Sets In Order November 1950 Sets In Order November 1950

Gallery: The Square Dance Art of Warner Bros. Director Chuck Jones

Chuck Jones is one of the marquee names of American animation history. He created characters such as Pepe le Pew, Marvin Martian, Gossamer, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, and directed classic shorts like Rabbit Seasoning, Duck Amuck, Feed the Kitty, The Dover Boys, One Froggy Evening, Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century and What’s Opera, Doc?, to name just a few. A lesser known fact about Jones is that during the 1950s he and his wife Dorothy (nickname: Dottie) were avid participants of the Southern California Western square dancing craze, a style of dance explained in this video:

Jones never spoke of his love for square dancing in either of his biographies: Chuck Amuck or Chuck Reducks. His appreciation for the dance never manifested itself in the films he made either. In fact, the quintessential Warner Bros. square dance cartoon, Hillbilly Hare, was directed by Jones’ colleague, Robert McKimson. Jones’ enthusiasm for square dancing was well known around the studio, however. He organized lunchtime dances, and claimed that the other directors, like McKimson and Friz Freleng, as well as producer Eddie Selzer, became fascinated with the dance as well.

Throughout the 1950s, Chuck contributed magazine covers and a regular column to a Southern California magazine called Sets in Order. Within the past year, the University of Denver Digital Archive has added a PDF archive of Sets in Order. (Go HERE for a more clearly indexed list of back issues). In the gallery below, I’ve compiled all of Chuck’s covers, a couple illustrated articles he did, and one of his columns which was especially animation related. Should you wish to dig through the archives, there are dozens of other “Chuck’s Notebook” columns within the 1950s and early-’60s issues. They’re esoteric and often obtuse, but are decorated with Chuck’s spot illustrations and provide some unique insights into his personality.

There are lots of hidden goodies in the columns that Jones wrote, and now that they are so readily accessible, they will hopefully be scrutinized more closely by historians. Animator and historian Greg Duffell introduced me to these drawings when he did an article about them in my ‘zine Animation Blast. In that piece, Greg pointed out astutely how some of Chuck’s drawings in the magazine foreshadowed the designs of characters who later appeared in films like The Phantom Tollbooth, Deduce You Say, Rocket-bye Baby and I was a Teenage Thumb. Whether you recognize the references or not, the drawings that Jones created for Sets in Order stand on their own and can be appreciated today as exquisite examples of mid-century cartooning.

All the material in here was drawn by Chuck Jones for Sets in Order which is copyright Bob Osgood.

  • Love these! And a few days ago I was looking at Gene Deitch’s work for The Record Changer; it’s great to see them bringing their art and their enthusiasms together.

    • AmidAmidi

      And, of course, there’s Ward Kimball’s comics about vintage automobiles which he drew for the “Horseless Carriage Gazette”:
      Besides Jones, Deitch and Kimball, I wonder if there were other animators who did comics about their hobbies for magazines?

  • So that was a craze. I can tell you it reached Minnesota and persisted in our elementary school PE curriculum into the 70’s with the result that no child ever said, “Hey everybody, lets do some square dancing!” I guess it made “Hillbilly Hare” resonate a bit more with me as the dance directions in it were so similar to what we were hearing on the official square dance training records.

  • Natalie Belton

    I got quite a few chuckles out of these. I love them! They show a lot diversity in Jones’s drawing style.

  • markLouis

    This is wonderful background, and interesting! I just happened to have watched “Wagnerian Wabbit: The Making of ‘What’s Opera, Doc?'” yesterday (it is on disc 4 of the Golden Collection, volume 2) and assistant animator Willie Ito was quoted as saying that Jones as a director almost always went to animator Ken Harris for dance animation, and Ken Harris was supposed to be a good dancer himself. So anyone with info on Harris might have good material, too.

  • James Madison

    Amazing that this was posted today. I was looking around inspiration for artist with fluid line work and I came back to Cartoon Brew and saw the post. Very timely! Thanks for posting!

  • Don’t diss the Squares man… .I never could ever imagine my Grandparents dancing..but back in the early 50’s as it turns out they were the best of squares… going through old letters I discovered this. It was all the rage back then… So next time you see someone doing Gangnam Style… Fad or no… When you got to dance man… Just dance! It’s the ultimate animation!

  • Nick Bachman

    SO great to see this! Square Dances are alive and well here in LA, I’ve played fiddle and banjo for many! Something about this music seems to attract the cartoon-minded, I play with many other animators and artists.

  • Leigh McG

    These are great, but anyone notice that Bugs’ hand is on backwards in that hitchhiking drawing?

    • caricaturist

      It’s awkward, but not backwards, it is merely turned away.

      • It makes sense physically the way it’s drawn, but surely awkward.

  • Ollie Mand

    My Panama Hat is off to Charles M. Jones.

  • This is a tremendous gallery! Thank you so much for posting it. I never would have expected a legend like Chuck Jones to have done illustrations for a regional hobby magazine. I square danced at a local teen club for almost 11 years and my father danced in the late 50s-60s. It wasn’t a “craze” then and it isn’t now either. There are clubs all around the world, it is alive and well. Square dancing is a very enjoyable hobby and at the higher levels the moves get very complex. It’s a great way to burn some calories, too.

    I can’t wait to share this amazing historical archive with my old caller and people from the dance community.

  • Elana Pritchard

    Very cool. I love when you guys present the human side of directors and animators like this. I can just see Chuck Jones, in his little squaredance outfit, meeting up with all of his friends… and yes, the drawings are fantastic.

  • I know Chuck Jones gets a lot of grief from people in the industry, but I think his work is just beautiful.

  • silverlock

    My office mate’s father called the Sq. Dance for RFK’s engagement party. It was that popular.