Looney Tunes Super Stars Tweety and Sylvester
When Friz Freleng directed 1947’s “Tweetie Pie,” he may not have known he was making history. This, the first pairing of Sylvester the sputtering cat and Tweetie (later Tweety) the wide-eyed canary, won an Academy Award and united a duo that would appear in more than 40 Warner Brothers cartoon shorts by 1962. Sylvester and Tweety earned their studio another Academy Award for 1957’s “Birds Anonymous” and several other Oscar nominations through the years. Generations of Americans have grown up watching Sylvester’s classic, ever-thwarted attempts to catch Tweety. With two of the most famous voices in cartoons, both supplied by Mel Blanc, Sylvester’s sloppy “sufferin succotash” and Tweety’s baby-voiced “I tawt I taw a puddy tat,” Sylvester and Tweety are two of the most quickly identified characters in cartoons. Buy it at wbshop.com!
(also known as Tweety Pie or simply Tweety) is a fictional Yellow Canary in the Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of animated cartoons. The name “Tweety” is a play on words, as it originally meant “sweetie”, along with “tweet” being a typical English onomatopoeia for the sounds of birds. His characteristics are based on Red Skelton‘s famous “Mean Widdle Kid.” Tweety appeared in 49 cartoons in the Golden Age.
Despite the perceptions that people may hold, owing to the long lashes and high pitched voice of Tweety, Tweety is male. This is established several times in the animated series The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries, and in the film-short Bad Ol’ Putty Tat when Sylvester tries to trick Tweety using a fake female bird. On the other hand, a 1951 cartoon was entitled “Ain’t She Tweet.” Also, his species is ambiguous; although originally and often portrayed as a young canary, he is also frequently called a rare and valuable “tweety bird” as a plot device, and once called “the only living specimen”. Nevertheless, the title song directly states that the bird is a canary. His shape more closely suggests that of a baby bird, which in fact is what he was during his early appearances (although the “baby bird” aspect has been used in a few later cartoons as a plot device). The yellow feathers were added but otherwise he retained the baby-bird shape.
In his early appearances in Bob Clampett cartoons, Tweety is a very aggressive character who tries anything to foil his foe, even kicking his enemy when he is down. Tweety was toned down when Friz Freleng started directing the series into a more cutesy bird, and even more when Granny was introduced, however sometimes Tweety still kept his malicious side. One of his most notable “malicious” moments is in the cartoon Birdy and the Beast; when a cat tries to chase Tweety by flying and falls after remembering that cats cannot fly, Tweety says sympathetically, “Awww, the poor kitty cat! He faw down and go (in a loud, tough, masculine voice) BOOM!!”, after which he grins mischievously. A similar gag was used in A Tale Of Two Kittieswhen Tweety, wearing an air raid warden’s helmet, suddenly yells out in that same voice: “Turn out those lights!”
Creation by Bob Clampett
Tweety’s debut in A Tale of Two Kitties
Bob Clampett created the character that would become Tweety in the 1942 short A Tale of Two Kitties, pitting him against two hungry cats named Babbit and Catstello (based on the famous comedians Abbott and Costello). On the original model sheet, Tweety was named Orson (which was also the name of a bird character from an earlier Clampett cartoon Wacky Blackout).
Tweety was originally not a domestic canary, but simply a generic (and wild) baby bird in an outdoors nest – naked (pink), jowly, and also far more aggressive and saucy, as opposed to the later, more well-known version of him as a less hot-tempered (but still somewhat ornery) yellow canary. In the documentary Bugs Bunny: Superstar, animator Clampett stated, in a sotto voce “aside” to the audience, that Tweety had been based “on my own naked baby picture”. Clampett did two more shorts with the “naked genius”, as a Jimmy Durante-ish cat once called him in A Gruesome Twosome. The second Tweety short, Birdy and the Beast, finally bestowed the baby bird with his new name.
Many of Mel Blanc‘s characters are known for speech impediments. One of Tweety’s most noticeable is that /s/, /k/, and /g/ are changed to /t/, /d/, or (final s) /θ/; for example, “pussy cat” comes out as “putty tat”, later rendered “puddy tat”, and “sweetie pie” comes out as “tweetie pie”, hence his name. He also has trouble with liquid sounds; as with Elmer Fudd, /l/ and /r/ tend to come out as /w/. In Putty Tat Trouble, he begins the cartoon singing a song about himself, “I’m a tweet wittow biwd in a gilded cage; Tweety’th my name but I don’t know my age. I don’t have to wuwy and dat is dat; I’m tafe in hewe fwom dat ol’ putty tat.” (Translation: “I’m a sweet little bird in a gilded cage…”) Aside from this speech challenge, Tweety’s voice (and a fair amount of his attitude) is similar to that of Bugs Bunny, rendered as a child (in The Old Grey Hare, Bugs’ infant voice was very similar to Tweety’s normal voice), which was achieved by speeding up Mel Blanc’s voice recordings of Tweety Bird.
Freleng takes over
Clampett began work on a short that would pit Tweety against a then-unnamed, lisping black and white cat created by Friz Frelengin 1945. However, Clampett left the studio before going into full production on the short, and Freleng took on the project. Freleng toned Tweety down and gave him a cuter appearance, including large blue eyes and yellow feathers. Clampett mentions in Bugs Bunny: Superstar that the feathers were added to satisfy censors who objected to the naked bird. The first short to team Tweety and the cat, later named Sylvester, was 1947’s Tweetie Pie, which won Warner Bros. its first Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons).
- The hungry Sylvester wanting to eat the bird, but some major obstacle stands in his way – usually Granny or her bulldog Hector (or occasionally, numerous bulldogs, or another cat who wants to eat Tweety).
- Tweety saying his signature lines “I tawt I taw a puddy tat!” and “I did! I did taw a puddy tat!” (Originally “I did! I taw a puddy tat!”, but the extra “did” got inserted somehow). Eventually, someone must have commented on the grammar of “…did taw…”; in later cartoons, Tweety says “I did! I did tee a puddy tat!”.
- Sylvester spending the entire film using progressively more elaborate schemes or devices to capture his meal, similar to Wile E. Coyote in his ongoing efforts to catch roadrunners. Of course, each of his tricks fail, either due to their flaws or, more often than not, because of intervention by either Hector the Bulldog or an indignant Granny (voiced by Bea Benaderet and later June Foray), or after Tweety steers the enemy toward them or another device (such as off the ledge of a tall building or an oncoming train).
In 1951, Mel Blanc (with Billy May‘s orchestra) had a hit single with “I Tawt I Taw A Puddy Tat“, a song performed in character by Tweety and featuring Sylvester. In the lyrics Sylvester sings “I’d like to eat that Sweetie Pie when he leaves his cage”, implying that Tweety’s name is actually Sweetie Pie, altered in its pronunciation by Tweetie’s rhotacism. Sylvester, who has his own speech issues involving the letters S and P, slobbers the “S” in “Sweetie Pie”, just as he would the “S” sounds in his own name. Later the same name was applied to the young, pink female canary in the Tiny Toon Adventures animated TV series of the early 1990s.
From 1945 until the original Warner Bros. Cartoons studio closed, Freleng had almost exclusive use of Tweety at the Warner cartoon studio (much like Yosemite Sam), with the exception of a brief cameo in No Barking in 1954, directed by Chuck Jones (that year, Freleng used Pepé Le Pew, a Jones character, for the only time in his career and the only time in a Tweety short, Dog Pounded).