Sylvester the cat can sing
Sylvester J. Pussycat, Sr., – Life with Feathers (1945)
Sylvester the Cat or simply Sylvester, or Puddy Tat, is a fictional character, a three-time Academy Award-winning anthropomorphic Tuxedo cat in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies repertory, often chasing Tweety Bird, Speedy Gonzales, or Hippety Hopper. The name “Sylvester” is a play on Felis silvestris, the scientific name for the wild cat species (domestic cats like Sylvester, though, are actually Felis catus). The character debuted in Friz Freleng‘s Life With Feathers (1945). Freleng’s 1947 cartoon Tweetie Pie was the first pairing of Tweety with Sylvester, and the Bob Clampett-directed Kitty Kornered (1946) was Sylvester’s first pairing with Porky Pig. Sylvester appeared in 103 cartoons in the golden age.
Sylvester was #33 on TV Guide‘s list of top 50 best cartoon characters, together with Tweety.
According to John Kricfalusi, creator of The Ren & Stimpy Show, Bob Clampettcreated Sylvester and Tom McKimson, his layout artist, designed him. Kricfalusi states in one of his comments of his blog post, “Both Clampett and McKimson told me on separate occasions that they created him as a foil for Tweety and Clampett’s unit storyboarded the first collaboration of the 2 characters. Freleng inherited both characters and the storyboard when Clampett left the WB studio in 1946. Then Friz proceeded to take the life out of them. He actually admitted this and more to me.”
Sylvester’s trademark is his sloppy and yet stridulating lisp. In his autobiography,That’s Not All Folks!, voice actor Mel Blanc stated that Sylvester’s voice is based on that of Daffy Duck, plus the even more slobbery lisp, and minus the post-production speed-up that was done with Daffy’s. Conventional wisdom is that Daffy’s lisp, and hence also Sylvester’s, were based on the lisp of producer Leon Schlesinger. However, Blanc made no such claim. He said that Daffy’s lisp was based on him having a long beak, and that he borrowed the voice for Sylvester. He also pointed out that, minus the lisp, Sylvester’s voice was fairly close to his own (a claim that his son Noel Blanc has confirmed). In addition, director Bob Clampett, in a 1970 Funnyworld interview, agreed with Blanc’s account concerning Schlesinger.
To emphasize the lisp, as with Daffy’s catchphrase “You’re desthpicable”, Sylvester’s trademark exclamation is “Sufferin’ succotash!“, which is said to be a minced oath of “Suffering Savior“. (Daffy also says “Sufferin’ succotash!” from time to time in 5 cartoons like “Ain’t That Ducky“, “Baby Bottleneck“, “Hollywood Daffy“, “The Great Piggy Bank Robbery” and “Daffy Dilly“.)
Before Sylvester’s appearance in the cartoons, Blanc voiced a character named Sylvester on The Judy Canova Show using the voice that would eventually become associated with the cat.
Sylvester shows a lot of pride in himself, and never gives up. Despite (or perhaps because of) his pride and persistence, Sylvester is, with rare exceptions, placed squarely on the “loser” side of the Looney Tunes winner/loser hierarchy.
He shows a different character when paired with Porky Pig in explorations of spooky places, in which he does not speak, behaves as a scaredy cat, and always seem to see the scary things Porky doesn’t see, and gets scolded by him for it every time.
Sylvester, who for the most part always played the antagonist role, is featured playing the protagonist role in a couple of cartoons while having to deal with the canine duo of Spike the Bulldog and Chester the Terrier after being chased around. In 1952’s Tree for Two by Friz Freleng, Sylvester is cornered in the back alley and this would result in Spike getting mauled by a black panther that had escaped from a zoo. In the 1954 film Dr. Jerkyl’s Hyde, Sylvester pummels Spike (here called “Alfie”) thanks to a potion that transforms him into a feline monster. After Spike’s ordeal, Sylvester would have the courage and confidence to confront Chester, only to be beaten and tossed away by the little dog.
Perhaps Sylvester’s most developed role is in a series of Robert McKimson-directed shorts, in which the character is a hapless mouse-catching instructor to his dubious son, Sylvester Junior, with the “mouse” being a powerful baby kangaroo which he constantly mistakes for a “king-size mouse”. His alternately confident and bewildered episodes bring his son to shame, while Sylvester himself is reduced to nervous breakdowns.
- Kitty Kornered (1946), a Bob Clampett cartoon in which a black-nosed, yellow-eyed Sylvester was teamed with three other cats to oust owner Porky Pig from his house.
- Back Alley Oproar (1948), a Friz Freleng cartoon (actually a remake of the 1941 short Notes to You) wherein Sylvester pesters the sleep-deprived Elmer Fudd by performing several amazing musical numbers in the alley (and even a sweet lullaby (“go to sleep… go to sleep… close your big bloodshot eyes…”) to temporarily ease Elmer back to the dream world, though verytemporarily.
- The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950), a Chuck Jones cartoon in which Sylvester plays the Basil Rathbone-like villain to Daffy Duck‘s Errol Flynn-esque hero.
- Red Riding Hoodwinked (1955) Sylvester co-stars with The Big Bad Wolf in which each not only tries to get their particular “prey” (Sylvester vs Tweety Bird and the Wolf vs Little Red Riding Hood) but they both nearly come to blows with each other playing “Grandma” (“Trying to muscle in on this racket”)
In the 1970s and 1980’s, Sylvester appeared in various Warner Bros. television specials, and in the 1980s, he appeared in the feature-film compilations.
From 1979 to 1983, Sylvester appeared in animated TV commercials for 9Lives dry cat food. These ads usually consisted of Sylvester trying to get to his box of 9Lives while avoiding Hector the Bulldog. Sylvester would always succeed in luring the dog away so he could get to his food, but would always find himself a target again by the end of the commercial, which generally ended with Sylvester calling 9Lives dry food “worth riskin’ your life for.”
In the television series Tiny Toon Adventures, Sylvester appeared as the mentor of Furrball. The character also starred in The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries. In the series, he plays the narrator in the beginning of episodes.
In Loonatics Unleashed Sylvester’s descendent and likely Sylvester Junior’s descendent is Sylth Vester, a hitman hired by the villain, Queen Granicus, to kill the Royal Tweetums so she will not have to lose her throne. Despite his best efforts he is beaten by the Loonatics. Later on the series, it is shown that he is not entirely a bad guy, for he helped the Loonatics find the Royal Tweetums (who was hidden) and fight against Optimatus and Deuce and their plan to take over the Universe. Just like his ancestor, Sylth Vester tries to kill Tweety’s descendant using all kinds of tricks, but they all backfire, resulting in Sylth Vester getting many injuries.
In 1985, Sylvester could be heard in an episode of the game show Press Your Luck. Host Peter Tomarken had earlier incorrectly credited his catchphrase “Suffering Succotash!” to Daffy Duck. Even though all three contestants had correctly answered “Sylvester,” they were ruled incorrect. In a segment produced later and edited into the broadcast, Sylvester phoned Tomarken and told him, “Daffy Duck steals from me all the time.” All three participants returned to compete in future episodes.
Sylvester has “died” the most of any Looney Tunes characters, having “died” in I Taw a Putty Tat, Back Alley Oproar, Peck Up Your Troubles, Satan’s Waitin’, Mouse Mazurka, Tweety’s Circus, Trick or Tweet, and Tweet and Lovely.
Western Publications produced a comic book about Tweety and Sylvester entitled Tweety and Sylvester first in Dell Comics Four Color series #406, 489, and 524, then in their own title from Dell Comics (#4-37, 1954–62), and later from Gold Key Comics (#1-102, 1963–72). In a Garfield cartoon, he made a cameo by sending Rosalina a love letter.