Tex's Rabbit by Bob Givens Tex's Rabbit by Bob Givens

72 Years Ago Today: Bugs Bunny Was Born

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.

  • Sean P

    I just had lunch with Bob two weeks ago. That man has a sharp mind and is modest about it. The more you talk to him about his work the more you realize you have to thank him.

  • Lamar the Revenger

    I remember that!

  • Jenny

    Happy Birthday, Bugs! You’re pretty much the king of tricksters – which is a good thing. :D

    Hopefully, Warner Bros. will bring you and the other Looney Tunes back in the right direction again. Sorry, but The Looney Tunes Show is an insult to everything Looney Tunes stands for. :(

    • R. Araya

      … Don’t worry, at least they haven’t used disco-style music (well, they did on the reunion episode) or laugh-tracks.

      P.D.:Happy B-Day, Bugs

    • KreD

      @Jenny: Well the original shorts have returned to Cartoon Network’s everyday lineup thanks to the Looney Tunes Show. And they’ve recently created some new shorts with the same vein as the classics for the theaters (which in my opinion are better than the shorts of the mid90s-early 2000s). So I’d say the Looney Tunes are in a better position than they were say about 5 years ago.

  • skid

    That Bob Givens design is and always will be my favorite Bugs Bunny design.

  • D

    Happy Birthday Bugs! Where would any young animator, cartoonist or animation aficionado be without your glorious influence. It’s hard to believe that after 72 years he’s still the same old Bugs, I guess he’s aged well, I think they call it timelessness.

  • You’ll notice that Givens calls the character “Tex’s Rabbit” because they hadn’t officially christened him Bugs Bunny yet.

    Actually, the character was officially christened Bugs Bunny by marketing in 1939, as this promotional book shows. Avery really hated the name, hence why so many of the modelsheets drawn for his unit (as reproduced here) lack the moniker.

    • Actually, the character in that book you linked to is not called Bugs Bunny but ‘Bugs’ Bunny. As I’m sure you know, the proto-Bugs that was designed by Charles Thorson for Hare-um Scare-um was labeled on the model sheet as Bugs’ Bunny, to make clear that it belonged to the cartoon’s co-director Ben “Bugs” Hardaway.

      I’m not aware of Tex saying that he hated the name — he may have said so in some interview, but I just can’t think of any right now — but I can certainly understand his resistance to using the name at the time the cartoon was made. Why would he attach the nickname of another director to what he considered to be a new character? The proof is in Givens’ model sheet. They didn’t consider this to be an improvement on Bugs’ Bunny, but this was Tex’s Rabbit. The idea that this character would be called Bugs Bunny was a retroactive decision and happened after Chuck Jones had directed a cartoon using Tex’s character.

      In short, I’ve never found any evidence that the character in A Wild Hare was considered by Tex or WB to be Bugs Bunny at the time of its release (if you have the evidence, please share). While it’s certainly true that an earlier character called Bugs (or Bugs’) Bunny did exist, there isn’t any proof that Tex considered his rabbit to be the same exact character.

      • TheDirtyVicar

        According to Joe Adamson’s book on Avery, Tex’s initial resistance to the name Bugs Bunny had more to do with the word “bunny,” because he imagined the character as less a bunny and more of a jackrabbit.

      • Amid: “In short, I’ve never found any evidence that the character in A Wild Hare was considered by Tex or WB to be Bugs Bunny at the time of its release (if you have the proof, please share).”

        The official WB copyright synopses to PORKY’S HARE HUNT and PREST-O CHANGE-O don’t name the rabbit.

        The official WB copyright synopsis to HARE-UM SCARE-UM refers to: “Bugs” Bunny, that screwy rabbit

        The official WB copyright synopsis to ELMER’S CANDID CAMERA refers to: Bugs Bunny, the screwby [sic] rabbit

        The official WB copyright synopsis to A WILD HARE refers to: Bugs Bunny the screwy rabbit

        The official WB copyright synopsis to ELMER’S PET RABBIT refers to: a screwy rabbit named “Bugs Bunny.”

        A 1942 Bugs Bunny comic book includes a biography that says “Like many other Hollywood stars, Bugs started his movie career by playing a small part in a picture in 1938. This led to better parts, and in 1940 he became a full-fledged star!” The 1938 date backdates the character’s birth to PORKY’S HARE HUNT as early as 1942.

        Bugs Bunny comic book stories occasionally spell the name “Bugs” Bunny in the title panel until 1944, when a story drawn by Tom McKimson actually explains that “Bugs” is a nickname for George Washington Bunny.
        After this, the quote marks stop.

        I think this merits a blogpost…

      • Hi, Amid. Crucial evidence that this is not a separate entity, but a major overhauling of the same character, is in a film: PATIENT PORKY (skip to about 1:25), released shortly after A WILD HARE. That’s the Bob Givens Bugs model with the HARE-UM SCARE-UM/ELMER’S CANDID CAMERA voice and mannerisms. Obviously Clampett knew “this is what the character is going to look like from now on,” but not how he was going to act. Otherwise, why didn’t he just use the Thorson model if Avery’s was a new, separate character? Mike Barrier outlined Bugs’s evolution in his book years ago.

      • Well damn, there’s the Gerstein Version before I even asked him to post it.

      • Faithful Eediot

        This is the letter Avery sent (from the old GAC forums, courtesy of “Sogturtle”

        “I am now in the process of trying to stop an imposter, Bob Clampett from spreading the word that he is the father of Bugs Bunny!— When I made ‘A Wild Hare’ he was busy in another building knocking out Porky Pigs! — I was recently tricked into some film clips with Larry Jackson for his ‘Bugs Bunny Superstar’ whereupon I told how I created Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd (1940) and Daffy Duck (Porky’s Duck Hunt) 1937— When the picture came out I found out he collaborated with Bob Clampett—! He cut the picture in Clampett’s studio! Of course most of my comments were cut—”
        …. Sincerely, Tex Avery

        Also, in 1945, Eddie Selzer conducted an investigation on this very topic to protect Bugs Bunny from trademark infringement, getting statements from relevant animators; his conclusion was that Bugs only came about in “A Wild Hare”.

      • David – Do you know when the copyright descriptions were filed? I’m guessing after the cartoon had been completed and released. None of your info contradicts my very simple statement, which is at the time “A Wild Hare” was made, Bugs Bunny had not been christened with that name by Tex Avery. There is no evidence that in 1940, Avery considered the rabbit to be named Bugs Bunny. Bob Givens’ model sheet makes it clear that they didn’t recognize him as Bugs Bunny, as does the fact that no “A Wild Hare” promotional materials from the film’s initial release refer to the character as Bugs Bunny.

        I specifically wrote that, “You’ll notice that Givens calls the character ‘Tex’s Rabbit’ because they hadn’t officially christened him Bugs Bunny yet.” The history you provide of how the character was developed and what it was called all happened AFTER the fact. It doesn’t take into account the perceptions of the artists during the production of the film. The documents that exist from the production are our most solid clues about what the character was called at the time.

      • Why doesn’t someone call Bob Givens and ask his opinion?

      • Thad – Funny you should ask. Here is Bob Givens speaking on the topic from a 2008 interview with Adam Abraham. Though some of Bob’s dates are inacccurate, his feeling about Tex’s character being an original creation are clear.

        Adam Abraham: You mean “A Wild Hare”?

        Bob Givens: Yeah, “A Wild Hare.” I designed–redesigned Elmer. Elmer was never–Tex Avery did the first, “Wild Hare.” It was a rabbit–a duck dressed in a rabbit suit, like Friz says. You know what made Bugs Bunny? [It] was the personality that Tex added. And I redesigned the son of a bitch. Mel Blanc did the voice.

        Adam Abraham: So you’re talking about redesigning Bugs Bunny.

        Bob Givens: Well, they had a Bugs Bunny before, but it wasn’t Bugs Bunny; it was some idiot that jumped around like [Robert] Clampett’s stuff. So it was not Bugs Bunny. The only reason people think it was Bugs Bunny [is] ’cause the model sheet–Charlie Thorson did–had on there “Bugs’ Bunny.” It was done for Bugs Hardaway, another director. And they just never bothered to change it. And so it came round to get a name in 1945; they looked back, and they found that old model sheet– “Bugs’ Bunny” –that’s catchy. Had nothing to do with Bugs’s bunny, but the name stuck. So everybody thinks Bugs Bunny was done by Clampett and those other idiots. They had nothing to do with it! Actually, the only guy–it was Tex. He invented Bugs Bunny. The three of us.

      • I guess Givens has changed his mind, because, per Mike Barrier:

        Robert Givens, who succeeded Thorson as the Schlesinger studio’s principal character designer, said [in an undated letter to me that I received in April 1980] that the directors considered Thorson’s version of Bugs “too cute, so Tex asked me to do [another] one.”

        That doesn’t sound like he was coming up with a new character from scratch, simply overhauling a continuing character. You are reading too much into the “Tex’s Rabbit” designation, as if it means something more than just the simple label it is. What is the significance behind the later McKimson Bugs modelsheets being labeled “Rabbit Model” then, which all of the directors used, and when the character was already designated Bugs Bunny? Perhaps Sambo labeled as “Tex’s Coon” on the ALL THIS AND RABBIT STEW model tells us what Tex Avery really thought of black people.

  • I was lucky to be at that panel and lunch with Bob Givens and Pete Alvarado back in 2001. Plus, I was even luckier to have had the pleasure of working with these two marvelous gentlemen.

    Ah, with talent like this animation sure ain’t what it use to be.

  • Mike

    I hope he takes such joy that so many of the younger generation appreciate his, and his late colleagues, work.

  • Faithful Eediot

    Bob Clampett was the one who first claimed that Porky’s Hare Hunt was the first Bugs Bunny cartoon, and everyone has just been parroting what he said.

    None of the other major directors agreed; Tex Avery in fact wrote an angry letter to a friend calling Clampett an “impostor” and confirming that HE was the one who created Bugs.

  • Wonderful post and interview Amid. Thanks for sharing.

  • Mike

    Happy birthday, Bugs! And many, many more. I’m not sure Warner Bros. cares to have the news of our favorite rabbit’s 75th anniversary spread around, though. For some years now I’ve gotten the distinct impression that they prefer to downplay the ages of these characters and the dates when the cartoons themselves were originally released. They don’t seem to want to do much of anything that’ll make these characters or the films seem “old” in the eyes of the public.

    • Wabbit

      Which is a shame, seeing as how Disney Animation has worked the “old” Mickey into their production logo in recent films. Whatever happened to Bugs in tuxedo standing next to the WB? Haven’t seen that in a while…

      Come on, Warner Brothers, don’t act like a bunch of maroons!

  • Captain Hollywood

    I’m saying this with sarcasm but…

    Who’s Bugs Bunny?!

    Fix that, WB.

    • Forget sarcasm, here’s a true story:

      I once asked my 15 year-old cousin if she ever saw the Looney Tunes where Bugs Bunny sang in the opera with Elmer Fudd.

      Her response: “What are the Looney Tunes?”

      You can tell THAT to WB marketing.

  • Thank you Bob Givens for being an inspiration to so many of us for so many years. I never really got to work “with” you too much , but in fact we are both credited on the same production, “Bugs Bunny’s Wild World of Sports” (1989) , one of those many “compilation” TV specials, directed by Terry Lennon and Greg Ford. At the time I was just a neophyte, wet-behind-the-ears animator when I worked on this show , but I still remember when my pals , master animators Mark Kausler and Frans Vischer (both of whom I was honored to assist on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”) introduced me to you during the few weeks I worked on this production. Mark Kausler gave me the low down on WHO you were and I was just so amazed to be working on the same show with someone who had your background. (I wish my animation on top of your layouts for that show had been better) .

    • Thanks for sharing that memory, David!

  • Hard words about Clampett and ‘those other idiots’. I never knew there had been problems between Clampett and Tex. I thought the only ones that had some conflicts were Chuck Jones and Clampett.

    Anyway it’s great to know that the guy who designed Bugs Bunny is still alive! For reasons like this I read this blog.

    And a very happy aniversary this is.

  • Joe Dorsey

    Happy Birthday Bugs! Thanks for the Bob Givens interview. Robert McKimson did some excellent work in the development of Bugs as well. Michael Barrier did a great interview with him and posted a sidebar called “Remodeling The Rabbit”.

  • Dan Adler

    Of all the people of this era to still be alive, it’s the man who actually created Bugs Bunny to his more familiar form, who would have thought it? Bob Givens is a pivotal force in the entire history of animation and pop culture as we know it. Thank you Bob.

  • Jim Roebuck

    Trivia note: Charles Thorson’s model sheet for the rabbit in the cartoon “Hare-um Scare-um” (1939), by Hardaway and Dalton: Every picture I’ve seen of that famous model sheet – I assume it is always the same one – reads (please note) “Bug’s Bunny,” complete with mis-placed apostrophe. (I thought there was a picture of it in one of Charles M. Jones’s autobiographical books – “Chuck Amuck” or “Chuck Reducks” – but I can’t find it. Nutz.) T’ain’t “Bugs’ Bunny.” Must be a picture of it on line someplace.

  • Mike Clark

    Please shoot this interview again while Mr. Givens is still with us. The angle is a mile away from Mr. G and audio is way, way off as well. Let’s remember four things when conducting interviews: Closeups! Staging! Lighting! Sound! These legends deserve better.