In 1990, I worked in a bookstore, at which one of the employee benefits was a discount on merchandise purchased there. The first and only time that I availed myself of this perquisite was when I saw on one of our shelves Chuck Amuck, known and loved by fans of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies as Chuck Jones' "anarchic autobiography". On an overcast, drizzly weekday afternoon in November, 1990, I bought Chuck Amuck from my place of work while there to check on my allotted weekend shift hours, brought it to my car parked on Fredericton's George Street (ah, George, the name given to a certain bunny-rabbit by an affectionate snow giant), and sat in the car for more than hour, engrossed in the many fascinating chapters of Mr. Jones' brilliantly written memoirs. Termite Terrace, until then just an obscure building mentioned in cartoon-animation reference books, became a place at which one could imagine oneself, in the company of the famous cartoon-animation directors, Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, and Robert McKimson. Mr. Jones describes his admiration for senior cartoon supervisors Freleng and Tex Avery, lists his favourite Freleng films, fondly remembers his late colleagues in his own cartoon-animation unit, and provides amusing anecdotes on the peculiar origins of cartoon ideas. From this, one appreciates his reverence and modesty and feels tremendous respect for the self-effacing gentleman cartoon creator with whom we would all yearn to work as "co-fathers"- or "co-mothers"- to the twentieth century's foremost animated cartoon characters.
An intermittently singing frog, a pair of mischievous mice who again and again succeed in triggering nervous breakdown in a yellow, red-tailed cat, a hyperactive, sudden-barking puppy who sends the same cat into paroxysms of furious fright, a politely aggressive Martian wearing a broom-topped Roman helmet and sneakers, a vain, over-confident, super-genius coyote repeatedly the victim of his own less-than-fool-proof gadgetry, a wolf and sheepdog who are adversaries on the job and friends after the five o'clock whistle blows, and a speedy, beep-beeping bird in the midst of the U.S. southwestern desert were all Chuck Jones phenomena that I delightfully experienced in my childhood on The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour and its Saturday morning replacement, The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show. I have Chuck Jones to thank for familiarising me- before anyone or anything else ever did- with the space science fiction genre, the typical dog-and-cat relationship of animosity, the various seasons for hunting animals of the forest, bullfights, opera music, earthquakes and tornadoes, the Antarctic, Transylvania, and Scotland. His Scottish character in "My Bunny Lies Over the Sea" (1948) has a surname very close to my own.
I did not differentiate Jones' cartoons from those of his colleagues, Friz Freleng and Robert McKimson, until the 1980s, when I became aware of the multiple-unit cartoon animation studio's output and the distinctive styles of the directors, and eventually purchased and read Jerry Beck and Will Friedwald's Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies- A Complete Illustrated Guide to the Warner Brothers Cartoons, which conclusively informed me of which cartoons were directed by whom.
Jones' work has been more sporadic in its appeal to me than has been that of other cartoon directors. While I love nearly all of his Bugs Bunny adventures, I am less inclined to enjoy his cartoon shorts starring a naive, babbling mouse called Sniffles. An exception is "Sniffles Takes a Trip" (1940), whose spooky nighttime scenes of a forest must have influenced the psychedelic backgrounds of Rocket Robin Hood (1966-9) and Spiderman (1967-70). I always laugh with (not "laugh at" a la Jones' advice in his book) the overweening, klutzy heroics of the Chuck Jones Daffy Duck in "Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century" (1953), "Drip-Along Daffy" (1951), "The Scarlet Pumpernickel" (1950), and "Robin Hood Daffy" (1958) but am impassive to the repetitious love-hunts of Jones' French-speaking skunk, Pepe Le Pew, whose cartoons were almost entirely absent from television in my area of the world through most of the 1970s. I think that his cartoons excel when they go for surrealism and very impressionistic design, including "Water, Water Every Hare" (1952)- with the red ball of hair, Rudolph/Gossamer, and his mad scientist superior in a Gothic castle, Bugs' encounters with wicked Witch Hazel, and "Martian Through Georgia" (1962), yet am inclined to agree with most cartoon fans that "Now Hear This" (1963) is so abstract as to be unintelligible and difficult to watch. Jones' daydreaming juvenile Ralph Phillips' imaginary exploits are marvellous; however, Jones' feline love-story cartoon, 1957's "Go Fly a Kit", is not one of my favourites, and I cannot say that I have any affection for his first Bugs Bunny films. My diaphragm hurts after I laugh my way through Jones' Inki (the spear-carrying, bird-hunting African boy now banned from television), Ralph Wolf/Sam Sheepdog, and Three Bears (passive Ma, volatile Pa, and accident-prone "lackwit" Junior) cartoons, except for "A Bear For Punishment" (1951), of which I have never thought the humour to be so sublime as to earn that cartoon a place on top ten lists. "Bear Feat" and "The Bee-Devilled Bruin" (both 1949) seem to me to be much funnier than "A Bear For Punishment".
Many of the most famous Warner Brothers cartoons were Jones unit productions, most notably "One Froggy Evening", "Rabbit of Seville", "What's Opera, Doc?". His patriotic, accurately historical 1940 Porky Pig cartoon, "Old Glory", won the Newsreel Theatre's award for best animated cartoon of that year, and his third Pepe Le Pew film, "For Scent-imental Reasons" (1949), received an Academy Award. Other Jones cartoons, "Mouse Wreckers" (1949), "From A to Z-z-z-z" (1954), "Beep Prepared" (1961), and "Nelly's Folly" (1961), were nominated for Oscars.
So much has been written about Jones' work, by Mr. Jones himself and by his published admirers, Steve Schneider and Leonard Maltin for instance, that I am treading on familiar ground when I praise Mr. Jones for his contributions to the evolution of the animated cartoon.
Jones was born in 1912 in Spokane, Washington and then at six months of age relocated with his parents in California, where, after dropping out of high school, he attended Chouinard Art Institute and found work in a commercial art studio before being hired as a celluloid-washer by Ub Iwerks- and eventually found his way to Leon Schlesinger Productions, which would become Warner Brothers Animation. He cartoon-animated for Friz Freleng, Tex Avery, and Robert Clampett before attaining his own position as cartoon-animation unit supervisor (later director) when he replaced Frank Tashlin in this capacity. The UPA-inspired stylisation of background imagery in the Warner Brothers cartoons, a development in all of the cartoon animation units at the Burbank cartoon studio that succeeded Termite Terrace, was evidently begun by Jones, as early as 1942 with "The Dover Boys".
It was Jones who established Bugs Bunny as a sophisticated world-traveller whose proverbial "wrong turn at Albuquerque" brings him into exotic areas of the globe to do battle against such foes as a goofy Eskimo and a "steamy" bull, only after he is provoked ("Of course you know, 'dis means war.") by the antagonist. His were the definitive Road Runner cartoons. His Daffy evolved into the self-centred, cowardly-yet-aspiring-to-greatness, physically faltering, "moocher" mallard used by the other Warner Brothers animation directors to the same comedic effect. His Sylvester Cat silently surpasses Daffy in "cravenness", through terrified trembling as companion to blase Porky Pig in "Claws For Alarm" (1954), another highly beloved cartoon. Jones enjoyed the idea of manipulation of the forces of nature for human- or coyote's- food-procuring purposes, hence the ACME earthquake pills and tornado seeds and the ability of Wagnerian Hunter Elmer to generate typhoons, hurricanes, earthquakes, and SMOG!!!!!!!!
When I watch Nasty Canasta and Bugs playing "draw poker", when I witness suicidal mice Hubie and Bertie begging a besotted Claude Cat to eat them, when I see pushy Charlie Dog trying to ingratiate himself with desired master Porky Pig, when I observe the rapid-fire headdress-changes of "Bugs Bonnets" (1956) and the fierce battle between Bugs and construction worker in "Homeless Hare" (1950), and when I experience many times over How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1967), besides A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) the ultimate Holiday season television special, Chuck Jones' work entertains me to an extent seldom matched by others of his trade- or others, period.
That November, 1990 afternoon in my car with my eager eyes absorbed in the pages of Chuck Amuck was once in a multitude of times when Chuck Jones brightened my life with his creativity. In August of 1993, I received correspondence and a card from him through his secretary in reply to my letter, essay, and drawings sent both to him and to Friz Freleng pertaining to my interest in "Hyde and Hare" (1955), for although "Hyde and Hare" was a Friz Freleng cartoon, I mentioned its evident similarities with Mr. Jones' "Mad as a Mars Hare" (1963), and any Bugs Bunny cartoon, no matter who directed it, was a part of the life of Chuck Jones' most famous cartoon "star". I will forever treasure the letter and card that I received from Chuck Jones Enterprises on that summer day in 1993.
On February 22, 2002 (2-22-2002, a date with many twos), Chuck Jones died of congestive heart failure at the age of 89, same age as Friz Freleng at Mr. Freleng's year of death (1995). I am sure that all other fans of funny cartoons and of Mr. Jones' myriad of hilarious ideas mourn his passing.