Tag Archives: Mike Maltese

Pepé le Pew: Stinky

Conceived as a new character for the short film, Forever Ambushed, Stinky became the familiar francophone-challenged skunk known throughout the world today as Pepé le Pew.  The film was eventually retitled Odor-able Kitty and premiered on the silver screen nationwide January 6, 1945.  It follows the misadventures of a bedraggled and abused tomcat who, wishing to avoid the derision and despair of life as an alley cat, paints himself black with a white stripe, rolls in Limburger cheese and wreaks revenge upon his tormentors as a sly skunk.   At which point the French-accented skunk (Stinky/Henry/Pepé) brimming with amour (ooh la la, mon petit chou) enters and a Feydeau farce of co(s)mic proportions is born (beaucoups de rire).   Although famed storyman Michael Maltese was to write the majority of Pepé’s ‘aromantic’ adventures (c’est bon!), the legendary Tedd Pierce penned (écrivait) this first cartoon (et très bien aussi!).

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“Characters always start with an idea rather than a drawing.  Before I drew Pepé for his first appearance in a cartoon, I knew something about his character, and I knew he was a skunk, but I did not know what he looked like.  Live-action directors call casting sessions at this point to find an actor to match their notion of a character, but I begin drawing—my casting session.  I did more than 200 drawings of Pepé before I was confident he would work according to our conception of him.  From that moment on, he was as much subject to the limits of his physical ability as I am.

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“When we were writing Odor-able Kitty, in which Pepé made his first appearance (under the name Henry), the odious Eddie Selzer [the producer at Warner Bros. Cartoons] tried to block the project on the grounds that skunks talking French are not funny.  (The French themselves find these cartoons very funny.)  But when For Scent-imental Reasons later won an Academy Award, Eddie Selzer contentedly collected the credit and the Oscar, which he took home.” — Chuck Jones, Chuck Reducks, Drawing from the Fun Side of Life

Filmography (all Jones, except where noted):

  • Odor-able Kitty (1945)                                                                     
  • Scent-imental Over You (1947)
  • Odor of the Day (Davis, 1948)
  • For Scent-imental Reasons (1949 Academy Award-winner)
  • Scent-imental Romeo (1951)
  • Little Beau Pepe (1952)
  • Wild Over You (1953)
  • Dog Pounded (Freleng, 1954, in cameo)
  • The Cats Bah (1954)
  • Past Perfumance (1955)
  • Two Scents Worth (1955)
  • Heaven Scent (1956)
  • Touché and Go (1957)
  • Really Scent (Levitow, 1959)
  • Who Scent You? (1960)
  • A Scent of the Matterhorn (1961)
  • Louvre Come Back to Me (1962)

Notes on Wile E. Coyote & Road Runner

“I see nothing in the Coyote that I can’t find in almost any human being.  Most of us share his desire for something small and special, be it diamonds, doughnuts, or Road Runner.  Wile E. Coyote devotes enormous ingenuity and energy to chasing the Road Runner.  People wonder what good it would do him to catch the Road Runner, as there’s obviously very little food on that scrawny frame.  A rabbit would seem to be more nutritious prey, but Wile E. considers roadrunner to be a luxury item on the coyote’s food chain.  There are delicacies as yet unknown to the human palate, and one of them is this apparently succulent avian.   

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“A Road Runner cartoon is basically a series of separate blackout gags with an underlying structure, as the Coyote returns obsessively to the fray.  Mike Maltese and I found that we needed about eleven gags to make a film, and the trick was to proceed in a more or less orderly fashion up to a strong climax.  Gags varied considerably in length and could be as short as four seconds, as long as four minutes, or almost as long as the film itself. 

“Humor is often a series of sensible statements ending in an unexpected oddity that completely changes the meaning of the scene.

“The Road Runner did not change a lot visually over the years; he has very little personality, as he is a force.  I tell students that the secret of drawing the Road Runner is learning how to draw dust:  just draw a cloud of dust and hook a Road Runner onto it…My Road Runner is a rare case in which the animated animal is almost exactly like its living model. 

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“The Road Runner’s immortal “beep-beep” was an accidental find, inspired by the sound Paul Julian made as he blindly tried to clear a route for himself along a Termite Terrace corridor.  It seemed unimaginable to ask anybody but Paul to record this sound, so we invited him into the studio and it is his voice that is heard in every Road Runner cartoon, although Mel Blanc is given credit for it.

“Eddie Selzer [producer after Leon Schlesinger] hated the first Road Runner cartoon, Fast and Furry-ous, because it had no dialogue.  “Goddamit,” he fumed, “we pay Mel Blanc and you should use his voice.”  He sulked about it.  I told him that the film wouldn’t work with dialogue, but he persisted: I don’t give a damn if it would work or not—WE PAY MEL BLANC!”