Warner Bros. Cartoons

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Warner Bros. Cartoons
WBBugs42.jpg
Founded 1931
Dissolved 1969
President Leon Schlesinger (1931-44)
Ed Selzer (1944-57)
John Burton (1957-64)
Bill Hendricks (1967-69)
Notable Works Porky Pig
Daffy Duck
Elmer Fudd
Bugs Bunny
Sylvester and Tweety
The Road Runner
Wile E. Coyote
Foghorn Leghorn
Speedy Gonzales

Warner Bros. Cartoons was an in-house division of Warner Bros. primarily responsible for Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons. It was originally started as Leon Schlesinger Productions in 1933 before being sold to Warner Bros. in 1944. It is considered to be one of the most prolific and profitable animation studios in history. The studio is also notable for employing some of the most pioneering animators and directors of the era, including Friz Freleng, Tex Avery and Chuck Jones. It precedes Warner Bros. Animation, established in 1980.

History

Leon Schlesinger ran an independent cartoon studio in 1931 that would make films that Warner Bros. would release to theaters. Taking a nod from Disney's Silly Symphonies series, the Schlesinger studio inaugurated Looney Tunes which was released by the Vitaphone Corporation (Vitaphone was Warners' recording arm that dealt specifically with Warners short subjects. They originally provided the record discs used in tandem with their movies until that process was replaced with sound-on-film). Its star was a blackface kid named Bosko. The cartoons were made by Rudolf Ising and Hugh Harman. There was not much in regards to character development as the cartoons were regulated by the songs employed. A year later, the studio started a second series, Merrie Melodies which featured a lot of characters that only appeared once or two or three films. After a salary dispute, Harman and Ising left the studio for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and took Bosko with them, leaving Schlesinger to limp along with another non-descript character, Buddy. Schlesinger made Isadore "Friz" Freleng the head director after he reworked two rejected Buddy cartoons into one that Warners accepted.

Merrie Melodies graduated to color in 1934. In 1935, it introduced Porky Pig who would become the star of the Looney Tunes series through 1943 (four cartoons with Porky--Porky's Super Service, Porky's Badtime Story, Get Rich Quick Porky and Porky And Gabby--were parceled out to Ub Iwerks' studio). In 1937, director Tex Avery shook up the animation industry with a single line from his Looney Tunes film Porky's Duck Hunt. After Porky's dog is thrown to land by the duck he was ostensibly sent to retrieve, Porky takes out a notepad and stammers "Hey! That wasn't in the script!" Avery also initiated such innovations as an off-screen narrator, having the on-screen characters talk back at an audience member trying to get up from his seat, and other notions that no other studio thought of or dared to think of. Avery gave us Bugs Bunny as we know him in 1940, following a series of films prior featuring a prototypical rabbit making life miserable for an antagonist. Avery left Warners in 1941 through disputed circumstances--some say it was after a dispute over the ending of his cartoon The Heckling Hare while others insist Avery left because he wanted to do a live-action series similar to Paramount's Speaking Of The Animals, but Warners refused.

Through the 1940s, Warners found its cartoon footing and offset its low budgets with crackling visual and verbal comedy. Pop culture of the era was fair game, as were political ideals. (One series, Private Snafu, was released strictly to military bases.) Starting in 1942, Warners began the practice of re-releasing previous cartoons under the Blue Ribbon series. Looney Tunes were started up in color in 1943. Schlesinger sold his studio to Warners in 1944 with Edward Selzer taking over as producer. Staffers would quip that while Schlesinger knew nothing about cartoons he never bothered them. Selzer was a know-nothing busybody. Cartoon characters created during this decade included Henery Hawk, Sylvester the Cat, Tweety, Foghorn Leghorn, the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.

The 1950s saw resources limited as TV encroached. The return on the cartoons' investments were slowly dwindling but the studio pressed on with its roster of stars. The studio closed briefly in 1953 as it was assumed that 3-D movies would become a costly standard but it reopened when 3-D went bust. In 1955, the cartoon studio moved from its longtime home on North Van Ness Avenue in Los Angeles to a new studio on the Warner lot in Burbank. By 1957, Warners sold its 1932-48 cartoons to Associated Artists Productions (which was acquired in 1958 by United Artists Television) for syndication to television. The 1931-43 black-and-white Looney Tunes were sold to Sunset Films (believed to be a Warner Bros. distribution arm) and later Guild Films which later was absorbed by Seven Arts. After Edward Selzer died in 1957, he was replaced as producer by John Burton. In 1960, a selection of 1948-60 cartoons were highlighted on primetime TV, with The Bugs Bunny Show on ABC.

Warners shut its cartoon studio down in 1964. As they relied more on TV exposure (The Porky Pig Show began on ABC Saturday mornings, two years after Bugs migrated to Saturday kidvid), Warners farmed out cartoon work to DePatie-Freleng Enterprises and Format Films. DePatie-Freleng originally leased out the Warner studio before breaking ground on their own studio in Van Nuys. Format Films had previously made a batch of Al Brodax Popeye cartoons and CBS's The Alvin Show. The budgets for these cartoons were embarrassingly low and many curiously paired up Daffy Duck with Speedy Gonzales. In 1967, Warner Bros. merged with Seven Arts, thus re-acquiring the black-and-white Looney Tunes films. Warners had 75 of them sent to Korea to be redrawn and painted in color. While the redrawn cartoons ran for some three decades on TV, they were considered vastly inferior to the original black-and-white films which would eventually be screened on TV with their original title cards. The cartoon studio reopened and closed two years later.

Warner cartoons on TV thrived on the strength of The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour on CBS. Bugs would run on Saturday mornings for 39 years straight on CBS and ABC. Specials would pop up with made-for-TV animation melded with theatrical clips. Warners would initiate theatrical shorts again in 1987 on a limited basis, many of which have turned up on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network as well as home video.

Roster of Warner Bros. theatrical cartoon stars

Name From To Creator Notes
Bosko 1931 1933 Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising Start of Leon Schlesinger Era
Foxy 1932 1932 Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising
Goopy Gear 1932 1932 Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising
Buddy 1933 1934 Tom Palmer
Beans 1934 1935 Robert Clampett 1st film directed by Jack King
Porky Pig 1935 1965 Friz Freleng
W.C. Squeals 1936 1938 Friz Freleng
Gabby Goat 1937 1937 Cal Howard Robert Clampett directed all four shorts in which Gabby appeared
Petunia Pig 1937 1939 Frank Tashlin
Daffy Duck 1937 1969 Fred "Tex" Avery New shorts made 1986; co-starred with Bugs Bunny in shorts 1991-92
Egghead 1937 1938 Fred "Tex" Avery Evolved into Elmer Fudd
Elmer Fudd 1938 1960 Fred "Tex" Avery
Sniffles 1939 1946 Chuck Jones
Happy Rabbit 1938 1939 Ben Hardaway Thought to be Bugs Bunny prototype
Blabbermouse 1939 1939 Friz Freleng
Bugs Bunny 1940 1964 Fred "Tex" Avery New shorts made 1991-2004
Inki & The Minah Bird 1940 1949 Chuck Jones Minah bird cameo in a Bobo cartoon
Henery Hawk 1942 1953 Chuck Jones
Beaky Buzzard 1942 1949 Robert Clampett
Conrad Cat 1942 1942 Chuck Jones
Tweetie Pie 1943 1962 Robert Clampett Edward Selzer era begins, 1944
Babbitt & Catstello 1943 1946 Robert Clampett
Hubie & Bertie 1943 1951 Chuck Jones
The Three Bears 1944 1950 Chuck Jones
Yosemite Sam 1945 1963 Friz Freleng
Sylvester The Cat 1945 1965 Friz Freleng Named Thomas in his first film
Pepe Le Pew 1945 1960 Chuck Jones
Foghorn Leghorn 1946 1963 Robert McKimson
Marvin the Martian 1946 1963 Chuck Jones
Charlie Dog 1947 1951 Chuck Jones Prototype appeared in 1941 cartoon Porky's Pooch (Norm McCabe)
Bobo the Elephant 1947 1952 Robert McKimson
Hippity Hopper 1948 1964 Robert McKimson Co-starred with Sylvester and Sylvester Jr.
Road Runner 1948 1966 Chuck Jones
Wile E. Coyote 1948 1966 Chuck Jones co-starred with Bugs Bunny in four films
Claude Cat 1949 1954 Chuck Jones Co-starred with a dog named Frisky Puppy in three films
Miss Prissy 1950 1962 Robert McKimson
Dodsworth 1950 1951 Robert McKimson
Rocky & Mugsy 1950 1952 Friz Freleng co-starred with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety & Sylvester
Sam Sheepdog 1951 1959 Chuck Jones
Ralph Wolf 1951 1959 Chuck Jones Thought to be Wile E. Coyote alias
Marc Antony 1951 1957 Chuck Jones Co-starred with a kitten named Pussyfoot in selected cartoons; John Burton era begins 1957
Granny 1952 1964 Friz Freleng Mainly co-starred with Tweety and Sylesvter
Spike & Chester 1952 1954 Friz Freleng co-starred with Sylvester
Speedy Gonzales 1953 1969 Robert McKimson DePatie-Freleng era starts 1964; Herbert Klynn produced selected 1966 cartoons
Witch Hazel 1953 1966 Chuck Jones
Tazmanian Devil 1953 1964 Robert McKimson
Ralph Phillips 1954 1957 Chuck Jones
The Honeymousers 1956 1959 Robert McKimson
Blacque Jacques Shellaque 1959 1962 Robert McKimson co-starred with Bugs Bunny
Hillbilly Hawks 1962 1962 Robert McKimson co-starred with Bugs Bunny and Foghorn Leghorn
Cool Cat 1967 1969 Alex Lovy start of the Bill Hendricks era
Merlin the Magic Mouse 1967 1968 Alex Lovy
Bunny & Claude 1967 1968 Robert McKimson
Rapid Rabbit & Quick Brown Fox 1969 1969 Robert McKimson Was proposed to be a series but was final cartoon Warners made