The Guest Curator page on the soon-to-be-brand-new-exciting-and-thrilling Chuck Jones Center for Creativity website will be devoted to commentary provided by a variety of experts and fans of the art and films of Chuck Jones. Throughout this series, we plan to bring you new insight and fresh perspectives on Jones's oeuvre. Stay tuned!
Animation expert, author, and historian, Jerry Beck, graciously agreed to inaugurate the Guest Curator page on the Center's website, but due to a delay in launching that brand-new-exciting-and-thrilling-website, we've decided to share his insights with you today here at Chuck Redux. Selecting three Chuck Jones cartoons to highlight proved a challenge, but one he met with his usual gusto, delight, and expertise. Read on!
ONE FROGGY EVENING – Chuck Jones probably never set out to create a classic when he began directing this one-shot cartoon (originally titled “It Hopped One Night”), but that’s exactly what he did. Michael Maltese’s premise, about a singing frog that performs only in view of its owner, must have appealed to Chuck for its witty use of popular tunes from an earlier generation, and a story told virtually through pantomime, poses and facial expressions.
But it turned out to be (in my humble opinion) his greatest piece of animation storytelling, where every subtle nuance conveys feelings we can all relate to, including happiness, greed, frustration and failure. One Froggy Evening plays upon our desire to achieve the American Dream of easy success, and finds humor in the realities of how that success may or may not be obtained. Jones’ animation unit at this time was at the height of its talents, producing cartoons as contemporary as the UPA shorts, as timeless as Disney, and utterly original on their own terms. A masterpiece!
Unfortunately, One Froggy Evening is only available by hyperlink, click on the title in this sentence to watch the cartoon.
OPERATION RABBIT – The best cartoon characters represent identifiable personalities that are either who we are – or who we want to be. Operation Rabbit presents the eternal battle between those two forces. Bugs Bunny has always been smarter than his various adversaries (think Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam and Taz), but here he encounters his brainest foe – a “genius” in fact – Wile E. Coyote.
Jones concocted the coyote as the personification of his own bewilderment with tools, machinery or simply building things. He knew how funny this sort of character could be up against the cool, calm and confident Bugs, just as he was in his debut film versus the Road Runner two years earlier.
Operation Rabbit is Wile E.’s second screen appearance and his first speaking role (not to mention the first time the character is named). I personally think its one of the best Bugs Bunny cartoons ever made and debatably the funniest. The scene of the coyote hanging on a rock ledge, having just been blown to bits by a train hitting his nitro glycerin shack, repeating his name “Wile E. Coyote, Super-Genius” – that never fails to make me laugh out loud. I know that guy. He’s me, he’s Chuck and he’s probably you.
Unlike the Coyote, Jones hit the Bullseye with this one!
SCAREDY CAT – Scaredy Cat is the first of several Porky Pig and Sylvester “Gothics”, three cartoons Jones made with a similarly eerie premise, and one of my all-time favorites. This one has the pair spending a hair raising night in an old dark house. The humor comes from Sylvester’s observations and actions to protect an oblivious Porky from a legion of killer mice.
Every director at Warners had their shot to work with Porky and Sylvester and each succeeded in creating an individual persona for the characters. Jones’ Porky is never more appealing than he is here – optimistic, self-assured and quite a strict pet owner. Sylvester is also tweaked in a Jonesian way: silent and scared, paranoid yet uncharacteristically brave. Oh, and I also believe this is the first cartoon where the cat (unnamed in previous screen appearances under Clampett, Davis and McKimson – and dubbed “Thomas” in Freleng’s Oscar winning “Tweetie Pie”) is given his proper name, Sylvester.
That sound like something Jones and Maltese would make up for this speech-impaired putty tat. “Sufferin’ Succotash!”
Chuck Jones met the clown TJ Tatters, also known as Steve Smith, in the early 1990s. Smith, a graduate of the Ringling Bros. Clown College and its director from 1985 until 1995, invited Jones down to Sarasota, Florida on several occasions to speak with the students. As was his nature, Chuck gifted many of the students a drawing of their favorite Warner Bros. character. On one such trip he drew this: This past September, the Clowns (past, present and future) got together on Cape Cod for a reunion and to celebrate Chuck's birthday, Valerie Kausen, Chuck's granddaughter went out to join them in their festivities.
“Being at the Clown College Reunion made my heart so happy to feel the love and respect that each and every one of those fabulous laugh loving people loved Chuck as much as I do. My face hurt from smiling so much. I had such a great time!", said Valerie, seen here with Steve Smith (aka TJ Tatters), Clown Hall of Fame member, and the talent development coordinator for Chuck Jones Film Productions, in Provincetown this past September for their Reunion.
Last Friday, we posted a photograph of Chuck Jones taken during the recording session for his 1996 Michigan J. Frog short animated film, "Another Froggy Evening." (Read and see it here.) One of our faithful readers, Brent, responded with a question, "Who are those men in the Roman Coliseum?" Some of you may have recognized Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert as the larger caricatures, but who are all those other people, you may have thought (out loud or to yourself?)
Well, thanks to some help from the inimitable Rose Long who worked at Chuck Jones Film Productions in the 1990s we can now tell you who is who.
1. Tina Raleigh, 2. Don Arioli, 3. Rose Long, 4. Chuck Jones, 5. Michael Breton, 6. Ben Jones, 7. Herman Sharaf, 8. Warren O'Neill, 9. Greg Whitaker, 10. Tod Polson, 11. Lawrence Marvit, 12. Steve Fossati, 13. Bob Givens, 14. Linda Jones Clough, 15. Greg Duffel, 16. Tom Decker, 17. Jill Petrilak, 18. Charlie Puzzo, 19. Ted Bemiller, 20. Mike Polvani, 21. Stan Freberg
Taking a break from recording the soundtrack for Chuck Jones' 1996 short film, "Another Froggy Evening" are, from left, Linda Jones Clough (producer,) Chuck Jones (director & producer,) with actor, Jeff McCarthy. "Another Froggy Evening" saw the return of Jones's mythic character, Michigan J. Frog as he traveled through the ages.
"The person who is missing from this photo is George Daugherty [Who, along with Cameron Patrick, provided the original music score & the arrangements for "Another Froggy Evening". –ed.] George and I auditioned about twenty singers for the part and Jeff was the only one who came close and he came so close we felt he was channeling the original, unnamed, baritone who voiced Michigan in the original film. Jeff brought the warmth, enthusiasm, and exactly the right “note” to the job… Jeff is one of the truly “good” guys and remains a good friend to this day," said Linda Jones Clough in a recent email exchange with Chuck Redux. Click here to learn more about Jeff McCarthy.