Bugs & Elmer Fudd In The Fresh Hare (1942)
Elmer J. Fudd/Egghead – Elmer in Rabbit Fire (1951)
is a fictional cartoon character and one of the most famous Looney Tunes characters, and the de facto archenemy of Bugs Bunny. He has one of the more disputed origins in the Warner Bros. cartoon pantheon (second only to Bugs himself). His aim is to hunt Bugs, but he usually ends up seriously injuring himself and other antagonizing characters. He speaks in an unusual way, replacing his Rs and Ls with Ws, so “Watch the road, Rabbit,” is replaced with “Watch the woad, wabbit!” Elmer’s signature catchphrase is, “Shhh. Be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting wabbits”, as well as his trademark laughter, “huh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh”.
The best known Elmer Fudd cartoons include Chuck Jones‘ masterpiece What’s Opera, Doc? (one of the few times Fudd bested Bugs, though he felt bad about it), the Rossini parody Rabbit of Seville, and the “Hunting Trilogy” of “Rabbit Season/Duck Season” shorts (Rabbit Fire, Rabbit Seasoning, and Duck! Rabbit, Duck!) with Fudd himself, Bugs Bunny, and Daffy Duck.
In 1937, Tex Avery introduced a new character in his cartoon short Egghead Rides Again. Egghead initially was depicted as having a bulbous nose, funny/eccentric clothing, a voice like Joe Penner, provided by radio mimic Danny Webb, and an egg-shaped head (thus the moniker “Egghead”). Many cartoonhistorians believe that Egghead evolved into Elmer over a period of a couple of years. However, animation historian Michael Barrier asserts “The Egghead-Elmer story is actually a little messy, my sense being that most of the people involved, whether they were making the films or publicizing them, not only had trouble telling the characters apart but had no idea why they should bother trying.” Egghead made his second appearance in 1937’s Little Red Walking Hood and then in 1938 teamed with Warner Bros.‘ newest cartoon star Daffy Duck in Daffy Duck and Egghead. In 1938 Egghead continued to make appearances in the Warner cartoons, including The Isle of Pingo Pongo, and A-Lad-In Bagdad. In A Feud There Was (1938) Egghead made his entrance riding a motorscooter with the words “Elmer Fudd, Peacemaker” displayed on the side, the first onscreen use of that name. Egghead shifts from having a Moe Howard haircut to being bald, and wears a brown derby, a baggy suit, and a high-collared shirt. Egghead himself returned decades later in the compilation film Daffy Duck’s Quackbusters. More recently, he also made a cameo appearance at the end of Looney Tunes: Back in Action and was also given in his own story, which starred him alongside Pete Puma, in the Looney Tunes comic book.
Egghead has the distinction of being the very first recurring character created for Leon Schlesinger‘s Merrie Melodies series (to be followed by such characters as Sniffles, Inki, and even Bugs Bunny), which had previously contained only one-shot characters, although during the Harman-Ising era, Foxy, Goopy Geer, and Piggy each appeared in a few Merrie Melodies.
In the 1939 cartoon Dangerous Dan McFoo, a new voice actor, Arthur Q. Bryan, was hired to provide the voice of the hero dog-character and it was in this cartoon that the popular “milk-sop” voice of Elmer Fudd was created. Elmer Fudd has since been the chief antagonistic force in the majority of the Bugs Bunny cartoons, initiating one of the most famous rivalries in the history of American cinema.
In 1940, Egghead–Elmer’s appearance was refined, giving him a chin and a less bulbous nose (although still wearing Egghead’s clothing) and Arthur Quirk Bryan‘s “Dan McFoo” voice in what most people consider Elmer Fudd’s first true appearance: a Chuck Jones short entitled Elmer’s Candid Camera. The Bugs Bunny prototype drives Elmer insane. Later that year, he appeared in Friz Freleng‘s Confederate Honey (where he’s called Ned Cutler) and The Hardship of Miles Standish where his voice and Egghead-like appearance were still the same. Jones would use this Elmer one more time, in 1941’s Elmer’s Pet Rabbit; its other title character is labeled as Bugs Bunny, but is also identical to his counterpart in Camera. In the interim, the two starred in A Wild Hare. Bugs appears with a carrot, New York accent, and “What’s Up, Doc?” catchphrase all in place for the first time, although the voice and physique are as yet somewhat off. Elmer has a better voice, a trimmer figure (designed by Robert Givens, which would be reused soon later in Jones’ Good Night Elmer, this time without a red nose) and his familiar hunting clothes. He is much more recognizable as the Elmer Fudd of later cartoons than Bugs is here. In his earliest appearances, Elmer actually “wikes wabbits”, either attempting to take photos of Bugs, or adopting Bugs as his pet. The rascally rabbit has the poor Fudd so perplexed that there is little wonder as to why Elmer would become a hunter and in some cases actually proclaim, “I hate wittle gway wabbits!” after pumping buckshot down a rabbit hole.
Elmer’s role in these two films, that of would-be hunter, dupe and foil for Bugs, would remain his main role forever after, and although Bugs Bunny was called upon to outwit many more worthy opponents, Elmer somehow remained Bugs’ classic nemesis, despite (or because of) his legendary gullibility, small size, short temper, and shorter attention span. In Rabbit Fire, he declares himself vegetarian, hunting for sport only.
Elmer was usually cast as a hapless big-game hunter, armed with a double-barreled shotgun (albeit one which could be fired much more than twice without being reloaded) and creeping through the woods “hunting wabbits”. In a few cartoons, though, he assumed a completely different persona—a wealthy industrialist type, occupying a luxurious penthouse, or, in one episode involving a role reversal, a sanitarium—which Bugs would of course somehow find his way into. In Dog Gone People, he had an ordinary office job working for demanding boss “Mister Cwabtwee”. In another cartoon (Mutt in a Rut) he appeared to work in an office and had a dog he called “Wover Boy,” whom he took hunting, though Bugs did not appear.
Several episodes featured Elmer differently. One (What’s Up, Doc?, 1950) has Bugs Bunny relating his life story to a biographer, and recalling a time which was a downturn for the movie business. Elmer Fudd is a well-known entertainer who, looking for a new partner for his act, sees Bugs Bunny (after passing caricatures of many other famous 1940s actors (Al Jolson, Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, Bing Crosby) who, like Bugs, are also out of work). Elmer and Bugs do a one-joke act cross-country, with Bugs dressed like a pinhead, and when he does not know the answer to a joke, Elmer gives it and hits him with a pie in the face. Bugs begins to tire of this gag and pulls a surprise on Fudd, answering the joke correctly and bopping Elmer with a mallet, which prompts the man to point his rifle at Bugs. The bunny asks nervously: “Eh, what’s up doc?”, which results in a huge round of applause from the audience. Bugs tells Elmer they may be on to something, and Elmer, with the vaudevillian’s instinct of sticking with a gag that catches on, nods that they should re-use it. According to this account, the common Elmer-as-hunter episodes are entirely staged.
One episode where Bugs “lost” in the hunting was Hare Brush (1956). Here, Elmer has been committed to an insane asylum because he believes he is a rabbit (though it is also revealed that he is a millionaire and owns a mansion and a yacht). Bugs Bunny enters Fudd’s room and Elmer bribes him with carrots, then leaves the way the real rabbit entered. Bugs acts surprisingly (for him) naïve, assuming Elmer just wanted to go outside for a while. Elmer’s psychiatrist arrives, and thinking Fudd’s delusion has affected his appearance, drugs Bugs and conditions him into believing that he is Elmer Fudd ‘after which Bugs starts wearing hunting clothes and acting like Elmer, hunting the rabbit-costumed Fudd, who is in turn acting like Bugs. Their hunt is cut short when Bugs is arrested, as Elmer Fudd is wanted for tax evasion. After Bugs is hauled away, Fudd breaks the fourth wall and tells the audience, “I may be a scwewy wabbit, but I’m not going to Alcatwaz.”
Elmer Fudd has occasionally appeared in other costumes, notably as Cupid. He tries to convince Bugs about love, but Bugs is reluctant, thinking to himself “Don’t you look like some guy who’s always after me?” and pictures the Elmer in hunter’s clothes. The Cupid Elmer plots to get even with Bugs, using his love arrows to make Bugs fall in love with an artificial rabbit at a dog track. Elmer also appeared in this form opposite Daffy Duck in The Stupid Cupid (1944).
The Bugs–Elmer partnership was so familiar to audiences that in a late 1950s cartoon, Bugs’ Bonnets, a character study is made of what happens to the relationship between the two when they each accidentally don a different selection of hats (Native American Wig, Pilgrim Hat, Military Helmets, Bridal Veil and Top Hat, to name a few). The result is comic mayhem; a steady game of one-upmanship that ultimately leads to matrimony.
For a short time in the 1941–1942 season, Elmer’s appearance was modified again, for five cartoons: Wabbit Twouble; The Wacky Wabbit; The Wabbit Who Came to Supper; Any Bonds Today?; and Fresh Hare. He became a heavy-set, beer-bellied character, patterned after Arthur Q. Bryan’s real-life appearance, and still chasing Bugs (or vice versa). However, audiences did not accept a fat Fudd, so ultimately the slimmer version returned for good.
This time period also saw a temporary change in Elmer’s relationship with Bugs Bunny. Instead of being the hunter, Elmer was the victim of unprovoked pestering by Bugs. In Wabbit Twouble, Bugs plays a number of gags on Elmer, advising the audience, “I do dis kind o’ stuff to him all t’wough da picture!” (A line somewhat ironically would later be said by the Tortoise as he and his friends cheat Bugs out of winning a race). Another short, The Wacky Wabbit, finds Elmer focused on prospecting for gold which would be used to fund the World War II effort. Elmer sings a variation of the old prospector’s tune “Oh! Susanna” made just for this cartoon (complete with the phrase “V for Victory”), with Bugs joining in just before starting to hassle Elmer. He made a later appearance in an episode of The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries as a Russian version with a simple name “Boris” who owns another comedy club in Russia.
He nearly always vocalised consonants [r] and [l], pronouncing them as [w] instead (a trait that also characterized Tweety Bird) when he would talk in his slightly raspy voice. This trait was prevalent in the Elmer’s Candid Camera and Elmer’s Pet Rabbit cartoons, where the writers would give him exaggerated lines such as, “My, that weawwy was a dewicious weg of wamb.” to further exaggerate his qualities as a harmless nebbish. That characteristic seemed to fit his somewhat timid and childlike persona. And it worked. The writers often gave him lines filled with those letters, such as doing Shakespeare‘s Romeo as “What wight thwough yonduh window bweaks!” or Wagner‘s Ride of the Valkyries as “Kiww the wabbit, kiww the wabbit, kiww the wabbit…!” or “The Beautifuw Bwue Danube, by Johann Stwauss”, Stage Door Cartoon‘s line “Oh, you dubbuh-cwossing wabbit!You tweachewous miscweant!” or the name of actress “Owivia deHaviwwand“. Elmer’s speech impediment is so well known that Google allows the user to change the search engine language to “Elmer Fudd.” Comedian Robin Williams often refers to the impediment as “Fudd syndrome” whenever he accidentally slips up and replaces an ‘l’ or ‘r’ with a ‘w’ sound in a word.
Part of the joke is that Elmer is presumably incapable of pronouncing his own first name correctly. Occasionally Elmer would properly pronounce an r or l sound, depending on whether or not it was vital for the audience to understand what the word was. (For example, in 1944’s The Old Grey Hare, he clearly pronounces the r in the word “picture”.) Usually, Elmer pronounces the ‘r’s and ‘l’s when one of those letters is in the last syllable of the word (such as “rascal”, which he says as “wascal”). This doesn’t occur in one-syllable words like “last” (“wast”) or in common words like “hello” (“hewwo”).
Elmer Fudd made appearances in several television specials in the 1970s and 1980s, and some cameo roles in two of the Looney Tunes feature-film compilations.
Elmer would also appear frequently on the animated series Tiny Toon Adventures as a teacher at Acme Looniversity, where he was the idol and favorite teacher of Elmyra Duff, the slightly deranged animal lover who resembles Elmer in basic head design, name and lack of intellect. On the other hand, a younger version of him makes a single appearance in the episode Plucky’s Dastardly Deed, and is named “Egghead Jr”, the “smartest kid in class”.
Elmer also had a guest starring appearance on Histeria! in the episode “The Teddy Roosevelt Show”, in a sketch where he portrayed Gutzon Borglum. This sketch depicts Elmer/Gutzon’s construction of Mount Rushmore, accompanied by Borglum’s son Lincoln, portrayed by Loud Kiddington. Elmer made another appearance on Histeria!, this time in his traditional role, during a sketch where the Bald Eagle trades places with the Turkey during Thanksgiving weekend, featured in the episode “Americana”.
Fudd also appeared on The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries in the first season episode A Ticket to Crime as detective Sam Fudd; at the end he took off his clothes and turned into Elmer.
Elmer appears as part of the TuneSquad team in Space Jam. In one part of the game he and Yosemite Sam shoot down the teeth of one of the Monstars dressed in black suites while Misirlou is heard in the background.
Elmer took on a more villainous role in Looney Tunes: Back in Action, in which he is a secret agent for the Acme Corporation. In his scene, Elmer chases Bugs and Daffy through the paintings in the Louvre museum, taking on the different art styles as they do so. At the end, Elmer forgets to change back to his normal style after jumping out of the pointillism painting Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, allowing Bugs to easily disintegrate Elmer by blowing a fan at him.
A four-year-old version of Elmer was featured in the Baby Looney Tunes episode “A Bully for Bugs”, where he kept taking all of Bugs’ candy, and also bullied the rest of his friends. He was also shown with short blond hair. He appeared in most of the songs.
An even more villainous Elmer appeared in two episodes of Duck Dodgers as The Mother Fudd, an alien who would spread a disease that caused all affected by it to stand around laughing like Elmer (a parody of the Flood in Halo and the Borg in Star Trek).
In Loonatics Unleashed, his descendant, Electro J. Fudd, tried to prove himself the universe’s greatest hunter by capturing Ace Bunny, but settled for Danger Duck instead. Elmer himself also makes an appearance in the form of a photo which shows he presumably died at the hands of a giant squirrel.
Elmer also appears appears in The Looney Tunes Show as a newscaster.
Fudd was originally voiced by radio actor Arthur Q. Bryan, but twice in Bryan’s lifetime the voice was provided by the versatile Mel Blanc: once, in The Scarlet Pumpernickel(1950), only a single line was needed, and bringing in Bryan was not cost effective; in What’s Opera, Doc?, Elmer’s furious scream “SMOG!” was dubbed by Mel Blanc, although Bryan had voiced the rest of the part. Later, during the musician’s union strike of 1958, another artist did the voice for Elmer’s co-starring appearance in Pre-Hysterical Hare. There is no documented reason for Bryan’s absence, leaving some fans to speculate that he refused to cross the picket lines.
In 1959, Bryan died aged 60, and Hal Smith was selected to replace him as Elmer, but after just two cartoons were recorded by the new actor, and another was made in which Fudd has no lines and therefore no voice, the character was soon retired. Although in more recent years other voice actors have alternated as Elmer’s voice, Bryan’s characterization remains the definitive one. He was never credited onscreen, because Blanc had a clause in his contract that required him to receive a screen credit and, perhaps inadvertently, denied the same to other voice performers.
Blanc would take on the role regularly in the 1970s and 1980’s, supplying Elmer’s voice for new footage in compilation feature films and similar TV specials, as well as some all-new specials. He admitted in his autobiography that he found the voice difficult to get “right”, never quite making it his own. In Speechless, the famous lithograph issued following Blanc’s death, Elmer is not shown among the characters bowing their heads in tribute to Blanc. Elmer has also been voiced by Daws Butler, Greg Burson, Jeff Bergman, Billy West, Tom Kenny, Chris Edgerly, Quinton Flynn, and others over the years.