Porky Pig by Fritz Freleng

Friz Freleng was an American animation director, most famous as one of the legends who worked for Warner Brothers' 'Looney Tunes' series. He was one of the oldest employees of the studio and therefore the most productive. Like all directors at Warners he made many cartoons starring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig. He was the creator of Porky Pig, Yosemite Sam, Rocky and Mugsy, Granny and Sylvester the cat. His signature series were 'Tweety and Sylvester' (1947) and 'Speedy Gonzales' (1955), though both Tweety and Speedy weren't his own creations. Outside his career for Warners, Freleng was also co-founder of the animation studio DePatie-Freleng and co-creator of their most famous cartoon star The Pink Panther (1964). Friz Freleng's cartoons are renowned for their perfect comedic timing and strong emphasis on musical atmosphere. Of all animation directors at Warners his films won the most awards and nominations. 

Isadore Freleng, nicknamed "Friz", was born in 1906 in Kansas City, Missouri. While a student at Westport High School from 1919 to 1923 he published his first cartoons in the local college newspaper. After graduation Freleng worked as a visitor's guide at Armour & Co. He left for Hollywood in 1927 to join the Kansas City Film Ad Company, where some of his colleagues were Walt Disney, Ub Iwerks, Hugh Harman and his brother Fred Harman. It was during this period that Freleng received the nickname "Friz", a reference to an illustrated column in The Los Angeles Examiner which featured a fictional congressman whom many felt resembled him. Freleng briefly worked for Disney on his 'Oswald the Lucky Rabbit' series.

Cartoon by Friz Freleng
Cartoon for the Westport Crier newspaper of 13 March 1923.
© Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri

In 1930 he became an animator for Warner Brothers' new cartoon department, headed by Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising. He worked on the unsuccesful 'Bosko' series for a while and eventually tried out his luck at another animation studio: Charles Mintz. Mintz adapted George Herriman's newspaper comic 'Krazy Kat' into an animated series, but with even less success as 'Bosko'. So Freleng returned to Harman-Ising, where he moved his way up on the ladder as a director. In 1935 he created Warners' first real cartoon star, Porky Pig, who made his debut in Freleng's 'I Haven't Got A Hat' (1935). Freleng gave Porky a stammering problem to make him stand out. This would be the first speech impediment given to a Warners cartoon character and many more would follow. At first Porky's stammering was provided by a real stutterer, but he couldn't control his voice very well. Therefore a non-stutterer was brought in: Mel Blanc. Blanc gave such an excellent performance that he was instantly hired. Over the course of decades he would voice nearly all the Looney Tunes characters. So in a way Freleng made Blanc's glorious long career possible. 

Freleng was also indirectly responsible for Chuck Jones' promotion as a director at Warners. Between 1937 and 1939 Freleng left Warners, which led to a reorganisation of the cartoon studio. Cal Dalton and Bugs Hardaway took over Freleng's unit, while Jones received his own director's unit at the same time. For two years Freleng worked at MGM, where his salary was much higher. Unfortunately the work there wasn't as fun. He was forced to work on an animated adaptation of Harold Knerr's comic strip 'The Captain and the Kids', which he predicted would never become a hit. His prophecy rang true and in 1939 he returned to Warners, where he would stay until the studio closed down in 1963. Freleng was the second-longest employed animator at their cartoon studio. Only Bob McKimson had a longer and completely uninterrupted run. 

When Freleng came back Warners animation studio has drastically changed. In 1935-1936 three talented animators had joined the company and were soon promoted to directors: Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones and Tex Avery. Avery completely changed their style. He moved away from the dominant sentimental Disney influence and created hilarious cartoons with sarcastic and outrageous gags which often broke the fourth wall. He created zanier characters like 'Daffy Duck' (1937) and 'Bugs Bunny' (1940), which soon became their new stars. His influence on other directors at Warners was electrifying. Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, Frank Tashlin, Arthur Davis, Norm McCabe and later Bob McKimson would soon be outdoing themselves in trying to top Avery. Together, they transformed 'Looney Tunes' in the funniest, most popular and influential cartoon series of the 1940s and 1950s.

Birds Anonymous
From: Birds Anonymous

Of all directors at Warners Freleng had the longest career. He was director since 1935 and kept this position until the very end while his colleagues, apart from Chuck Jones and Bob McKimson, would mostly leave Warners after 1945. Among the people who once worked in Freleng's animation unit were Pete Burness, Jack Bradbury, Jack Carr, Ken Champin, Gerry Chiniquy, Arthur Davis, Warren Foster, Ken Harris, Emery Hawkins, Lee Holley, Bob Matz, Manuel Perez, Hawley Pratt, Tom Ray, Virgil Ross and Gil Turner. Like all directors at Warners, Freleng made numerous cartoons starring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. He also created new characters, such as the aggressive cowboy Yosemite Sam (1945), the lisping cat Sylvester (1945) and the gangster duo Rocky (1946) and Mugsy (1954). Yosemite Sam was partially based on Terrible-Tempered Mr. Bang from Fontaine Fox' comic strip 'Toonerville Folks'. Freleng got the idea to team Sylvester up with the little canary Tweety, a character created by Bob Clampett. Their first cartoon as a duo debuted in 1947 and became one of Warners' most beloved and longest-running series. In 1950 Freleng also created Tweety's owner, Granny. André Franquin once revealed that he slightly based the design of Gaston Lagaffe's cat on Sylvester. Freleng furthermore redesigned Speedy Gonzales, a character created by Bob McKimson in 1954, and created a popular series around him from 1955 on. Freleng also animated the cameos of Bugs Bunny and Tweety in the Doris Day musical 'My Dream Is Yours' (1949) by Michael Curtiz.


Animation art from the 1955 short Sahara Hare, recreated into comic strip format for a limited print series of 500 pieces (1993)

Freleng was a master in comedic timing, juxtaposing fast, frenetic action with moments of sheer calmness. As an educated violinist, he was able to read musical sheets. This enabled him to time gags to the beat of the soundtrack. Naturally he enjoyed making music-themed cartoons, such as 'Rhapsody in Rivets' (1941), 'Pigs in a Polka' (1943), 'Rhapsody Rabbit' (1946) and 'The Three Little Bops' (1957). With over 266 cartoons attached to his name he was the most productive director at Warners. Several have become classics, including: 'Pigs is Pigs' (1937), 'You Ought To Be In Pictures' (1940), 'Rhapsody in Rivets' (1941), 'The Trial of Mr. Wolf' (1941), 'Pigs in a Polka' (1943), 'Daffy - The Commando' (1943), 'Little Red Riding Rabbit' (1944), 'Baseball Bugs' (1946), 'Rhapsody Rabbit' (1946), 'High Diving Hare' (1949), 'Canned Feud' (1950), 'Birds Anonymous' (1957), 'The Three Little Bops' (1957), 'Show Biz Bugs' (1957) and 'From Hare to Heir' (1960). 

Bugs Bunny & Yosemite Sam
Bugs Bunny & Yosemite Sam

Of all Looney Tunes directors Freleng was the most often nominated for Academy Awards for Best Short and won more Oscars than his colleagues. He was nominated but lost for 'Hiawatha's Rabbit Hunt' (1941), 'Rhapsody in Rivets' (1941), 'Pigs in a Polka' (1943), 'Greetings Bait' (1943), 'Life with Feathers' (1945), 'Sandy Claws' (1955), 'Mouse and Garden' (1960), 'The Pied Piper of Guadupe' (1961) and the Pink Panther cartoon 'The Pink Blueprint' (1966), shared with co-director Hawley Pratt. Yet he won Oscars for 'Tweety Pie' (1947), 'Speedy Gonzales' (1955), 'Birds Anonymous' (1957) and 'Knighty Knight Bugs' (1958). His other Oscar went to the first Pink Panther cartoon: 'The Pink Phink' (1965). 

In 1962 Freleng left Warners after more than 35 years of service. He briefly joined Hanna-Barbera, where he directed some episodes of 'Yogi Bear'. In 1963, he and David DePatie founded DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, a company most famous for the creation of the 'Pink Panther' cartoons. This character, created by Freleng and Hawley Pratt, made his debut in the opening credits of Blake Edwards' film comedy 'The Pink Panther' (1963) starring Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau. The picture was a box office hit and over the decades various sequels would come out, usually when Sellers and Edwards needed the money. It became a tradition to start off every new 'Pink Panther' film with cartoon opening credits starring the panther. 

The Pink Panther
'Pink Panther' animation art, reworked into comic strip format for a limited edition print of 750 pieces (1992)

In 1964 DePatie-Freleng developed 'The Pink Panther' into a spin-off animated series. The feline received a nemesis, The Little Man. This moustached dwarf with a big nose was a caricature of Freleng. The first cartoon in the series, 'The Pink Phink' (1964), instantly won an Oscar, while another short, 'The Pink Blueprint' (1966), was also nominated but lost. The Pink Panther soon became globally popular. Since his cartoons rarely used dialogue they destroyed all language barriers, much like Hanna-Barbera's 'Tom & Jerry'. The pink feline was the last iconic cartoon character to debut in theatrical shorts, as most animated shorts during the 1960s were already made directly for television. He too received his own TV show, 'The Pink Panther Show' (1969-1970), which would run uninterruptedly until 1980 under a variety of other titles. The shows also featured new cartoon series, such as 'Roland and Ratfink' (1968-1971), 'The Ant and the Aardvark' (1969-1971), 'Tijuana Toads' (1969-1972), 'The Blue Racer' (1972-1974), 'Hoot Kloot' (1973-1974), 'The Dogfather' (1974-1976), 'Misterjaw' (1976) and  'Crazylegs Crane' (1978). Apart from 'The Ant and the Aardvark' none were ever quite as popular as The Pink Panther. The studio also tried to create an animated spin-off around Inspector Clouseau named 'The Inspector' (1965-1969), but this too never quite caught on. Freleng always liked the Pink Panther the best of all characters he created. Contrary to the Looney Tunes characters he actually owned the rights to him and could benefit financially. 


Title card for the Pink Panther cartoons

DePatie-Freleng also worked on other animation projects. They animated certain sequences in 'My World and Welcome to It' (1969-1970), a show based on James Thurber's cartoons. The studio was also responsible for the animated opening credits of the TV sitcom 'I Dream of Jeannie' (1965-1970), the western series 'The Wild Wild West' (1965-1969), the film 'The Great Race' (1965) and the light saber effects in 'Star Wars' (1977). DePatie-Freleng furthermore created various TV specials based on short stories by Dr. Seuss, such as 'The Cat in the Hat' (1971) and 'The Lorax' (1972). They co-produced the seventh, ninth and thirteenth episode of the animated series 'Dr. Snuggles' (1980) and various other forgettable animated TV series. Naturally they produced animated TV commercials too, of which 'Charlie the Tuna' was the most well known. Throughout the late 1960s and 1970s DePatie-Freleng practically re-established nearly all of Warner Brothers' former animation staff. This made it possible to create new cartoons with all the familiar Looney Tunes stars, though with smaller budgets and less inspiration than during their heydays. Other people who once worked for DePatie-Freleng were Nick Meglin, Pete Alvarado, Owen Fitzgerald, Alex Lovy and Don R. Christensen

In 1981 DePatie-Freleng was sold to Marvel Comics, who resold it to Saban Entertainment one decade later, becoming the property of The Walt Disney Company in 2001. Coincidentally Disney bought Marvel too in 2009. The pink feline returned with 'Pink Panther and Sons' (1984-1985), a Hanna-Barbera show which focused on the panther's young sons. MGM Television turned the previously mute character into a more talkative protagonist and introduced several side characters in 'The Pink Panther' (1993-1995). A follow-up, 'Pink Panther and Pals' (2010), failed to last longer than one season.

The Pink Panther has been popular as an advertising character too. He has been used to promote Sweet 'n' Low artificial sweetener, Owens Corning building insulation, pink cake, pink wafers and the New Zealand Child Cancer Foundation. He furthermore inspired a few video games and has naturally been featured in several comic book series. Between 1971 and 1984 Gold Key published a long-running series of 'Pink Panther' comics. Harvey Comics launched a short-lived comic book series in 1993, while original material has also been created for Semic in Sweden. Among the many artists who have worked on comic books with the 'Pink Panther' are Carlos AvaloneMilan Bukovac, Phil De LaraGuy Gilchrist, Frank Hill, Vic LockmanJoe Messerli, Jorge PachecoDusan Reljic and Warren Tufts. Eric and Bill Teitelbaum made a newspaper strip with the character for Tribune Media Services between 29 May 2005 and 10 May 2009.

After DePatie-Freleng was sold in 1980 Freleng remained active as animation producer until 1986. Like many classic cartoon stars all the Looney Tunes characters, including Porky, Sylvester and Yosemite Sam, had a cameo in the film 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?' (1988). In 1992 he received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. In 1994 Freleng received the first Lifetime Achievement in Excellence of Animation Award, which is nowadays named the "Friz Award". Friz Freleng passed away in 1995 at the age of 88. His timeless 'Looney Tunes' and 'Pink Panther' classics remain beloved among young and old on a global scale. 

Drawing by Friz Freleng

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