Chuck Jones & Cats (not the musical…)


GC99I01 The cat has been domesticated
since ancient times.  Of the genus Felis, the common (and as we’ll
discover, uncommon) house cat, Felix
(wherever did those cat names come from?), has been the visual
inspiration for untold centuries of artists, from the tombs of the Pharaohs to
contemporary society.   For Chuck Jones
it began with one cat.   

Johnson entered the Jones
household one foggy morning in 1918, carefully picking his way throughGC99I02 the sand
at Balboa, to stand looking up at their home requesting admission.  “He moved into our house that morning, bag
and baggage.  The bag was that cat bag
all cats live in, one of the few characteristics he shared with other
cats.  He sat fat and walked thin like
other cats, but the resemblance to other cats stopped there,” reminisces Chuck
Jones in his autobiography, Chuck Amuck.  “His baggage was what appeared to be a very
old, very used tongue depressor, fastened securely about his neck…bearing the
crude inscription…Johnson.”

Chuck Jones recalls that
morning because he realized that it marked a turning point in his perception  GC99I10 of
character and one of the most important lessons of animation:
individuality.  Johnson demonstrated for
Jones that it is the individual, the oddity and peculiarity of character that
counts.  In response to the question,
“Why do animated cartoonists use animals?” Jones has said that it is easier and
more believable to humanize animals than to humanize humans. 

“The Cat Portfolio” is a limited edition collection of 9 cats drawn by
Chuck Jones over a 50-year period.  The
ten fine art reproductions on paper (one cat is seen in x-ray as well) that comprise the portfolio are
led off by a drawing of Johnson, jauntily wearing three-quarters of a
grapefruit rind on his head like a space helmet.  “On such occasions he seemed to enjoy this
raffish adornment and would saunter out onto the sand, often with only one eye
visible under the overhang, a curious sight to many people, a delight to our
family, and a source of sheer terror to small dogs and old ladies,” Jones
continues in his autobiography.  And if
that weren’t enough, Johnson liked to swim in the ocean too.  


3 thoughts on “Chuck Jones & Cats (not the musical…)

  1. Kimberley

    I love these cat drawings, especially the one of the kitty being petted on his belly; that legs-up-kicking posture is very familiar to our household! LOL I really enjoy this blog. Thanks for sharing your grandfather with us through his letters and sketches.

  2. Silvia Lisart

    The story of Johnson is one of my favorite and I never stop hearing again about it! he was really a unique and special in his whole genre…of course, as his amazing drawing: I like the cunning expression of that little and feline eye coming out from the grapefruit helmet and the way he cross the legs, nearly as dancing!
    Greeting with a delicious grapefruit juice!


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