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Rare 1939 Looney Tunes Book found!


Mike Van Eaton has unearthed the original art to a rare Looney Tunes promotional book from 1939 – apparently created exclusively either for motion picture exhibitors or merchandising licensees. He sent me scans of the pages (below; click on each to see a larger image).

1939 was an interesting year for Leon Schlesinger’s studio. The text page here refers to Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies as being “constantly before the public as they are played in over 8500 theaters throughout the Unites States and Canada”. Wow. If it were only so today. Note that “Elmer” (nee Egghead) was promoted as the star of Merrie Melodies, while Bugs Bunny was considered only as an “incidental character” (see the last page). Were they really planning further cartoons with “Spunky” (from Now That Summer Is Gone), “Patrick Parrot” (From I Wanna Be a Sailor), “Little Eva” (from Uncle Tom’s Bungalow) or “Fluffnums” (from “Porky’s Romance”)? I don’t think so. And for some reason Sniffles rates both a full page portrait (by Charlie Thorson) and is included with the “incidental characters” as well.

Van Eaton is selling most of the pages individually. He has the originals on display at his gallery in Sherman Oaks, California. Contact Mike directly if you are interested in acquiring some of these pieces.

  • victoria

    I remember Petunia Pig, those are cute. But I”ve never seen that version of elmer fudd, scary.

  • Andrea Ippoliti

    Marvellous post, Jerry!
    Thanks for making it!

  • What a find and-a-half! Very awesome! I’m sure Mike will sell these…

  • Chuck R.

    Wow! Gotta love that hand-lettering. Thanks for sharing!

  • This is very interesting. Also we have some proof of Bugs’ name as of 1939. This is very cool. Thanks for posting this!

  • Alex

    What does it say about you when you’re an incidental character in a six minute cartoon?

  • Teri

    What a great way to start the day. All of the images brought a smile to my face. Thank you for sharing these.

  • Really charming; thanks for posting!

  • Michael Barrier cited Bugs’ name as having been used in promotion prior to A WILD HARE; but this is the first example I’ve seen firsthand, and it is obviously contemporary with HARE-UM SCARE-UM.
    If nothing else, this decisively ends the mysterious “Happy Rabbit” contentions—born with Mel Blanc’s 1970s interview—once and for all.
    The opening text seems out of sync with the body of the book; insofar as it discusses the 1938-39 season as being something yet to come (it “calls for” so-and-so-many cartoons), yet the book’s copyright is 1939, and the Bugs model is clearly 1939, at which point the 1939-40 season would have been the upcoming one.
    There’s also the fact that the text prominently mentions Gabby, yet he is all but sidelined in the body of the book.
    The discrepancies leads me to suspect that an earlier book of this type could well have existed, probably with a 1938 copyright; that it is for such an edition that the text page would first have been written; and in this 1939 edition we’re seeing it insufficiently updated, perhaps by accident.
    I’d postulate that Sniffles might have appeared only on the incidental characters page of my hypothetical 1938 edition; that the next year (the year we’re seeing), he was given his own dedicated page; but that whoever made that call forgot to drop him from the incidental characters, as he should have been—leading to his double appearance as both star and bit-player.
    Of course, all of this is speculation. Take it with an entire bag of salt (“Oops, spilled it… now you must pay the penalty!”)

  • Jay Pennington

    Well, that drawing of a Hare-um Scare-um rabbit labeled “‘Bugs’ Bunny” will certainly fire up the old debate about where to draw the line between the rabbits leading up to Bugs and Bugs himself!

    If THIS rabbit is Bugs, then certainly the Elmer’s Candid Camera rabbit is, too. (Just something I’ve always maintained but can never get anyone to agree with. ;) )

  • Kevin MArtinez

    This is one of the most unintentionally funny pieces of Warner’s histroy I’ve ever seen.

    The wildly off-model art, the incidental characters, it’s all quaint and knee-slappig.

  • OMG. That photo of “Elmer” is the ultimate segway between Egghead and Elmer. Good Lord.

  • Great off-model images, the Elmer/Egghead hybrid being the oddest of ’em.

  • Elmer’s looking like this isn’t honestly that surprising. As clarified by Barrier (Hollywood Cartoons, pgs. 357-358), the toupeed, wide-eyed Egghead of DAFFY DUCK AND EGGHEAD, COUNT ME OUT and others actually coexisted with squinty, bald, derby-hatted Elmer, introduced in LITTLE RED WALKING HOOD and named on the lobby card for ISLE OF PINGO PONGO. Schlesinger publicity actually stated that Egghead and Elmer were brothers.
    Essentially, Egghead disappeared in fairly short order while Elmer, as a separate character, evolved into the Elmer we know—but he was named Elmer from near the start, in 1937.
    Decades later, Tex Avery evidently blurred Egghead and the original Elmer together in his mind; giving rise to the conventional wisdom that one evolved into the other, with the renaming coming after the physical transformation.
    Regardless of popular opinion, it ain’t necessarily so. There’s actually a fair amount of 1938-39 publicity material and early merchandise showing the original Elmer as Elmer.

  • Thomas

    “he wildly off-model art, the incidental characters, it’s all quaint and knee-slappig.”

    How is it off model if it is the original? Everything else after it would be off model wouldn’t it?
    I love how Bugs is an incidental character. And Daffy is fat. Ha.

  • Keith Paynter

    ‘Porky In Costume’. That’s rich…

    Gotta love Daffy’s off-model hair-(feather?)-style…

    Could this be the missing link between The original Hardaway “Bugs’ ” Bunny and the official “Bugs” Bunny? All it takes is a mis-read by the staffer who redrew from the model sheet…

  • Absolutely charming! I hope there are plans to make reproductions of this book.

    Elmer looks like W.C. Field’s head plopped onto Charlie Chaplin’s body.

  • K.Borcz

    These are awesome! I’m glad someone found them. I really like the daffy duck model sheet.

  • Even Sniffles is WAAAAAAAY off model.

    Ironically the incidental character images look like they came from production art & look as they did onscreen.

  • Chuck R.

    I don’t get all these comments about characters being off-model. Off what model? My understanding of early WB characters was that there was no formally established correct way to draw them, and they varied a lot from director to director and film to film. Notice Sniffles appears as both a grey and brown mouse in the same packet.
    The same thing goes for MGM. Look at how radically Tom changes from picture to picture.

    Thanks, David for sharing your observations!

  • Earl K

    I’m not contradicting you, David, but I think the real blurring of Egghead and Elmer happens in “A Feud There Was”, where Egghead’s scooter reads, “Elmer Fudd, Peacemaker”. That certainly leads one to believe that one character was morphing into the other.

  • Chuck R, Sniffles NEVER looked like this drawing in any of his cartoon shorts or on Bob Givens’ model sheets.

  • What an awesome find. I kinda hope that Warner Bros. will ask Mr. Van Eaton to scan these before he sells each of them off, as they would make a pretty cool slideshow on a future “Golden Collection.”

  • Woah… is that the only image of Gabby Goat in color (outside of poorly recolored cartoons)? I swear, they could’a made a star outta him…

  • J Lee

    They’re off-model in the same way a number of the lobby cards are off-model up through about the 1947 release season. Sometimes, some of the better artists were assigned to those cards, and the results were impressive, while other times, they look like the precursors for the cover art for today’s PD collections of cartoons. Same here — some of the images aren’t bad, others…

  • Russell H

    Given the rather “painterly” renderings of some of these, particularly those of Porky and Petunia “in costume,” I would agree with the theory that this book was in part for merchandisers–those poses look like the style of “children’s art” seen on kids’ dishes and cups and glasses at the time. It would be great if some WB merchandise collector could in fact turn up something with these designs on them.

  • I think people consider these images off model because they all seem to drawn by Charlie Thorson. He drew everything with child-like round forms. It works fine with Porky, Petunia, and even Gabby but not so much with Daffy.

    Regardless, it is an priceless find. Do NOT lose this in a fire.

  • Only Mr. Dave Gerstein would consider the common falsehood of Egghead morphing into Elmer Fudd an affront on animation history.

    FTR – “Confederate Honey” was originally slated as an “black-haired Egghead” short. It was started by Hardaway/Dalton, and taken over by Friz Freleng, who I guess decided to use the new Arthur Q. Bryan version instead. And incidentally, that was the only time ever Friz had Rod Scribner animate for him!

  • Affront, Thad? Dave isn’t feeling that heavy on the hyper-enthusiastic drama, today.

    But Earl K, while remaining fully calm, (-: I’ll point out that I don’t consider A FEUD THERE WAS to be a blurring of Egghead and Elmer at all, because it doesn’t feature Egghead; it features the squinty-eyed, bowler-hatted character who was called Elmer even several cartoons before that, contemporary with other cartoons featuring Egghead.

    Essentially, Egghead = wide eyes with reflective irises. Early Elmer = squinty eyes and bowler hat.

  • Prof. Widebottom

    Someone should do a follow-up biography on whatever happened to the “incidental characters”. Did they retire early? Did they get disenchanted with Hollywood and hightail it back to Hoboken broke and obscure?

    I heard Gabby Goat became an opium addict but that was just a rumor.

  • Jim Engel

    Gotta agree w/ Mr. Fiala and David Gerstein—the most interesting thing about it is the 1939 Bugs Bunny.

    And Jay Pennington, I’d happily agree with you–I believe (and always have) that the rabbit in ELMER’S CANDID CAMERA certainly IS Bugs Bunny. A WILD HARE may be the first cartoon with a more “final” Bugs, but it’s not the first Bugs Bunny cartoon.

  • Well, it’s really the same thing like with John Wayne. He was around, starring in various films, but he wasn’t the John Wayne until Ford directed him in Stagecoach.

  • Sgt King

    Beautiful!! Thank you Jerry for sharing. Very interesting feedback folks. And the comment that suggests this become part of a future Golden Collection is a fantastic idea. Hopefully some person with tons of wisdom (with initials JB!) could actually make it happen!!

    This collection is a true buried treasure find and makes me wonder what else is out there to be found . . . . maybe even those missing Willie Whoppers!

  • Kevin Martinez

    FWIW, Don Markenstein’s Toonopedia article on Egghead has a great look at the Elmer/Egghead coexistance thing and that is where I first learned about it. I’m assuming the bulk of his article was based on Barrier’s writings.

  • Jim Engel

    So, Thad—is Jasper not Tom? Is Dippy Dawg not Goofy? Are Jones’ later Bugs & Daffy NOT Bugs & Daffy? They certainly don’t look or act like the ’40s Bugs & Daffy (which for me are “THE” Bugs & Daffy).

  • Um, Jim, I didn’t state that they weren’t.

  • Mike

    What cartoon was Blackie in?
    I always kind of liked Gabby–wish they had done more with him.

  • These are great. I love them for their cuteness and the vividness of the poses, even though they’re not doing much.

    I don’t like thinking of something as “off-model,” as much as being an “interpretation.” Do all versions of a song, for instance, have to sound exactly the same?

  • Greg Lee

    Has anyone considered the fact that it’s essentially an act of vandalism for this book to be torn to bits? How would you feel if someone were to rip apart the panels of a multi-part painting, or dismember the pages of an illuminated manuscript? What seems to be a unique piece of animation history has been desecrated. This is shameful.

  • Rhys

    That sure is a different Sniffles than the one I was used to.

  • I believe this entire book was created by Charlie Thorson. Looks like his work. I had never seen the book in it’s entirety until posted on brew but a page or two DOES appear in print in Friz Freleng’s book. It’s an amazing piece, I’d love to see the original works. I had heard it was being shopped around for $20K but I don’t think a buyer could be found, so the pages were seperated and sold for $5K a pop. I’ll echo sentiments that it’s a shame the book was picked apart where it can’t be appreciated in context.