Bugs Bunny was born on this day in 1940, in the Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies cartoon A Wild Hare. The debut of “the first real cartoon movie star” (Hollywood Cartoons, a history of the genre’s midcentury Golden Age) featured several lines that would become classics over the cartoon’s quarter century in production. As the plot begins, the befuddled Elmer cautions the viewer with “Be wery, wery quiet — I’m hunting wabbits.” Bugs introduces himself to his pursuer with the line that would become his character note, the cheeky, carrot-chomping “What’s up, doc?” After a handful of close escapes, the trickster bunny stages an operatic fake death and then howls with delight when he finds Elmer weeping over the “poor widdle wabbit” he thinks he’s blown to smithereens.
The debate over such violence may have peaked in the 1960s, but the cultural theorists are still discussing the formative influence of a cartoon diet. One essay in the anthology Reading the Rabbit finds that even when Bugs was at his most nonviolent, putting on a dress in his “temporary transvestite cartoons,” he was only “restabilizing and reinforcing the alignment of gender, sex and sexuality ideals” of straight America. All beside the point, say the authors of Saturday Morning Fever, a nostalgic “meditation” upon the redeeming qualities of a Looney Tunes childhood, its sabbath observed every “capital-S capital-M Saturday Morning”:
Eight A.M., Saturday, 1974. Children all across the United States are staring at television sets with slack jaws and glassy eyes. A mother somewhere is concerned. An advocacy group is writing a report. A congressman is denouncing the FCC. A sanctimonious intellectual is writing about the wasteland of television. A child psychiatrist is recording his experimental subjects smacking Bozo the clown upside the head after watching cartoons. Us?… We’re with the rest of the nation’s kids, probably watching The Bugs Bunny Show on ABC. If we’re lucky, maybe they’ll show “Duck Amuck” or “Wabbit Season.”
Bugs Bunny was Mel Blanc’s favorite, but his biographers portray a man who enjoyed voicing all of his Warner Bros. characters and was apparently born to his calling. One anecdote in Mel Blanc: The Man of a Thousand Voices describes how practicing his Woody Woodpecker laugh in the hallway almost got Blanc tossed, yet again, from grade school.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.