Porky Pig by Fritz Freleng
Model sheet for Porky Pig, 1936, designed by Friz 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 (1935), Yosemite Sam (1945), Sylvester the Cat (1945), Rocky and Mugsy (1946/1954) and Granny (1950). 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). 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. 

Early life and career
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. During this period 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.

Warner Brothers (first period, 1930-1937)
In 1930, Friz Freleng 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 than 'Bosko'. So Freleng returned to Harman-Ising, where he moved up the ladder as a director. 

Porky Pig
In 1935, Freleng created Warners' first real cartoon star, Porky Pig, who debuted 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. From this viewpoint, Freleng was partially responsible for launching Blanc's glorious career at Warners.

MGM (1937-1939)
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 his 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 correctly predicted would never become a hit.

Warner Brothers (second period, 1939-1962)
In 1939, Freleng returned to Warner Brothers' animation studio, where he would stay until the studio closed down in 1962. He was their second-longest employed animator, after Bob McKimson, who had a longer and completely uninterrupted run. Yet Freleng does hold the record as Warners' longest-employed animation director. From 1935 until 1962, with a brief interval between 1937 and 1939, he kept this top position. 

Back at Warners from 1939 on, the cartoon studio had drastically changed. Since 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
Still from 'Birds Anonymous'.

Friz Freleng's studio at Warner Brothers
Among the people who once worked in Freleng's animation unit were Dick BickenbachJack Bradbury, Pete Burness, Jack Carr, Ken Champin, Gerry Chiniquy, Arthur Davis, Owen Fitzgerald, Warren Foster, Bugs Hardaway, Ken Harris, Emery Hawkins, Lee Holley, Willie Ito, Bob Matz, Manuel Perez, Hawley Pratt, Tom Ray, Virgil Ross, Paul J. Smith, Riley ThomsonGil Turner and Irv Wyner. 

Bugs Bunny & Daffy Duck
Like all directors at Warners, Freleng made numerous cartoons starring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Bugs' famous line after tunneling to the wrong place: 'I knew I should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque!' originated in Freleng's cartoon 'Herr Meets Hare' (1945). The same cartoon has Bugs disguise himself as Brunnhilda to fool Nazi politician Hermann Göring, a gag later reused by Chuck Jones in 'What's Opera, Doc?', but with Elmer Fudd. Freleng also animated Bugs' cameo in David Butler's live-action film 'Two Guys from Texas' (1948). 

War-time propaganda cartoons
In 1941 the United States entered World War II. Together with fellow directors Bob Clampett, Osmond Evans, Hugh Harman, Chuck Jones, Zack Schwartz and Frank Tashlin, Freleng directed various military instruction cartoons only intended for private audiences of Allied Soldiers, namely the 'Private Snafu’ cartoons. Since they were exclusively intended for young soldiers the cartoons were allowed to be a bit more risqué in their language and sexual allusions. Future celebrities who worked on these cartoons were P.D. Eastman, Munro Leaf, Dr. Seuss (writing) and Hank Ketcham (animation). 

Freleng also directed several war-time propaganda cartoons for mainstream audiences in which Bugs or Daffy outwit Nazis or Japanese soldiers. In 'Daffy - The Commando' (1943), Daffy Duck fools a Gestapo officer and his short-sized assistant. In the final scene the duck famously hits Adolf Hitler over the head with a mallet. In 'Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips' (1944), Bugs strands on a tropical island which turns out to be occupied by Japanese soldiers. He manages to fool them (one time by dressing up like Hideki Tojo) and eventually kills everybody off with hand grenades disguised as ice cream cones. In 'Herr Meets Hare' (1945), Bugs outwits Hermann Göring and later scares him and Hitler off by dressing up like Joseph Stalin. 

Yosemite Sam
Freleng additionally created new characters, such as the aggressive cowboy Yosemite Sam (1945), who first yelled and fired his revolvers in 'Hare Trigger' (1945). Freleng felt that the brainless Elmer Fudd was too stupid and pathetic to be a genuine threat to Bugs. In his opinion, Sam was a more worthy (but not much brighter) opponent. The moustached dwarf was partially based on Freleng himself, who was also rather short and suffered from temper problems. But Yosemite Sam was also inspired by Terrible-Tempered Mr. Bang from Fontaine Fox' comic strip 'Toonerville Folks'. Yosemite Sam often turned up in 'Looney Tunes' comic books too, but as a mere antagonist. Between 1970 and 1984, Gold Key Comics gave him his own title series, 'Yosemite Sam and Bugs Bunny'. 

Tweety & Sylvester
In 1942, Bob Clampett created Tweety the baby bird in 'A Tale of Two Kitties' (1942), which also introduced the character's famous catchphrase: "I thought I saw a puddycat? I did! I did see a pussycat!" (like many Looney Tunes characters spoken with a speech impediment). Tweety was originally very mischievous and able to defend himself against hungry cats. The character was also featherless. Clampett used him in two more cartoons, 'Birdy and the Beast' (1944) and 'A Gruesome Twosome' (1945), before leaving Warners in 1946. Meanwhile, Freleng had created a lisping black cat called Sylvester who debuted in 'Life with Feathers' (1945), which also introduced his catchphrase: "Sufferin' Succotash!".

Freleng teamed the cat and canary up in 'Tweety Pie' (1947). He gave Tweety a more passive personality and yellow feathers, because censors felt the bird looked "too naked". Like Clampett once said: "Nobody ever seemed to notice that Porky Pig wore no pants." The cartoon was an instant hit and won Warners (and Freleng) their first Oscar for Best Animated Short. Freleng turned 'Tweety and Sylvester' into one of Warners' most beloved and longest-running series. Originally the cat had no name, until he was called Sylvester in Chuck Jones' 'Scaredy Cat' (1948). In 1950 the cast received a third main character: Tweety's owner Granny. The feisty old lady was also designed by Freleng.

'Tweety & Sylvester' was so popular that the characters' voice actor Mel Blanc recorded a novelty hit, 'I Tawt I Taw A Puddy Tat' (1952). Freleng animated Bugs and Tweety's cameos in the live-action film 'My Dream Is Yours' (1949) starring Doris Day. The characters also received their own comic book series, as part of Dell Comics' Four Color series, later published by Gold Key Comics. Some of the artists who drew these comics were Jack AldermanLarry AntonetteGene Fawcette, Lee HolleyLee HooperLynn Karp and Bill Williams. In later decades, artists like Anna Maria FalcettiMassimo FecchiIvo MilazzoAngelo Scariolo and Maria Luisa Uggetti drew 'Tweety & Sylvester' comics for the Italian-French market. 

Rocky and Mugsy
Just like Tweety and Sylvester weren't a duo from the start, Freleng's bumbling gangsters Rocky and Mugsy were also created separately. Rocky, the tiny gangster boss with the comically large hat, debuted in 'Racketeer Rabbit' (1946). His voice was modelled after gangster actor Edward G. Robinson. Rocky's dumb and tall sidekick Mugsy made his first appearance in 'Bugs and Thugs' (1954). They became an antagonist duo, always facing off against Bugs.

Speedy Gonzales
Freleng also redesigned Speedy Gonzales, the supe rfast Mexican mouse, created in 1954 by Bob McKimson. He gave him a more appealing look, and launched a popular series around him from 1955 on.

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, Freleng 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).

The most famous and celebrated Freleng cartoon is the Oscar-winning 'Birds Anonymous', in which Sylvester tries to quit eating birds until he reaches an emotional breakdown, parodying the Alcoholics Anonymous program. Particularly Mel Blanc's acting in this cartoon has been highly praised. The Oscar was originally in possession of Looney Tunes producer Eddie Seltzer, but after his death it was given to Blanc. 

Bugs Bunny & Yosemite Sam
Bugs Bunny & Yosemite Sam in 'Bugs Bunny Rides Again' (1948). 

The Pink Panther
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' live-action comedy film '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. 

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, 'The Pink Phink' (1964), instantly won an Oscar, while another short, 'The Pink Blueprint' (1966), was also nominated but lost. Dale Hale was a gag writer and Ken Landau an animator for 'The Pink Panther' cartoons, while Richard Williams directed several of the opening credits for the 'Pink Panther' films. 

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 received his own TV show, 'The Pink Panther Show' (1969-1970), which ran uninterruptedly until 1980 under a variety of 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 and could benefit financially. 

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

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 in advertising 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 additionally inspired a few video games.

The Pink Panther Comics
Naturally The Pink Panther starred 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 'Pink Panther' comic books have been Carlos Avalone, Ton BeekMilan Bukovac, Phil De Lara, Sandro Dossi, Guy Gilchrist, Frank HillVic LockmanPrimaggio MantoviJohn McLuskyJoe Messerli, Jorge Pacheco, Dusan ReljicAndré Roche  and Warren TuftsEric and Bill Teitelbaum made a newspaper strip with the character for Tribune Media Services between 29 May 2005 and 10 May 2009.

Title card for the Pink Panther cartoons.

Other animation projects
DePatie-Freleng also worked on other animation projects, such as 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 additionally 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 more 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 reunited 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, more censorship and less inspiration than during their heydays. Other people who once worked for DePatie-Freleng were Pete Alvarado, Owen Fitzgerald, Alex LovyNick Meglin, Cliff Roberts and Don R. Christensen


Of all Looney Tunes directors, Freleng was the most often nominated for Academy Awards for Best Short. 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 Guadalupe' (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). This consequently makes him the Warners animator with the most Oscars on his name. In 1974, he won a Winsor McCay Award and in 1992 Freleng received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. Two years later, he won the first Lifetime Achievement in Excellence of Animation Award, nowadays called the "Friz Award". 

Final years and death
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, Yosemite Sam and Speedy Gonzales, had a cameo in Robert Zemeckis and Richard Williams' film 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?' (1988). Friz Freleng passed away in 1995 at the age of 88.

Legacy and influence
Freleng's name lives on in the annual Friz Award for animated cartoons. His timeless 'Looney Tunes' and 'Pink Panther' classics remain beloved among young and old on a global scale. The mob boss in Hanna-Barbera's 'Ant Hill Mob' from 'Wacky Races' was modelled after Rocky the gangster from Freleng's cartoons, down to his tiny size, large hat and Edward G. Robinson voice. Rocky and Mugsy also inspired Nathan and Mimsy in Trey Parker & Matt Stone's 'South Park'. Leo Baxendale's comic strip 'Kat and Kanary' was obviously inspired by 'Tweety & Sylvester', while André Franquin once revealed that he slightly based the design of Gaston Lagaffe's cat on Sylvester. Both 'Simpsons' creator Matt Groening and sadomasochistic performance artist Bob Flanagan were emotionally scarred as a child by Freleng's cartoon 'Pigs is Pigs' (1937), in which Porky is force-fed until he explodes. Groening paid tribute to this short in the 'Treehouse of Horror IV' segment 'The Devil and Homer Simpson' (1993), where Homer is force-fed in Hell. Flanagan interpreted Porky's torture sequence as a sexual metaphor, with Porky's explosion as "the orgasm". Freleng's 'Pink Panther' cartoons inspired Ajit Ninan's 'Detectve Moochhwala'. 

Drawing by Friz Freleng
Bugs Bunny and the Pink Panther argueing, by Friz Freleng, 1974.

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