Elmer J. Fudd
Posted in WB Cartoon Companion on March 5, 2004
The arch-patsy of Bugs Bunny in dozens of cartoons. Usually, though not always, he appears in the role of hunter versus prey. Two of Chuck Jones’ finest cartoons, The Rabbit of Seville (1950) and What’s Opera, Doc? (1957) play on this relationship with outstanding results. Incidentally, the middle initial is used in only one cartoon. It is in the famous sequence from Hare Brush (Freleng, 1955) in which the shrink gets Bugs to repeat the phrase “I am Elmer J. Fudd, miwwionaiwe; I own a mansion and a yacht” endlessly.
Fudd evolved from Egghead, a character created by Tex Avery, who was used on a number of late 1930s cartoons. The evolution is clear, based on the facts that
- Egghead appeared as a hunter in one film: Daffy Duck and Egghead (Avery, 1938);
- Egghead was identified by name as “Elmer Fudd” in A Feud There Was (Avery, 1938); and
- Egghead was identified as Elmer on at least one lobby card for The Isle of Pingo-Pongo (Avery, 1938), as shown in the first volume of Chuck Jones’ autobiography.
By the time of Elmer’s Candid Camera (Jones, 1940), Egghead had been redesigned, though he keeps the bulbous nose, stiff collar, and derby used in Little Red Walking Hood (Avery, 1937). A model sheet from Little Red Walking Hood (Schneider, p. 165) shows check marks next to the features placed there by Avery and Clampett during the redesigning process. Significantly, it was in Candid Camera that Arthur Q. Bryan first provided the distinctive voice of Elmer.
The author considers Elmer’s Candid Camera to be the character’s debut, as it is the first cartoon to feature Elmer in a readily recognisable form. Adamson suggests that A Wild Hare (Avery, 1940) is the cartoon in which Elmer is truly born and fully fleshed out. I would contend that while the drawing and animation in A Wild Hare is undoubtedly better, the only significant change to the character himself is that in Wild Hare Elmer is given hunting clothes and a rifle, instead of a camera, with which to hunt Bugs. Other than the new props, the changes made to Elmer in Wild Hare are primarily stylistic in nature; his character remains exactly the same as in Candid Camera.
Fudd’s appearance underwent some more tinkering in 1941 and 1942, with Wabbit Twouble (Clampett, 1941), the special War Bonds promotion known as Any Bonds Today? (Clampett, 1942), The Wabbit Who Came to Supper (Freleng, 1942), and The Wacky Wabbit (Clampett, 1942). In these cartoons, Elmer is stockier and rather pear-shaped, perhaps modeled on Arthur Q. Bryan himself. Fudd permanently reverted to his more familiar appearance in Fresh Hare (Freleng, 1942).
Friz Freleng described Fudd as being less a true villain than a pitiful character, stating that there was no special credit due to someone who could outsmart him. This is part of the reason Freleng developed Yosemite Sam as a foil for Bugs. Be that as it may, Fudd’s “simpy charm” enabled the character to adapt over the years, and continue to be used with great effectiveness, particularly as the hero (?) in What’s Opera, Doc? (Jones, 1957), the waiter in Slick Hare (Freleng, 1947), and as the hunter in the so called “Hunter’s Trilogy” of 1951-1953. Clampett used Fudd in a sharp spoof of Deems Taylor (and apparently Emmett Kelly) in the Fantasia spoof A Corny Concerto (1943). On occasion, Fudd was even able to turn the tables on Bugs and get the better of him, as in The Hare-Brained Hypnotist (Freleng, 1942), or Hare Brush (Freleng, 1955).