Porky Pig by Fritz Freleng

Isadore ('Friz') Freleng, the leading director of 'Looney Tunes' and 'Merry Melodies' cartoons, grew up 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. 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. Three years later, he moved his way up on the ladder as a director and created Warners' first real cartoon star, Porky Pig, who made his debut in Freleng's 'I Haven't Got a Hat' (1935). In 1937, Freleng moved to MGM, seduced by a higher salary. He returned to Warners in 1939, where he continued to work alongside Tex AveryChuck JonesBob ClampettFrank Tashlin and Bob McKimson. Together, they transformed 'Looney Tunes' in the funniest, most popular and influential cartoon series of the 1940s and 1950s.

Birds Anonymous
From: Birds Anonymous

During World War II, Freleng directed some well known anti-Nazi propaganda cartoons, like 'Daffy - The Commando' (1943), 'Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips' (1944) and 'Herr Meets Hare' (1945). 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) and the lisping cat Sylvester (1945). 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 long-running series. He was also responsible for turning Bob McKimson's superfast Mexican mouse Speedy Gonzales into a hit. 

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). He also received more Academy Awards than any other Looney Tunes director; namely five. He won four for 'Tweety Pie' (1947), 'Speedy Gonzales' (1955), 'Birds Anonymous' (1957) and 'Knighty Knight Bugs' (1958). The other went to the first Pink Panther cartoon: 'The Pink Phink' (1965).

Bugs Bunny & Yosemite Sam
Bugs Bunny & Yosemite Sam

By the time Freleng left Warners in 1962, he was the only animator left who had worked there since its foundation. 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. The character made his debut in the opening credits of Blake Edwards' film comedy 'The Pink Panther' (1963). He would star in the title sequence of all sequels to the franchise. The Pink Panther was the last iconic cartoon character to make his debut in theatrical shorts. These cartoons became equally popular when broadcast on television. The company also created the advertising character 'Chester Cheetah' for Frito-Lay crisps and animated the opening sequence of the TV sitcom 'I Dream of Jeannie' (1965-1970). In 1980, DePatie-Freleng was sold to Marvel Comics, who renamed it Marvel Productions. Freleng died on 26 May 1995 in Los Angeles, California.

Drawing by Friz Freleng

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