Saturday, May 26, 2007

This drawing is the birth of Bugs Bunny

There are several compelling characteristics that forced me to the conclusion:

The initials – The person generally credited with the creation of the character is "Joseph Benson Hardaway". He was also known as Ben or Bugs. Bugs was a nickname used for a tough guy at the time, such as Bugsy Malone or Bugsy Seigel. Naturally, I was intrigued, the B. and H. seemed to make sense, but what was the initial in the middle? (I’ll elaborate later)

The appearance and quality - In my view, and in the opinion of Bob Hardaway, and Martha Sigall, it just looks like Bugs. (Bob Hardaway is the living son of Bugs Hardaway. I’ve spoken to him a few times. I mailed him a hard copy of the picture. He called me immediately after he received the picture and said, "Well, it’s definitely Bugs"). It is, in my unprofessional view, aged and hand inked. It looks professional. It seems to me to be very precisely drawn in a medium that is very unforgiving. The ink line has been described as, "definitely pro". There are no corrections.
Martha sent me an email on 7-26-2006. She told me she wouldn’t mind if I were to share her email with others, (it follows in its entirety)

‘Hi, Chris,
I printed out your email and received your Fedex photos. I agree with you that the Bugs Bunny that says, "Hiya, Chuck," is definitely from the Bugs Hardaway, Cal Dalton unit. I do not think that the "Hiya, Chuck," refers to Chuck Jones. I do think that it does refer to Chuck McKimson who was an animator on "Tortoise Beats Hare." And, as you said, in that cartoon, Bugs was referred to as "Speedy." Chuck McKimson enlisted in the Army and was sent to Fort Dix in New Jersey, in the Animation Unit. It's my opinion that this picture was sent to him. Whether the cartoon was done by Bugs or Cal, I'm sure it was drawn by someone at Warner Bros.
The picture you sent me from a book you got in a library was Steve Schneider's book entitled, "That's All, Folks." I have that book and checked your picture against the one in that book. I think that the drawing of Bugs is the same style as the characters from Schneider's book. So, in my opinion, you are absolutely right.
It was good hearing from you again and I wish you the best of luck with your project.

The board that it is drawn on has a particular maker’s mark. There is one reference to the same maker’s name on the Internet that I’ve been able to find, without a picture. "Royal Crest - Illustration Board" is on the back of a military artist’s work from the late 20’s.The label is in blue ink on a dark background so it is hard to see from some angles. It has a crest and reads, "Royal Crest Illustration Board Hurlock Bros. company Inc. –3436 38 Market St. Philadelphia USA.

There is an inscription to Chuck. (HI’YA CHUCK). Prior to the email from Martha Sigall, I had theorized that the inscription was directed to Chuck Jones. Martha suggests that the inscription references Charles McKimson. Charles was also known and credited as Chuck Mckimson. He joined his brothers at Warner Brothers in 1937.
His early credits begin in 1939 and end in 1941, he is not credited again until 1947. Obviously, off to war.
Easter Yeggs (1947) (animator)
Hobo Bobo (1947) (animator)
Tortoise Beats Hare (1941) (animator)
Holiday Highlights (1940) (animator)
A Gander at Mother Goose (1940) (animator) Land of the Midnight Fun (1939) (animator)

The name on the hat is "Speedy". I believe that in the 1941 Warner release "Tortoise beats Hare", one of the tortoises refers to the rabbit as Speedy. I believe that Charlie Thorson had worked on the character for Disney previously (One of Hardaway’s co workers at the time). Disney released a very similar cartoon in 1936 "The tortoise and the Hare". Hardaway, Thorson, and Jones came from Ub Iwerks, the animator for Walt Disney. Hardaway had worked for Disney as far back as Disney’s first venture "laugh-o-grams" in Kansas City and earlier. Hardaway was also a close personal friend of Ub Iwerks who by most accounts created Mickey Mouse for Walt Disney. (The two of them seem to have experienced a similar professional fate.)
Speedy was a working name for the rabbit character at the time. The character was known at the Termite Terrace as Bugs’ Bunny before it was introduced to audiences as Bugs Bunny later in 1941. The Frank Tashlin interview by Michael Barrier (toward the end) also describes the linkage between Bugs and Disney.

The physical characteristics place the piece in a specific period of time. This has three toes as the previous had two. This fur is gray and white as opposed to the earlier all white. The legs are short relative to the longer legs that the character developed under Tex Avery’s direction after 1941. The tail on the early rabbit was round as a cotton ball, the tail that developed under Avery was upturned and sharper, this tail is between the two. One of the well-known model sheets have notations that fit as though they are describing this piece. (Keep the neck short, long hands and fingers, large flat feet, legs thickest at the ankle).

The character study of The Hobo Gadget Band attributed to the Hardaway/ Dalton team bears a striking resemblance to the rabbit. All have hats, all are smoking, all have extra long whiskers and two of them share the unusual shoulder treatment. They certainly appear to be from the same hand.
The history of the personality of the character changes direction. Hardaway reportedly left Warner Bros. in March of 1939. I don’t know the specifics but by some accounts the separation was less than amicable. Chuck Jones says in his book, "Hardaway’s character was more of a Daffy in a Rabbit suit…he had nothing to do with it…his character was a scared little bunny that was skittish and would crouch…etc." He goes on to say, "the character that evolved stood upright, was confident, and looked you in the eye. This bunny wasn’t going anywhere." (It sounds to me as though he’s describing this piece.) Jones also says in his 1969 interview that he can’t remember the chronology of when the rabbit got a personality but it was before the 1940 film. I can’t help but think it odd that he remembers so many other details yet this very important one is a blur. It would seem reasonable that if Hardaway left on negative terms that his contribution could be downplayed. The literature describes Hardaway as he arrived at Walter Lantz as a disgruntled former Warner Bros.…. Etc. Tex Avery is quoted, in the Michael Barrier book, as having said "I practically stole it", "It’s a wonder I wasn’t sued". Barrier thinks Avery was referring to Max Hare, I say he was referring to Bugs Hardaway’s bunny. Of the two previous Warner Bros. rabbit cartoons at least the first was only co-directed by Hardaway. I mean to infer that the previous character was inherited, not necessarily his baby. This piece, in my view, represented his vision for the direction of the character. There is a blog memorializing Dave Monohan linked from CartoonBrew This site includes a taped conversation describing an interview that took place. Hardaway interviewed Monohan and introduced him to Dalton. Monohan describes the interview and offers his observations on the personalities of Hardaway and Dalton. He describes Dalton as the "nutty guy" and Hardaway as the "un-funny guy" that didn’t laugh, the straight man. This difference in personalities seems to me to mirror the difference in personality of the character before this character model and after.
The history of the suspected artist must be considered. Hardaway had a military career with the 129th battalion D Battery in WW1 where he served as gunnery Sergeant. The D Battery performed admirably in at least two documented battles. This group was comprised of less than 200 particularly rambunctious men with a reputation of going through commanders, they were known as the "DizzyD". When I first spoke with Bob Hardaway, he was surprised that I knew of the "DizzyD". Bob informed me that his father was among those that were gassed by the Germans and that Bugs was damaged as a result. The officer that was finally able to manage the D Battery successfully was Harry Truman.
Hardaway also worked from 1922 to 1933, involving ink and pen, before joining Warner Bros. I find it hard to believe that someone who rose up through the ranks to become a Director would not be proficient at the nuts and bolts of his craft, as Jones suggested.

I sat looking at the image on my computer and holding the Adamson book, "Fifty Years and only one gray hare" open in my lap, trying to figure out who else these initials could fit. I came to realize that because of the precision strokes of the piece and the lack of corrections that the initial must be exactly as the artist intended it to be, but what is it? It looks like a backward D. I glanced again over the short bio of Hardaway, and then it hit me. The group of less than 200 men with whom he had been through combat and survived was known as the "Dizzy D". Could the initial be a backward D? Could that represent the group and experience at the core of his identity? These initials uniquely fit Hardaway; I have yet to find another artist to whom they could apply. I have yet to find any art or signature or initials attributed to Hardaway. I emailed the picture to Eric O. Costello, of the Warner Bros. Cartoon Companion. Mr. Costello told me that he has a copy of a civil service application filled out and signed by Bugs Hardaway. He emailed me that the handwriting looks the same to him, I have not seen the application. (I have since writing this obtained a copy of this and more from the Truman Library.
The IMDB lists Hardaway. His work is credited with five different versions of his name. Four of the versions have B.H. as the initials; he didn’t prefer his given first name. Some have dismissed the initials as not appropriate. They wouldn’t seem appropriate on the surface, yet a deeper understanding of the artist reveals that they apply uniquely to Joseph Benson Hardaway.

The attitude and personality that the piece suggests, and that the character adopted, seem to more closely mirror the purported traits of Hardaway than any of the others associated with the characters’ creation. He is described on more than one occasion by Mel Blanc, as a "hipster" that would use phrases that inspired, "what’s up Doc". In fact, Blanc is quoted as having suggested that the character be named after the person who drew the first picture, Bugs Hardaway.
(The article linked above also touches on many of the items mentioned herein;
The possessive apostrophe, the transition from silly to composed, Speedy, the contraction ‘ya, etc.)
The best-known tag lines associated with the character are inextricably linked to Hardaway. Blanc describes the "what’s up Doc?" as deriving from language commonly used by Hardaway who "had a snappy way about him". At least one web site states that the line, "of course you know this means war", is Hardaway’s voice. This line was first used and recorded by Hardaway in 1938.
Another biography of Blanc reinforces that the inspiration for the personality of Bugs came from Hardaway.
Every recollection of the birth of the character involves the possessive apostrophe, Bugs’ Bunny. It is generally regarded that Hardaway created the character and inked the first drawing of what would evolve from Bugs’ Bunny to Bugs Bunny. (the Warner Bros. bio of the character has changed over the years that I’ve been researching)) Hardaway is the namesake of the character. This is the only character named after its creator. He co-directed an earlier version, but a tobacco chewing tough guy, who had seen combat and survived, would seem an unlikely candidate to design a, "scared little rabbit". This piece is his vision for the character. This is Bugs Hardaway in a rabbit suit, better yet; this is Bugs Hardaway of the "Dizzy D" in a rabbit suit. He envisioned a character that was confident and relaxed when confronted with danger, hardened, and a wiseacre to the end, as the name implies. This is Bugs Hardaway’s bunny, this is Bugs’ Bunny.

Bob Hardaway – Son of Joseph Benson "Bugs" Hardaway
I’ve spoken with Bob about three times over the phone. I found his number on the Internet. He is an accomplished musician and lives in the house that his father purchased near Hollywood in the thirties. He was very friendly and didn’t seem anxious to hang up on me. Bob said that he can use email but he has trouble with attachments, so I mailed a copy of it to him. As soon as he received the mail he called me. The first thing he said was, "it’s definitely Bugs". He also said that although he doesn’t possess anything that is signed the same way, he believes it likely to be from the hand of his father. He went on to tell me several things.
He relayed a conversation he had with Mel Blanc (I think it was at the funeral of his father). Mel told him that as the studio was looking for a direction for the personality of the character several drawings were offered by those involved. Mel said that it was the Hardaway drawing that was chosen. I’m convinced that this is the real reason that all the stories of the inception of the character describe the possessive apostrophe, Bugs’ Bunny.
Bob also elaborated on the wartime experiences of his father. He was surprised to hear that I knew of the "Dizzy D". He informed me that Bugs had seen combat on several occasions and had been gassed by the Germans which eventually led to thyroid disease and his premature death. I mention this because it seems to me that these sorts of experiences would impact an individual for a lifetime. It seems reasonable to me that his military experience could become a central permanent part of his self-identity.

1 comment:

Noah said...

What an excellent article. Bugs is my great-grandfather on my mother's side, and this article really cleared up a lot of my questions about him. Every Christmas I go to visit Bob Hardaway, and I feel like there are quite a few more things to talk to him about. It warms my heart to know that it really was great-grandpa Bugs that infused "Speedy" with the personality we all know and love.

Thank you for putting an honest, unbiased report about this into the world.
Noah Hardaway