Posted in WB Cartoon Companion on March 22, 2004
One of the most versatile characters of the Warner Brothers studio, Sylvester has demonstrated both a cunning evil streak, mainly in the Friz Freleng-directed cartoons with Tweety, and a sense of vulnerability, as the timid version in a number of great Chuck Jones shorts. He has also been portrayed as a fallible father in a number of Bob McKimson shorts.
Like many other studios, Warners had had a long series of cartoons with cats chasing birds, mice or what have you, usually with a singular lack of success in catching their prey. The Cagey Canary (Avery/Clampett, 1941) is an oustanding example of a funny cat/canary cartoon in the pre-Sylvester era.
Freleng and his staff designed Sylvester (not yet named) for the 1945 cartoon Life With Feathers. With his big tomato nose and low crotch, Sylvester was deliberately designed to appear clown-like. The design was later modified for technical reasons, since the low crotch made the character difficult to animate consistently. Mel Blanc provided a sloppy voice that was very similar to Daffy Duck’s, only not sped-up. Sylvester would make two more solo appearences, in Peck Up Your Troubles (Freleng, 1945) and a brilliant bit in Kitty Kornered (Clampett, 1946), before what Schneider accurately calls the “fatal collision” with Tweety in Tweetie Pie (Freleng, 1947), the first cartoon ever to win an Oscar for the studio. Incidentally, Robert Clampett had started work on the film, passing the project to Freleng when he left at the end of 1945.
From then on, Sylvester was used in a wide variety of series, principally the series opposite Speedy Gonzales, Tweety, and Hippety Hopper, though he did make an appearence in the Foghorn Leghorn cartoon Crowing Pains (McKimson, 1947). He also made a few appearences as a timid sidekick to the utterly oblivious Porky Pig in a few great Jones shorts, and made one spectacular, out-of-character appearence in The Scarlet Pumpernickel (Jones, 1950) as The Grand Duke. Sylvester, along with Daffy, also had the misfortune to be one of the principal players in the inferior cartoons produced by various other studios for release by Warner Brothers in the 1960s.