established his status by jumping into the water, hopping around, and yelling, “Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo!” Animator Bob Clampett immediately seized upon the Daffy Duck character and cast him in a series of cartoons in the 1930s and 1940s. The early Daffy is a wild and zany screwball, perpetually bouncing around the screen with cries of “Hoo-hoo! Hoo-hoo!” (In his autobiography, Mel Blanc stated that the zany demeanor was inspired by Hugh Herbert’s catchphrase, which was taken to a wild extreme for Daffy.) Clampett physically redesigned the character, making him taller and lankier and rounding out his feet and bill. He was often paired with Porky Pig.
Daffy featured in several war-themed shorts during World War II. Daffy always stays true to his unbridled nature. He attempts to dodge conscription in Draftee Daffy (1945), battles a Nazi goat intent on eating Daffy’s scrap metal in Scrap Happy Daffy (1943), hits Adolf Hitler’s head with a giant mallet in Daffy the Commando (1943) and outwits Hitler, Goebbels and Goering in Plane Daffy (1944). Daffy was “drafted” as a mascot for the 600th Bombardment Squadron.
For Daffy Doodles, Robert McKimson, as his new director, tamed Daffy a bit, redesigning him yet again to be rounder and less elastic. The studio also instilled some of Bugs Bunny’s savvy into the duck, making him as brilliant with his mouth as he was with his battiness. Daffy was teamed up with Porky Pig becoming his straight man instead of rival. Arthur Davis, who directed Warner Bros cartoon shorts for a few years in the late 1940s until upper management decreed there should be only three units (McKimson, Friz Freleng, and Jones), presented a Daffy similar to McKimson’s. McKimson is noted as the last of the three units to make his Daffy uniform with Jones’s, with even late shorts, such as Don’t Axe Me (1958), featuring traits of the “screwball” Daffy.
While Daffy’s loony days were over, McKimson continued to make him as bad or good as his various roles required him to be. McKimson used this Daffy from 1946 to 1961. Friz Freleng’s version took a hint from Chuck Jones to make the duck more sympathetic, as in the 1957 Show Biz Bugs. Here, Daffy is over-emotional and jealous of Bugs, yet he has real talent that is ignored by the theater manager and the crowd. This cartoon finishes with a sequence in which Daffy attempts to wow the Bugs-besotted audience with an act in which he drinks gasoline and swallows nitroglycerine, gunpowder, and uranium-238 (in a greenish solution), jumps up and down to “shake well” and finally swallows a lit match that detonates the whole mixture. When Bugs tells Daffy that the audience loves the act and wants more, Daffy, now a ghost floating upward (presumably to Heaven), says that he can only do the act once. Some TV stations, and in the 1990s the cable network TNT, edited out the dangerous act, afraid of imitation by young children.
While Bugs Bunny became Warner Bros’ most popular character, the directors still found ample use for Daffy. Several cartoons place him in parodies of popular movies and radio serials; Porky Pig was usually a comic relief sidekick. For example, Daffy in The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (1946) as “Duck Twacy” (Dick Tracy) by Bob Clampett and The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950), Daffy was the hero and Porky Pig was the villain. In Drip-Along Daffy (released in 1951 and named after the popular Hopalong Cassidy character) puts Daffy into a Western with him labeled “Western-Type Hero” and Porky Pig labeled “Comedy Relief”. In Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century (1953), a parody of Buck Rogers, Daffy trades barbs (and bullets) with Marvin the Martian, with Porky Pig retaining the role of Daffy’s sidekick. In Rocket Squad, a 1956 parody of Dragnet and Racket Squad, Daffy and Porky Pig pair up once again. Robin Hood Daffy (1958) casts Daffy as Robin Hood with Porky Pig as Friar Tuck.
Bugs Bunny’s rise to stardom also prompted the Warner Bros animators to recast Daffy as Bugs’s rival, intensely jealous, insecure and determined to steal back the spotlight, while Bugs either remains cool headed but mildly amused or indifferent to the duck’s jealousy or uses it to his advantage. Daffy’s desire to achieve stardom at almost any cost was explored as early as 1940 in Freleng’s You Ought to Be in Pictures, but the idea was most successfully used by Chuck Jones, who redesigned Daffy once again, making him scrawnier and scruffier. In Jones’s famous “Hunting Trilogy” (or “Duck Season/Rabbit Season Trilogy”) of Rabbit Fire, Rabbit Seasoning and Duck! Rabbit, Duck! (respectively launched in 1951, 1952, and 1953), Daffy’s attention-grabbing ways and excitability provide Bugs Bunny the perfect opportunity to fool the hapless Elmer Fudd into repeatedly shooting the duck’s bill off. Also, these cartoons initiate Daffy’s catchphrase, “Youuu’re deththpicable!” Jones’s Daffy sees himself as self-preservationist, not selfish. However, this Daffy can do nothing that does not backfire on him, more likely to singe his tail feathers as well as his ego and pride. It is surmised that Chuck Jones based Daffy Duck’s new personality on his fellow animator Bob Clampett, who, like Daffy, was known as a loud self-promoter. In Beanstalk Bunny Daffy, Bugs and Elmer are once again teamed up in a parody of Jack and the Beanstalk (with Elmer as the giant) while in the spoofs of the TV shows The Millionaire and This Is Your Life, in The Million Hare, Daffy tries to defeat his arch-rival Bugs Bunny for a $1,000,000 prize given out by his favorite TV show and in This Is a Life? Daffy tries to upstage Bugs Bunny in order to be the guest of honor on the show. In all three of these cartoons Daffy ends up a loser because of his own over-emotional personality (which impairs Daffy’s reasoning ability) and his craving for attention.
Film critic Steve Schneider calls Jones’s version of Daffy “a kind of unleashed id.” Jones said that his version of the character “expresses all of the things we’re afraid to express.” This is evident in Jones’s Duck Amuck (1953), “one of the few unarguable masterpieces of American animation” according to Schneider.In the episode, Daffy is plagued by a godlike animator whose malicious paintbrush alters the setting, soundtrack, and even Daffy. When Daffy demands to know who is responsible for the changes, the camera pulls back to reveal Bugs Bunny as the animator. Duck Amuck is widely heralded as a classic of filmmaking for its illustration that a character’s personality can be recognized independently of appearance, setting, voice, and plot. It has long been a favorite of mine because of its self-referential character as a cartoon about cartooning. I cannot embed the whole for copyright reasons. Here’s the beginning:
After the Jones era Warner outsourced its cartooning, and I lost interest in Daffy (and Bugs). The classics will always remain classic.
Bugs and Daffy are frequently rivals, sometimes trying to escape hunters, as in Duck! Rabbit, Duck! – giving me the obvious idea of pairing rabbit and duck together. You can find a fair number of recipes online for duck and rabbit together, usually put together out of necessity. For example:
I have an idea for a duck and rabbit cold raised pie which I have not experimented with because I cannot get rabbit in Cambodia and the ducks are pathetic scrawny things. It would be different in China or Italy. I’ll work it out in detail when I am in the right place. For now, here is my (untested) recipe. The chicken stock for the jelly must be refrigerated overnight to be sure that it gels well. If not add some extra gelatin. Clarify it with egg shells and sieve through muslin. This is modified from a Victorian recipe that is BIG. When I have used the original for game pies, I make several rather than one big pie.
©Duck and Rabbit Raised Pie
500 gm/16 oz cooked rabbit, cut in small chunks
100 gm/3½ oz duck fat
500 gm/16 oz skinned duck breast, cut in slices
150 gm/6 oz bacon
12 shallots, peeled and minced (or 6 banana shallots, chopped small)
5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tsp ground allspice
30 gm/1 oz butter
extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp brandy
4 tbsp port
salt and black pepper
For the Pastry:
375 gm/ 13 oz lard
1 kg/ 2lbs all-purpose flour (plus extra)
2 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp milk
For the Jelly:
3 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp port (optional)
For one pie grease a 26 cm/9 inch, 7 cm/3 inch deep springform tin. Lightly flour the inside, shake it all around so that the surface are completely covered, and tip out the excess.
Heat the butter and a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium low heat. Add the shallots and soften for a few minutes. Do not let them take on color. Add the garlic and allspice and stir to mix. Add the brandy and port, turn the heat to high, and let the liquid reduce until it is syrupy. Turn off the heat and let cool. When the shallot mix is cool add the meats and duck fat and stir to combine well.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.
To make the pastry, melt the lard into 2 cups of water in a small pan over a low heat. Bring to the boil then immediately turn the heat off. Put the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the middle. Pour the hot, fatty water into the hole and stir well with a wooden spoon to form a dough. Do not work too long because you want the pastry to remain warm and pliable. Turn it out on to a floured surface and knead the dough until it is elastic (about 2 minutes). Cut off a quarter of the dough for the lid.
At this point, traditionalists dump the remaining pie dough into the tin and work it with their fingers until it is spread along the bottom of the tin and up the sides (hence “raised”). To do this quickly and evenly takes considerable skill and experience. I can do it, but usually I just roll out the dough into a circle of the right size and lower it into the baking tin, then press it all around evenly with an overhang over the top for crimping. While the dough for the lid is still warm, roll it out too and set it aside. Keep any scraps for repairs and decoration.
Fill the pastry with the meat mixture, making sure not to pack it too tight. You want room for the aspic to flow around the meat.
Lay the pastry lid on top and crimp the edges all around. Cut a central steam hole in the lid. Beat the egg and milk together and brush it liberally over the lid and edges. If you have extra pastry cut some decorative leaves and put them on the lid. Brush them with egg wash as well. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes applying the egg wash halfway through if the top is not golden enough for you.
Let the pie cool a little (not completely) in the pan, and then pop the springform. If you wait until it is completely cool you run the risk of the pastry sticking to the tin, which is a disaster. Let the pie cool completely.
Make sure your stock is clarified and can gel solidly. Heat it up very gently until it is just liquid and add the port if you wish. Using a small funnel inserted into the pie’s steam hole, pour the stock into the pie. It takes a little time for the stock to find all the nooks and crannies, so be patient. It may take an hour or so before the stock is all absorbed into the pie, and there will be some left over.
Refrigerate the pie once you have added the stock – preferably overnight. In this state it will keep for several days. Cut into thin wedges to serve.