Today in 1940 was the official debut of Bugs Bunny, in the animated short, A Wild Hare. A rabbit with some of the features of Bugs had appeared in earlier cartoons, but this was his formal entrance to the world of cartoons. Bugs Bunny was not my favorite Warner Bros character, Daffy Duck was. I liked Bugs well enough, but there was something about Daffy that appealed more. You could ask my therapist why that is, but I don’t have one. The thing is that I do not find tricksters appealing. Let’s get into some of the early history of Bugs. The recipe will have to involve carrots, of course.
A rabbit with some of the personality of Bugs, though looking very different, was originally featured in the film Porky’s Hare Hunt, released on April 30th, 1938. It was co-directed by Ben “Bugs” Hardaway and an uncredited Cal Dalton (who was responsible for the initial design of the rabbit). This cartoon has an almost identical plot to Avery’s Porky’s Duck Hunt (1937), which had introduced Daffy Duck https://www.bookofdaystales.com/daffy-duck/ . Porky Pig is again cast as a hunter tracking a silly prey who is more interested in driving his pursuer insane than in escaping. Hare Hunt replaces the little black duck with a small white rabbit. The rabbit introduces himself with the odd expression “Jiggers, fellers,” and Mel Blanc gave the character a voice and laugh much like those he would later use for Woody Woodpecker. Hare Hunt also gives its rabbit the famous Groucho Marx line, “Of course you realize, this means war!” (used later by Bugs as a tag line). The rabbit character was popular enough with audiences that the Termite Terrace (Warner Bros animation) staff decided to use it again. According to Friz Freleng, Hardaway and Dalton had decided to dress the duck in a rabbit suit. The white rabbit had an oval head and a shapeless body. In characterization, he was “a rural buffoon”. He was loud, zany with a goofy, guttural laugh. Blanc provided him with a hayseed voice.
The rabbit comes back in Prest-O Change-O (1939), directed by Chuck Jones, where he is the pet rabbit of unseen character Sham-Fu the Magician. Two dogs, fleeing the local dogcatcher, enter his absent master’s house. The rabbit harasses them but is ultimately bested by the bigger of the two dogs. This version of the rabbit was cool, graceful, and controlled. He retained the guttural laugh but was otherwise silent.
The rabbit’s third appearance comes in Hare-um Scare-um (1939), directed again by Dalton and Hardaway. This cartoon—the first in which he is depicted as a grey bunny instead of a white one—is also notable as the rabbit’s first singing role. Charlie Thorson, lead animator on the film, gave the character a name. He had written “Bugs’ Bunny” (i.e. the Bunny drawn by Bugs (Hardaway) – note the apostrophe) on the model sheet that he drew for Hardaway. In promotional material for the cartoon, including a surviving 1939 press kit, the name on the model sheet was altered to become the rabbit’s own name: “Bugs” Bunny (quotation marks only used, on and off, until 1944). The name was not used in the cartoon, however.
Thorson had been approached by Tedd Pierce, head of the story department, and asked to design a better rabbit. The decision was influenced by Thorson’s experience in designing hares. He had designed Max Hare in Toby Tortoise Returns (Disney, 1936). For Hardaway, Thorson created the model sheet previously mentioned, with six different rabbit poses. Thorson’s model sheet is “a comic rendition of the stereotypical fuzzy bunny”. He had a pear-shaped body with a protruding rear end. His face was flat and had large expressive eyes. He had an exaggerated long neck, gloved hands with three fingers, oversized feet, and a “smart aleck” grin. The end result was influenced by Walt Disney Animation Studios’ tendency to draw animals in the style of cute infants (technically called paedomorphism). He had an obvious Disney influence, but looked like an awkward merger of the lean and streamlined Max Hare from The Tortoise and the Hare (1935), and the round, soft bunnies from Little Hiawatha (1937).
In Jones’s Elmer’s Candid Camera (1940), the rabbit first meets Elmer Fudd. This time the rabbit looks more like the present-day Bugs, taller and with a similar face—but retaining the more primitive voice. Candid Camera‘s Elmer character design is also different: taller and chubbier in the face than the modern model, though Arthur Q. Bryan’s character voice is already established.
While Porky’s Hare Hunt was the first Warner Bros. cartoon to feature a Bugs Bunny-like rabbit, A Wild Hare, directed by Tex Avery and released on July 27th, 1940, is widely considered to be the first official Bugs Bunny cartoon. It is the first film where both Elmer Fudd and Bugs, both redesigned by Bob Givens, are shown in their fully developed forms as hunter and tormentor, respectively; the first in which Mel Blanc uses what would become Bugs’s standard voice; and the first in which Bugs uses his catchphrase, “What’s up, Doc?” A Wild Hare was a huge success in theaters and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Cartoon Short Subject. For the film, Avery asked Givens to remodel the rabbit. The result had a closer resemblance to Max Hare. He had a more elongated body, stood more erect, and looked more poised. If Thorson’s rabbit looked like an infant, Givens’ version looked like an adolescent. Blanc gave Bugs the voice of a city slicker – maybe a Damon Runyon character (part Brooklyn, part Bronx). The rabbit was as audacious as he had been in Hare-um Scare-um and as cool and collected as in Prest-O Change-O.
Immediately following on A Wild Hare, Bob Clampett’s Patient Porky (1940) featured a cameo appearance by Bugs, announcing to the audience that 750 rabbits have been born. The gag uses Bugs’ Wild Hare visual design, but his goofier pre-Wild Hare voice characterization.
The second full-fledged role for the mature Bugs, Chuck Jones’s Elmer’s Pet Rabbit (1941), is the first to use Bugs’s name on-screen: it appears in a title card, “featuring Bugs Bunny,” at the start of the film (which was edited in following the success of A Wild Hare). However, Bugs’s voice and personality in this cartoon are noticeably different, and his design was slightly altered as well. Bugs’s visual design is based on the prototype rabbit in Candid Camera, but with yellow gloves and no buck teeth, has a lower-pitched voice and a more aggressive, arrogant and thuggish personality instead of a fun-loving personality. After Pet Rabbit, however, subsequent Bugs appearances returned to normal. The Wild Hare visual design and personality returned, and Blanc re-used the Wild Hare voice characterization.
Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt (1941), directed by Friz Freleng, became the second Bugs Bunny cartoon to receive an Academy Award nomination. The fact that it didn’t win the award was later spoofed somewhat in What’s Cookin’ Doc? (1944), in which Bugs demands a recount (claiming to be a victim of “sa-bo-TAH-gee”) after losing the Oscar to James Cagney and presents a clip from Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt to prove his point.
Bugs appeared in a number of cartoons from 1942 to 1945 promoting enlistment in the military, but his most well-known shorts were made between 1946 to 1964, after which he was retired. Bugs starred in over 167 theatrical short films, most of which were directed by Friz Freleng, Robert McKimson, and Chuck Jones. Freleng’s Knighty Knight Bugs (1958), in which a medieval Bugs trades blows with Yosemite Sam and his fire-breathing dragon (which has a cold), won an Academy Award for Best Cartoon Short Subject (becoming the first Bugs Bunny cartoon to win an oscar). Three of Jones’s films — Rabbit Fire, Rabbit Seasoning, and Duck! Rabbit, Duck! — make up what is often referred to as the “Rabbit Season/Duck Season” trilogy and are famous for originating the “historic” rivalry between Bugs and Daffy Duck. Jones’s classic What’s Opera, Doc? (1957), casts Bugs and Elmer Fudd in a parody of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. It was deemed “culturally significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1992, the first cartoon short to receive this honor. In the fall season of 1960, ABC debuted the prime-time television program The Bugs Bunny Show. This show packaged many of the post-1948 Warner cartoons with newly animated wraparounds.
Bugs’s carrot chewing and talking with his mouth full is purported to come from this scene in It Happened One Night (1934):
There is also a false tale commonly told that Mel Blanc was allergic to carrots but had to chew them when voicing Bugs because substitutes such as celery did not have the right sound. Consequently, he had to spit them out because of the allergy. I debunked that story here: https://www.bookofdaystales.com/mel-blanc/ He did spit out what he was chewing so that he could deliver the next line, not because of any allergy. I gave a carrot soup recipe in that post, so here I will give you carrot cake, one of my all-time favorites. I don’t like many cakes, but I will eat multiples slices of this one in a heartbeat. You have a few options here. I don’t like raisins in my carrot cake, so I omit them. I use allspice rather than cinnamon, which is more customary, because I like my cake to be spicy. I like walnuts in mine, but you can also use pecans. Some people like to garnish the frosting with nuts as well, but I usually don’t. It’s all your choice.
For the cake
2 cups/260 gm all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 ½ tsp ground allspice
1 ¼ cups/295 ml vegetable oil
1 cup/200 gm granulated sugar
1 cup/200 grams brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
3 cups/300 gm grated peeled carrots
1 cup/100 gm coarsely chopped walnuts
½ cup/65 gm raisins (optional)
For the frosting
8 oz/225 gm cream cheese, room temperature
1 ¼ cups/140 gm powdered sugar
⅓ cup/80 ml heavy whipping cream
½ cup/50 grams coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350˚F/175˚C.
Grease and flour the bottoms and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans.
Mix the flour, baking soda, salt, and all spice in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk the oil, sugars and vanilla, then whisk in the eggs, one at a time, until thoroughly mixed.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in 3 parts, stirring well after the addition of each part, making sure that the batter is smooth, and that all dry pockets have been mixed before adding the next part. Make sure the dough is completely mixed and smooth. Then stir in the carrots, nuts, and raisins (if used).
Divide the batter between the two prepared cake pans and bake for around 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool the cakes in their pans for 15 minutes then turn them out on to cooling racks, and let them cool completely.
Using a stand mixer, or handheld mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until it is soft and creamy. Then beat in the powdered sugar, ¼ cup at a time until the mixture is fluffy. Pour in the cream and continue beating for 1 minute. Cover and chill.
Place one cake layer on a cake plate and spread half of the frosting on top. Place the other cake layer on top and frost the top of it with the remaining frosting. Do not frost the sides. Use walnuts to decorate the top if you like.