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BY TOM MITSOFF
As we age, we often ponder the meaning and quality of our lives.
One measure of a successful life is how many other people’s lives we have touched in a positive way. One of the 20th century’s leaders in that regard passed away last week.
Animator Chuck Jones was one of the key figures who developed the Warner Brothers “Merrie Melodies” and “Looney Tunes” cartoons that featured characters like Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and, of course, Bugs Bunny.
He worked on hundreds of cartoons for Warner Brothers in a career that lasted from the 1930s through the early 1960s. For most of that time, the cartoons were shown as lead-ins to motion pictures in movie theaters (instead of the 10 minutes or more of previews we get now). But as television grew as an entertainment medium, the Warner Brothers cartoons -- most of which were directed or worked on in some way by Jones -- became Saturday morning staples, as well as at various times during the rest of the week. When the number of TV channels exploded with the advent of cable, it was possible at times (or it seemed so anyway) to find a Warner Brothers cartoon on during any single channel surfing session at any time of day.
Now, I would like every reader of this piece who has never seen a Looney Tunes cartoon to raise his or her hand.
Hmmm. Not seeing any hands up.
You would literally have to be a recent immigrant or never exposed to television to have never seen a Jones-influenced cartoon. And even if you have only seen one Looney Tunes or Merrie Melodies cartoon in your life, you probably smiled while you were watching it. But to take some license with a famous advertising slogan, almost no one has seen just one.
The chances are very good that you have seen several, tens and maybe even hundreds of the Jones-influenced cartoons. He helped create Daffy Duck and Porky Pig, and later he created the Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote and Pepe LePew, among many others.
This genre of animation is tightly woven into the American fabric. It’s part of our everyday lives. Avid movie watchers will confirm the fact that scenes which include a television set playing in the background often are playing Looney Tunes audio and-or video. That’s because movie directors, in their desire to create real-life scenes, realize that in fact the Warner Brothers cartoons are perhaps the most frequently shown and watched of any entertainment source since the advent of television.
Why? Because they are funny. They make us laugh, and they make our kids laugh. We can watch Daffy Duck get his beak blown off his face by Elmer Fudd’s shotgun, spin around wildly and laugh at which different position it settles in each time. Director Peter Bogdanovich said it best when he said the Jones cartoons are universal and timeless.
After leaving Warner Brothers, Jones went to work for MGM and directed Tom and Jerry cartoons, and worked with Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) to animate his classic stories, “Horton Hears a Who” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.“ It is the rare soul indeed who has never heard of the Grinch, but chances are you saw the cartoon instead of reading the book.
Chuck Jones’ work will live forever. A thousand years from now, Wile E. Coyote will still be chasing the Road Runner, and still will have not caught up to him. It will be as funny then as it is today.
As of Saturday evening, the United States Census Bureau estimated that there were 286,507,896 people living in the United States. Jones’ legacy will be not only that of a great animator and writer, but as a man who touched the lives of 286 million or so people, almost all in a very positive way.
We would be hard-pressed to find a life anywhere, any time, that was lived any more successfully, based on that measure.
This column was written February 23, 2002, and published in several print and web publications across the country.
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