Bugs Bunny’s 75th Birthday: A Quiet Celebration of His ‘Wild’ Debut

Happy Birthday, Bugs Bunny!

The world’s favorite rabbit turns 75 this month: July 27, 1940, saw the debut of the cotton-tailed character’s first cartoon short “Wild Hare,” directed by Tex Avery.

There won’t be much hoopla to celebrate, because Warner Bros. doesn’t observe the birthdays of animated characters. And there’s some logic to that, especially in Mr. Bunny’s case.

There had been earlier variations: A wisecracking rabbit, voiced by Mel Blanc, debuted in the 1938 “Porky’s Hare Hunt” but the speech patterns and look were very different. In the next few years, WB’s Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons featured other rabbits.

But the 1940 “Wild Hare” was the first one where Bugs looked like himself, sounded like himself and, significantly, it was the first time he uttered the immortal words “What’s up, Doc?”

Don’t be misled by those earlier rabbits. On Sept. 10, 1940, Variety ran a brief item about the “new character Bugs Bunny” that WB was booking into Fox West Coast theaters. Bugs’ name appeared onscreen for the first time the following year, in “Elmer’s Pet Rabbit,” directed by Chuck Jones. By 1946, WB took out an ad in Variety proclaiming that moviegoers named him their favorite cartoon character in a poll by Showmen’s Trade Review.

 Photo Credit: Variety

Like all great stars, his popularity had creative peaks and valleys. Highlights include the 1949 “Long-Haired Hare,” directed by Jones, in which Bugs battles with a self-important singer who’s performing an aria from “The Barber of Seville” at the Hollywood Bowl; and Jones’ 1957 “What’s Opera, Doc?” with Bugs and Elmer Fudd in a Wagner spoof that was selected for National Film Registry in 1992. Only Bugs could bring opera to the masses. And then there is the 1955 “Rabbit Rampage,” a meta toon in which he feuds with an unseen animator. A few years later, “Knighty Knight Bugs,” co-starring Yosemite Sam, won the Oscar for best cartoon short.

In 1987, many decades after his debut, another Variety ad touted that “The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show” was ABC’s No. 1 kids show, under the headline “Wabbit Wins Watings Wace.”

Over the years, Bugs survived the bluster of Yosemite Sam, the gun of Fudd, the Tasmanian Devil, Marvin the Martian, Daffy Duck’s competitive streak and dozens of other challenges. If you were in a scrape, Bugs is the cartoon character you’d want by your side — a combo of MacGyver and Groucho Marx, able to build any contraption in a moment’s notice, and throw off wisecracks to boot. And, as a bonus, he might get into drag and sing to you.

Many senior citizens decline a big birthday party, because they don’t want to acknowledge they’re getting older. But Bugs looks as good as ever. In his long career, he was never involved in a scandal, was a good role model because he eats all his vegetables and provided endless laughs for many generations. No celebration party? It’s hare-raising. But maybe his millions of fans can have a slice of carrot cake on July 27, and raise a glass in honor of one of Hollywood’s greatest stars.

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  1. Nancy Newton says:

    Marvin the Martian is 2nd only to Bugs Bunny, imo. Love Winnie-the-Pooh as well. As a true ‘child’ of the 60’s, I ❤ed after school cartoon characters. Then homework, then PLAY! Bugs Bunny even won an Academy Award for best Animation; Tex Avery and WB were great in those days. I am shocked at most 21st century cartoons; even Disney films. Too much adult enuendo. Let’s see more G rated cartoons/films, W/ morals, values, principles. Restore Faith, not ideals. Just saying …

  2. Lou says:

    Warners has done a very poor job of marketing their cartoon characters to the point of Bugs, Daffy and the rest being unknown to most kids today. Taking a low key approach to Bugs’ birthday is another example of this. Very sad.

  3. David Breneman says:

    Why oh why is this cartoon stretched out to fit a 16:9 aspect ratio? Have 30 years of digital effects at the hands of people with no artistic judgement given us a population that has lost the ability to discern when an image is distorted?

  4. Al says:

    It’s to bad that so many of these cartoons are banned on TV

  5. felix says:

    jajajajajaja very nice :D from old school of animation :) i love it

  6. Jorge Finkielman says:

    Interesting, but this article is way too brief, going to irrelevant pieces of information (who really cares about Variety ads, those are fabricated commercials), and omitting important names that made him a popular. “Rabbit Rampage” is no highlight but a poor remake of Duck Amuck, which is rather unremarkable; but “Knighty Knight Bugs” was his Oscar winning cartoon and Friz Freleng, who directed it, is not even mentioned.

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