Thursday, February 28, 2002

CRIPES: I hate to speak ill of the dead but I'm sick of all the Chuck Jones appreciations. He did good stuff in the 50s and 60s but that's it; there's no reason based just on his work for him to be better known than Bob Clampett or Tex Avery. (Cartoon Network has done shows focused on both those guys, though.) My Jones misanthropy forces me to dig up this old Salon article:

Less enjoyable, perhaps, has been Jones' attempt to spread misconceptions about Clampett, who became a director a year before Jones did. Clampett's early cartoons, unlike Jones', were assured and hilarious; cartoons like "Porky and Daffy" and "The Daffy Doc" helped to define their characters, and their unprecedented pacing almost certainly influenced older directors like Avery and Freleng. Before leaving the studio, Clampett would create Tweety, as well as directing some of WB's best-loved cartoons (like Daffy Duck's stint as "Duck Twacy" in "The Great Piggy Bank Robbery," and the famous adaptation of Dr. Seuss' "Horton Hatches the Egg").

Clampett left the studio in 1946, after less than a decade of directing cartoons, but there's no denying his importance to WB cartoons. But Jones has certainly tried, reportedly resenting what he saw as the tendency of Clampett, in his own way as skillful a self-promoter as Jones, to claim a role in the creation of just about every WB character. The most infamous attempt came in Jones' 1979 compilation film "The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie" (which mixed great clips from Jones' classic cartoons with tiresomely twee linking material in the later Jones manner). Near the beginning of the film, Bugs shows a portrait gallery of the directors who contributed the most to his creation. The gallery contains Avery, Freleng, Jones, Robert McKimson ... but not Clampett. It was a startlingly ungenerous gesture; even worse, it was a falsification of animation history, an attempt to erase Clampett from the story of WB cartoons.

Jones hasn't stopped trying to minimize Clampett's contributions to the studio. In "Chuck Amuck" he doesn't mention Clampett once; in "Chuck Reducks" he deigns to mention the name exactly once ("Clampett's Bugs was funny"). And in a 1998 interview with Mania magazine, he said: "As far as I'm concerned the one who mattered the least was Bob Clampett," adding, perhaps in response to the continued popularity of Clampett's cartoons, "Honestly, I think Bob is right in line with today ... Bob was the one who liked all that 'Three Stooges' stuff."

The article also points out how much Michael Maltese had to do with Jones' stuff being funny; you could probably write a good idol-smashing essay about that, like Pauline Kael once did with Orson Welles. Jones' prominence is like Bob Kane being better known than Bill Finger, or (this is less of a problem now) Stan Lee being better known than Jack Kirby. Or Disney being better known that Iwerks. Or Disney being better know than anybody who made cartoons (as opposed to Disney being better known than anybody else who made theme parks, he has it all over Six Flags and Cedar Point and Knott's Berry Farm and anyplace else you care to mention.) OK, I'm done.

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