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The Looney Career of Daffy Duck

Updated on July 25, 2015
Daffy Duck in a scene from DAFFY DUCK & EGGHEAD (1938)
Daffy Duck in a scene from DAFFY DUCK & EGGHEAD (1938)

For almost a century, Daffy Duck, one of Warner Bros.' greatest animated cartoon characters, has entertained generations of fans, whether it be as a nutty fowl outsmarting hunters and other predators, or a greedy egotist and would-be hero whose actions usually end in disaster for him. As legendary animation director Chuck Jones -- a key player in Daffy's development as both character and icon -- once pointed out, he often wished that he'd be like Bugs Bunny, another of Warners' top cartoon characters, but feared that he'd end up like Daffy, based on his personality flaws, a fact that audiences can understand and relate to.

In the early-1930's, the early Warners animated shorts spotlighted characters like Bosko, Foxy, and Buddy, who would disappear within a few years and end up forgotten. In 1935, director Friz Freleng introduced Porky Pig in I Haven't Got A Hat -- within a year or two, Porky became Warners' first great cartoon superstar. In 1937, director Tex Avery introduced Daffy Duck in Porky's Duck Hunt, in which he bedevils Porky -- the cartoon was the first time that Mel Blanc would voice both Porky and Daffy, with Blanc basing Daffy's voice on Warners animation producer Leon Schelsinger (who, ironically enough, was unaware of that fact when he viewed the animated short); Porky's Duck Hunt helped to establish the Warners animation studio's brand of humor that continues to entertain audiences tonight, while inspiring today's animators and live action filmmakers. Avery would direct only two more cartoons starring Daffy, both from 1938 -- Daffy Duck & Egghead, featuring an early version of Elmer Fudd, and Daffy Duck In Hollywood -- before focusing his attention more on one-shot animated shorts.

Warners animation director Bob Clampett would pair Daffy with Porky in a number of Looney Tunes animated shorts during the late-1930's and early-to-mid-1940's, which displayed Daffy's overall craziness, helped immensely by Clampett's wild and elastic-like animation -- with Porky & Daffy (1938), in which the latter enters the boxing ring against a muscular rooster, being a prime example of the Warners animation studio at its best during the late-1930's.

One of the best Warners animated shorts from Hollywood's Golden Age which starred Daffy and Porky was and remains You Ought To Be In Pictures (1940), which skillfully combined live-action and animation, as Daffy tricks Porky into leaving the Warners animation studio to pursue feature film work -- while the former plots to replace the latter as the studio's top cartoon star, which he would eventually do. Sort of.

But 1940 was also the year in which Tex Avery's A Wild Hare was released, which introduced the fully-realized version of the Warners cartoon superstar who owed his success and popularity in part to both Daffy and Porky -- namely, Bugs Bunny. (Bugs, Porky, and Daffy would appear together for the first time in Frank Tashlin's animated short Porky Pig's Feat [1943], one of the last black-and-white Warners animated shorts.) By the time the United States entered World War II in late-1941, the cartoons starring Bugs and Daffy were in step with the times, as they entertained and inspired a generation facing the uncertainties of war. In several cartoons released during the 1940's, including Frank Tashlin's Plane Daffy (1944), Daffy and his wackiness were let loose on the Axis powers -- though these cartoons are rarely seen on TV today, since they were produced during World War II, they boosted the morale of the movie audiences who were supporting the Allied war effort during that time period. Daffy's success in animated cartoons shown in movie theaters at that time also paved the way for him and the other Warners cartoon stars to not only appear in various comic books (published by Dell and Gold Key from the 1940's to the 1980's -- and since the 1990's, DC Comics) and on various forms of merchandise geared towards both adults and children since the 1940's, but also various record (and later audio tape and CD) albums, including those released by Capitol Records during the 1940's and 1950's, which featured scripts written by longtime Warners cartoon writers Michael Maltese, Warren Foster, and Tedd Pierce.

By 1945, Leon Schelsinger retired as Warners animation producer, and Edward Selzer succeeded him -- which had a great impact on the animation studio and its efforts in the post-war years. In 1946, Warners released The Great Piggy Bank Robbery -- one of Bob Clampett's last animated shorts for the studio -- in which Daffy dreams that he's a Dick Tracy-like character facing an array of bizarre criminals no doubt inspired by those from the long-running newspaper comic strip; the cartoon would also foreshadow what lie ahead for Daffy over the next decade.

It was legendary animation director Chuck Jones -- whose first Daffy Duck cartoon for Warners was Daffy Duck & The Dinosaur (1939) -- who would make his greatest mark on the character and both establish and refine the personality traits associated with him that remain well-known today. You Were Never Duckier (1947) focused on Daffy's obsession with money as he tries to win a national poultry contest, but ends up encountering Henery Hawk. The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1949) was one of several cartoons directed by Jones during the late-1940's and 1950's in which Daffy's attempts to play an on-screen hero ends up in disaster (with Porky Pig playing the smarter-than-thou sidekick); another Daffy/Porky parody cartoon, Duck Dodgers In The 24-1/2 Century (1953), would not only inspire a 1980 animated short sequel (as part of the TV special Daffy Duck's Thanks-For-Giving Special), but also a 2003-05 animated TV series which aired on cable TV's Cartoon Network (which, like Warner Bros., is a Time Warner company). Jones also established the rivalry between Daffy and Bugs Bunny in the early-1950's, starting with Rabbit Fire (1950), one of a trio of shorts in which Daffy's attempts to trick Elmer Fudd into shooting Bugs ends in disaster for Daffy. And in Jones' Duck Amuck (1953) -- one of the greatest Warners animated shorts of all time -- Daffy becomes the victim of a somewhat merciless animator.

By the late-1950's, many of the classic Warners animated shorts from the first nineteen years -- including those starring Daffy -- were being shown on TV, and have been entertaining generations of audiences since. Daffy's appearances on The Bugs Bunny Show and The Porky Pig Show, which aired on ABC during much of the 1960's -- as well as numerous TV commercials -- would boost his visibility and popularity.

Ironically enough, it was television which played a major factor in Warners shutting down its animation studio in 1963 -- The Iceman Ducketh (1964), one of the last produced by the studio before it closed, was the last time that Daffy would appear on-screen with Bugs Bunny for the next fourteen years. When Warners started to release animated shorts from late-1964 to 1969 -- produced first by David H. DePatie and Friz Freleng, then by Bill Hendricks, many of them featured Daffy as the foil for Speedy Gonzales; the end result, however, was anything but successful. Daffy's last on-screen appearance (as well as that of Speedy) during the 1960's was See Ya Later Gladiator (1968), one of the last released by Warners during that decade.

In 1972, Daffy and other Warners cartoon stars (but not Bugs Bunny) appeared in the animated TV special Daffy Duck & Porky Pig Meet The Groovie Ghoulies (produced by Filmation), which aired on the ABC Superstar Movie; the quality of the TV special greatly paled in comparison to that of the classic Warners cartoon shorts from Hollywood's Golden Age. Thankfully, it wouldn't be until the mid-1970's when Daffy and the other Warners cartoon stars' popularity got a tremendous boost in popularity, thanks not only to six feature-length compilation films featuring the classic animated shorts (including two in which Daffy took center stage -- Daffy Duck's Fantastic Island [1983] and Daffy Duck's Quackbusters [1989]), but also numerous TV specials broadcast on both CBS and ABC during the late-1970's and 1980's, many of them combining new animation with scenes from classic shorts. In 1978, Daffy got his own TV show, which aired as part of NBC's Saturday morning line-up, and featured classic animated shorts previously unseen on network TV. And starting in the 1980's, the classic Warners animated shorts would gain a new generation of audiences when they made their way to the home video market -- first on VHS and Beta tapes and laser discs, and later on DVD and Blu-ray discs, as well as streaming on the Internet.

In 1987, Daffy Duck returned to motion picture screens with two new and original animated shorts -- The Duxocrist and Night Of The Living Duck -- which received wide-spread critical praise (and were included in Daffy Duck's Quackbusters two years later). A year later, Daffy appeared alongside Bugs, Porky, and other animated cartoon characters (and not just from Warners) in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988); the aforementioned projects were among the last to involve the talents of voice artist Mel Blanc, who died in 1989.

During the 1990's and 2000's, Daffy not only appeared in a significant number of animated shorts that were released theatrically and uploaded on Warners' Looney Tunes website -- including Superior Duck (1996), one of the last shorts ever directed by Chuck Jones -- but also on the successful animated TV series Tiny Toon Adventures (1990-93) which featured Daffy's protege Plucky Duck. Daffy and the other Warners cartoon stars have also appeared in the feature films Space Jam (1996) and Looney Tunes: Back In Action (2003), as well as numerous video games. Most recently, Daffy appeared on The Looney Tunes Show, which aired on Cartoon Network from 2011-14, in which the little black duck and Bugs Bunny shared a suburban home. With the new Bugs Bunny animated TV series Wabbit set to debut on Boomerang at the end of 2015, there's a good chance that we'll see Daffy alongside his fellow Warners cartoon cronies.

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