Monday, June 25, 2012
On June the 25th, 1949, a new Warner Bros. Looney Tune cartoon, created by those talented folks over at Termite Terrace on the WB lot, made it's debut in movie theaters. It was called Long-Haired Hare, and it became a classic. And it sets off another raid on the memory bank.
When was it, around 1984 or so? It was during my tenure as the Director of Theatrical Distribution of Films, Inc. A deal was made with Warner Brothers to make new theatrical prints of their post 1948 cartoons (rights to the pre 1948 library lay elsewhere). They hadn't been available in uncut form for movie theaters since they were originally released. Many of the film exchanges still had a few prints, but they were worn and full of splices. A parade of some of the best by then classics was put together. It, and rentals of separate cartoons, became extremely popular on the revival and art house circuits, at drive-ins, and etc. As a single line item, they almost immediately became our biggest moneymaker. A couple more compilations were made, and a subsequent deal was negotiated between the different companies involved to make new prints of the B&W product.
I no longer remember which set premiered at the Bleecker Street Cinema. I think it was the original, but I can't imagine why it wouldn't have played the Regency (NYC's premiere revival theater at the time) first. At any rate, I was at the initial showing, waiting and looking for Chuck Jones, who was going to make an appearance and introduce the cartoons - or perhaps I should say re-introduce the cartoons to theaters.
Chuck Jones! He was a writer, animator, and director. After Warners disbanded the cartoon unit, he'd made How the Grinch Stole Christmas for tv. While at Warners, he'd directed Duck Amuck, Rabbit Seasoning, What's Opera, Doc?, and One Froggy Evening. He'd created Marvin the Martian, the Road Runner, and Wylie E. Coyote. He'd refined and fine tuned Bugs and made a star out of former bit player Daffy Duck. He once said, "Bugs is who we want to be. Daffy is who we are." He was the man responsible for much of my behavioral imprinting. Growing up, Bugs Bunny was my hero.
At the Bleecker Steet, I waited. There was no Chuck Jones. The parade started and played to an audience which lost itself in hysterics. As the lights came up, a man stood up a few rows over from my vantage point, and introduced himself. It was Jones! He made a few quick remarks, then melted into the exiting crowd. I was so stunned by his unassuming manner that I can't quite recall what he said. I'm pretty sure that he mentioned that they didn't make the cartoons for kids - they made them for themselves. And he thanked us, of course. To this day, my association with the re-release of these cartoons is one of my proudest and happiest. So I never got a chance to meet the man who was such an influence on my life. It's just as well; I'd probably have become a stammering idiot and embarrassed myself.
Many of the copies of Warner Brothers cartoons which are on You Tube have codes to embed them on blogs like this, but when we do, they turn out to be "blocked" over rights and permissions claims. It's too bad, You Tube had been on its way to becoming such a wonderful depository of our pop cultural heritage. This one seems to work, for now. It's an old favorite, and I wish it a Happy anniversary. Kids today won't get the Stokowski jokes. They might not even catch that the singer is named "Giovanni" (Chuck) Jones. It doesn't matter, it still plays.