Seventy-two years ago today – on July 27th, 1940 – Bugs Bunny appeared in Tex Avery’s A Wild Hare. The Warner Bros. short is widely considered to be the first definitive Bugs Bunny cartoon, in which the character’s appearance, personality and voice gelled as a whole. It’s also the first time Bugs, voiced by the inimitable Mel Blanc, uttered his famous catchphrase, “What’s up, doc?”
All the major players involved with the production of A Wild Hare are dead except for one individual: 94-year-old Bob Givens. He was the character designer who redesigned the studio’s clumsy-looking rabbit character into the familiar design below. You’ll notice that Givens calls the character “Tex’s Rabbit” because they hadn’t officially christened him Bugs Bunny yet.
Bob can also claim responsibility for redesigning Elmer Fudd into the recognizable character that we know today. He speaks about working on A Wild Hare in this interview conducted by animation historian Steve Worth and animators Will Finn and Mike Fontanelli:
Bob Givens means a lot to me personally because he was the first animation artist that I ever interviewed. Who knows where I’d be today if Bob hadn’t been patient and encouraging of my interest in documenting animation history.
I wish I could remember how I first got in touch with him–it may have been simply by looking him up in the phone book–but when I went to Bob’s modest bungalow home in North Hollywood, I was unaware of just how much of a key figure he’d been throughout the history of Golden Age Hollywood animation. I learned quickly though.
In 2001, a few years after our first interview, I had the honor of interviewing Bob a second time. This time it was onstage at the San Diego Comic-Con International where he was joined by fellow WB veteran Pete Alvarado. It’s doubtful that the event was recorded onto video, but this photographic memory remains:
In the past seventy-two years, we’ve seen countless versions of Bugs Bunny, redesigned, rebooted, updated–some enjoyable and some not so much. But today, let’s take a look back at A Wild Hare and remember the moment when one of the most entertaining cartoon characters was born. And let’s celebrate Bob Givens, the legendary designer of Bugs who is still with us today.