Porky Pig

Posted in WB Cartoon Companion on March 22, 2004

    A landmark character in the Warner Brothers pantheon, primarily because he was the first character developed at the studio to have long-term staying power.

    His origins came about in the years after Harman and Ising left Schlesinger, taking Bosko and Honey, the only real cartoons stars the studio had, with them to MGM. After the clear failure of Buddy to develop any sort of following whatsoever, Bob Clampett suggested a kiddie gang, modeled on the Hal Roach Our Gang comedies. Porky made his appearance in I Havent Got a Hat (Freleng, 1935) as the requisite fat boy character, stuttering through a rendition of the Longfellow Poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”.

    While the other characters in the gang -- Beans, Ham and Ex, Tommy Turtle, and others -- faded out, Porky was carried forward. Between 1935 and roughly 1938, there was a vast amount of experimentation with the character, casting him sometimes as a child, as in The Blow-Out (Avery, 1936), sometimes as a wooding adult in Porky’s Romance (Tashlin, 1937).

    It took two events to cause the character to jell. One of these was Mel Blanc taking over from Joe Dougherty as the voice of Porky, and giving the stutter a subtler comic spin. The other was an almost total makeover of the original character by Clampett. While Clampett did not have a monopoly on Porky, it was his work as a Looney Tunes director in 1937-1941 that played a fundamental role in shaping the character. Clampett essentially made Porky a foil for wacky doings, usually opposite Daffy Duck, who made his debut in a Porky Pig cartoon, succeeding characters like Gabby Goat, who did not take as a sidekick.

    Ironically, it was the era of fast-paced cartoons that eventually did Porky in. His sweet, gentle, low-key persona did not quite fit in the 1940s style of Warner Brothers animation, and he gradually faded into the background, in spite of a number of fine shorts by Frank Tashlin (in particular), Friz Freleng, and, in the late 1940s, Chuck Jones. Jones eventually found an ideal role for Porky as a wry Greek Chorus to the nonsense of Daffy Duck in cartoons like Rocket Squad (1956), Deduce, You Say (1956) and Robin Hood Daffy (1958).

    One self-described (and self-appointed) advocate for stutterers has attempted to launch a campaign to have Porky dropped, alleging various harmful effects of the trademark stutter on children who really stutter. Aside from the fact that I doubt there is any solid proof of this, I think it is insulting to the character. Stutter or no, Porky has nearly always been presented as a decent, nice, and, in later years, very observant character. In spite of his speech impediment -- not terribly unlike the one Elmer Fudd has -- he usually manages to triumph over or otherwise evade whatever is threatening him.

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• The Warner Brothers Cartoon Companion is © (copyright) 1996 E. O. Costello. All rights reserved.

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