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Updated on April 25, 2016
John Lavernoich profile image

JOHN LAVERNOICH is the author of six published books, as well as a significant number of published short stories and articles.

Foghorn Leghorn humming "Camptown Races" from some of his early on-screen appearances.

When Foghorn Leghorn debuted in Warner Bros. animation director Robert McKimson's Walky Talky Hawky (1946), he wasn't meant to be the lead character -- and yet, the rooster with a penchant for mischief (not to mention singing "Camptown Races") would end up becoming one of the Warners animation studio's breakout cartoon stars in the post-World War II era, and whose popularity endures even today.

In 1942 -- three years before Robert McKimson became a Warners animation director -- Chuck Jones introduced Henery Hawk in The Squawkin' Hawk, which focused on the small, yet determined chicken hawk with a jumbo-sized hunger for all things poultry. The animated cartoon was one of many that Jones directed during World War II in which he broke away from the Disney-like stories (including those starring Sniffles the mouse) that marked the first few years of his directing career, and headed towards the plot-and-character driven cartoon shorts that would cement his popularity and reputation for decades to come (while not forgetting what he learned from his fellow Warners animation directors, including Tex Avery and Friz Freleng).

Henery Hawk's next appearance would come in the aforementioned Walky Talky Hawky in 1946 -- by that time, the Warners animation studio was already experiencing a number of important changes, including Edward Selzer inheriting the producing chores from the already-retired Leon Schlesinger, and Frank Tashlin and Bob Clampett quitting as studio animation directors, and being replaced by, respectively, Robert McKimson and Arthur Davis. McKimson's Walky Talky Hawky, which won an Academy Award nomination, was supposed to be a starring vehicle for Henery -- but it was Foghorn Leghorn who would steal the show and become a major star character, while reducing Henery to that of a supporting character and foil (though he did manage to outsmart Foghorn at the end at several cartoons). There's little doubt that Kenny Delmar's portrayal of Southern politician Beauregard Claghorn on Fred Allen's popular radio program played a key factor in Foghorn Leghorn's creation and personality -- which accounted for the character's speech pattern, courtesy of longtime Warners voice artist Mel Blanc. Yet, according to film critic and historian Leonard Maltin in his book Of Mice & Magic (New American, 1987), Robert McKimson also found inspiration in The Sheriff, a recurring character on Blue Monday Jamboree, a 1930's radio program heard exclusively on the American West Coast -- and whose voice was similar to another Warners cartoon character who debuted almost a year before Foghorn Leghorn: Yosemite Sam.

A collection of confrontations between Foghorn Leghorn and Barnyard Dawg.

Walky Talky Hawky also introduced another supporting character who would be an indispensable part of many of the Foghorn Leghorn cartoon shorts: Barnyard Dawg, the gruff-sounding dog who would become the target of Foghorn's teasing and pranks -- though Barnyard Dawg could dish it out, much to the rooster's chagrin. Barnyard Dawg also appeared in a number of Warners animated shorts directed by Robert McKimson from the 1940's to 1960's that didn't involve Foghorn -- including Daffy Duck Hunt (1948), in which he was Porky Pig's hunting dog, and both were outsmarted by Daffy Duck.

Later Foghorn Leghorn cartoons spotlighted other supporting characters like Miss Prissy, the spinster hen who had eyes for Foghorn (even though her first on-screen appearance was in the 1950 Porky Pig cartoon An Egg Scramble -- Miss Prissy's first encounter with Foghorn would come in Lovelorn Leghorn [1951]); her silent son, Egghead, Jr., who'd rather study than act like a regular boy interested in sports and other fun activities; and an unnamed weasel, who like Henery Hawk, had a jumbo hunger for poultry. Foghorn even encountered other Warners cartoon characters in several shorts -- most notably, Daffy Duck in The High & The Flighty (1956), in which the black duck sells practical joke items to both Foghorn and Barnyard Dawg.

Foghorn Leghorn's last Warners cartoon as the main character during the 1960's came in Banty Raids (1963) -- his final on-screen appearance during that same decade would be a cameo appearance in False Hare (1964), the last Bugs Bunny cartoon short for the next twenty-five years, as well as the next-to-last animated short produced by the original Warners animation studio before shutting down (though the studio would resume releasing animated shorts only a few months after that), and the last time that director Robert McKimson would ever work on Foghorn Leghorn. (McKimson died in late-September 1977 -- at the same time that a new generation of audiences were discovering and appreciating the classic Warners animated shorts, including those starring Foghorn Leghorn, which have aired on TV since the late-1950's, and later on home video and the Internet.)

The "Chicken Hawk" song with Foghorn Leghorn and Henery Hawk from THE LOONEY TUNES SHOW.

Since Robert McKimson's death, Foghorn Leghorn has made appearances in not only numerous animated TV shows and specials, but also theatrical feature films and animated shorts featuring the classic Warner Bros. cartoon characters -- including Superior Duck (1996) and Pullet Surprise (1997), in which Foghorn was voiced by the late Frank Gorshin, one of the many actors who've voiced the character since Mel Blanc's death in mid-July 1989. And like his fellow Looney Tunes colleagues, Foghorn Leghorn has appeared in a number of TV commercials over the past fifty-plus years, including several for -- ironically enough -- Kentucky Fried Chicken. (At least the KFC TV commercials were somewhat better than the GEICO commercial that Foghorn appeared in a few years ago -- which should tell you something about the current sorry state of TV commercials in general.)

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