Elmer Fudd - The Complete Biography of a Looney Toon
ELMER FUDD PART I: WE HARDLY KNEW YOU
Where had it all gone? The fame…. the riches… the brunettes and the blondes?? By the time I had my first interview with him on that summer morning in 2000, Elmer J. Fudd, the onetime international playboy and consultant to Richard Nixon, was unaware that his remaining senses were quickly falling down a proverbial rabbit hole similar to the ones he had vainly emptied so much buckshot into during the preceding decades.
I had tried for several months to locate the elusive former millionaire for a piece I was writing for the now defunct “I Just Wanna Hunt It and Kill It” magazine. My article was to explore the link between inbreeding and poor hand-eye coordination amongst hunters. My search for the mysterious Fudd took me from seedy bawdy houses in Nevada, to soup kitchens in Tennessee. At one point, in mid-December 1999, I had come tantalizingly close to catching up with Fudd outside a Phoenix fertility clinic where he had been trying to sell his semen to clinic staffers in exchange for a bottle of Wild Turkey Bourbon.
Finally, in late spring of 2000, I received a tip from a former NRA coworker of Fudd, who had embarked on his own search for the man so as to recoup $1000 lost in a Ponzi scheme masterminded by Fudd and based on the sale of Bengal tigers to a chain of west coast eateries.
Fudd had been hiding from the authorities in a rundown cabin located in the mountains ranges of Kentucky, evidently squatting on abandoned property belonging to longtime friend Foghorn Leghorn. I called him from a gas station payphone located in a nearby town. The connection was bad and my ability to hear him suffered from the loud banjo playing in the background. After spending over an hour assuring him that I was not associated with any active police investigation, he uttered those words that I had been waiting to hear for months: “OK, you can come ower… but bwing me something to dwink you wascally scwibe.”
I was in! Over the next week I would be granted 3 separate interviews with Fudd. We would cover in intimate detail the events of his life, and in doing so, follow America’s voyage from the heights of Vaudeville, to the depths of the Great Depression. From the pain of war, to the sexual revolution of the 60s (of which Fudd was a leading pioneer). From the disco era coke habit that almost took his life, to his much publicized court battle for custody of the Olsen twins. In this book, I will try to summarize our talks, and what were for me the most intriguing nine hours of my journalism career.
ELMER FUDD PART II: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
I nervously approached Fudd’s cabin an hour after our call. As I came within a few steps of the door, I was struck by the powerful odor which I later deduced was a combination of stale urine, moonshine and Castrol Oil.
I managed to stay on my feet by breathing in as little as possible. A few moments after I knocked on the door, it opened just a crack, and a bloodshot eye looked back at me through the opening. “Did you bwing my liquow?” asked the man anxiously behind the door. I replied “Yes” and handed him the bottle. “Ah… Wild Tuwky Bouwbon… hahahahahaahah” he laughed his famous laugh and smiled, revealing to me the two teeth he had left. He opened the door wide open and exclaimed “You May Entew, Siw!"
Fudd, in a yellow bathrobe that was probably once pure white, stumbled to the other side of the room… across the floor and through the empty bottles and scattered pornographic magazines. He leaped up to sit on a heavily stained red velvet sofa.
Age had not only worn down this icon of the small screen, it had hit him with an atomic bomb. With his back arched over by time, he was at most four feet tall. His body was covered with the darkest liver spots I had ever seen, and he was so heavily wrinkled that I could hardly make out the “Bown Fwee” tattoo on his lower leg. I felt pity and a strong need to know how life had brought him to such a state.
Fudd open his bottle with glee, took a ten second swig, and then asked with a relieved expression on his face “Whewe do you wanna stawt?” He nodded acceptance when I replied “How about at the beginning?” I was eager to begin the interview, not knowing how long it would be before the smell would knock me unconscious.
Count Boris Fuddovich was born into the Russian aristocracy, but it was his love of animals that would secure him the title of Head Veterinarian to the Court of Czar Nicholas II. By the time of the Revolution, Fuddovich had already become a well-known specialist in the treatment of rabbits and hares.
When Trotsky’s Red Army advanced on the Czar’s rabbit farm located on the outskirts of Moscow, the Count hastily instructed his servants to load up his carriage with the Czar’s finest prize winning rabbits in order to prevent them from falling into the hands (and stomachs) of the approaching Bolsheviks. Left behind in the scramble was a young Elmervich… the Count’s only son, then aged 10. The boy was determined to be of no use whatsoever to the Bolsheviks, and he was reunited with his father within two days. Upon seeing his son, the Count (who evidently was unaware his son had fallen into enemy hands), instructed the boy to “Hurry up and get some more carrots for the rabbits, stupid… they’re hungry.”
I asked Fudd for his recollections of his early life in Russia. “My wecollections?... I was up to my neck in wabbit cwap.. that’s my wecollections!” Determined that his son would follow in his footsteps, at birth the Count Fuddovich had placed a small bed made of pebbles alongside the 100 or so rabbits pens on the Czar’s estate. There a young Fudd would live, eat and sleep for the first decade of his life. “I hated that bastawd!”, Fudd yelled as he took another swig.
Political events continued to rock the world of the Fuddovich family. His mother, an alcoholic courtesan whose name escapes the history books, left her family to join the Revolution. No definitive proof of what happened to her after that exists, but there is some evidence that she choked to death shortly thereafter while attempting to suck pure vodka out of a potato. As the Revolution took hold, it became apparent to Fuddovich that he would have to go abroad to survive. The Count packed his most valuable belongings and his rabbits, and took refuge on a boat bound for America. Two months later, the Bolsheviks shipped over his son. There was no return address on the box.
ELMER FUDD PART III: A NEW WORLD
America was a magical place for young Elmer. His father’s reputation had spread overseas, and the rich and famous rabbit owners in the New World sought out the good doctor’s help. One such celebrity was Harry Houdini, who visited Fuddovich’s home office one day seeking assistance for a rabbit which had suffered a sprained ear from being pulled out of a hat too abruptly. Houdini took a liking to young Elmer, and invited him to attend one of his shows. From the moment Fudd walked into that first Vaudeville theatre he knew he had found his calling. Henceforth he decided to dedicate himself to the world of entertainment. His initial foray into theatre was not very successful, and Fudd correctly reasoned that burlesque was probably not the right avenue to best showcase his talents… “I just didn’t have the bweasts to pull it off” he explained to me. He subsequently turned to his attention to more serious dramatic roles and began getting steady work.
As he threw himself into his profession, he also picked up a new hobby… hunting. Fudd recalled for me the first time him picked up a rifle… “I felt so powewful.. I shot at anything that moved!” The local police were not as pleased however, and they insisted that Fudd pursue his new hobby in less urban areas. He resented their edict, explaining to me that “It wasn’t faiw… thewe was just so much mowe to kill in the city”.
As his reputation as an up and coming thespian grew, Fudd began getting invitations to all the posh parties. There he would drown himself in bootlegged rum and flapper girls. His intimate escapades became legendary. Sometimes he would make love four or five times a night… and on the rare occasion, he would even be joined by a woman. It was at one of these parties that Fudd met the girl who would become the love of his life. By the time of their first encounter, Betty Boop was already well on her way to becoming the biggest sex symbol of her era. The chemistry between the two was instant and electric. As Fudd explained to me, she had a “wack on her that made me dwool.” Within hours of meeting the two were back in Betty’s apartment, and within days Fudd had moved in.
As the years passed, the two grew closer and Fudd grew deeper and deeper in love. While the rest of America sank into the Great Depression, Fudd and Boop lived a seemingly charmed life. Their popularity didn’t wane during the 1930s. Americans needed an escape from the cold reality of everyday life, and the star couple gave them just that. As their relationship deepened, they decided to raise a family together, and Betty eventually gave birth to a healthy baby boy, whom the couple named Richard. Everything seemed to be going Fudd’s way… he had a beautiful wife, a new child, money, growing fame, and a career that was set to skyrocket. Hollywood had finally called. Fudd was about to sign a contract to star in his first major motion picture. He had been up for big roles in the past, and was still somewhat bitter over being passed over for the lead in King Kong. This time, director Michael Curtiz had pegged Fudd to star in Casablanca. The two men were to meet a local restaurant one Saturday morning to finalize and sign Fudd’s contract. To celebrate and unwind, Fudd went on a week-long hunting trip prior to the meeting. He shot three maple trees, a beaver dam and a Park Ranger. It was a good outing.
Fudd relayed to me that he decided to come home early from his getaway in order to prepare for his big meeting the next day. He entered his home quietly so as to surprise Betty, softly walked up the stairs and opened the door to their bedroom. In a flash he saw a man’s pasty white naked body leap out the second story bedroom window… a small torso in between two huge tattooed arms. The man was gone in an instance, leaving behind only his clothes, a sailor’s hat, a pipe, and two empty cans of spinach.
Fudd stood for a moment in shock as Betty cried and pleaded for forgiveness. He then left the house in a daze without saying a world and walked the streets all day and night in utter disbelief. It was the last time he would see Boop. He refused to accept her calls. As word of her affair spread, her popularity plummeted. She left show business altogether and moved out of town to raise Richard in anonymity. She eventually married and began a new life.
I had, of course, already heard and read of these well publicized events, but hearing Fudd relate them to me firsthand with such sorrow brought tears to my eyes. He was drunk, tired and sad, and I knew that the rest of our interview would need to be postponed. I made my way to the door, but I turned around as I had to ask “How about your son RIchard? Did you ever see him again?” Fudd explained that he always kept tabs on his boy, but didn’t want to interfere in his upbringing as Richard had settled into a new life by the time Fudd had returned from service in the war. He then walked to the dresser and opened up his wallet. He pulled out a folded old newspaper clipping and tossed it to me. I opened it carefully and read the headline out loud “Vice President Cheney shoots friend in hunting accident”. Fudd smiled and explained “The apple newew falls faw from the twee.”
ELMER FUDD PART IV: FIRST CONTACT
I journeyed back to Elmer Fudd’s cabin the next morning. I found him in surprisingly good spirits. He greeted me at the door with nothing on but his hunting hat and an ascot tied around his neck. I handed him a fresh bottle of bourbon and tried in vain to advert my eyes from his genitals, which resembled two raisons nestled in between an anchovy. He took the bottle gleefully and poured its contents into a cereal bowl filled with Coco Puffs. Breakfast was served, and we were ready to resume our interview.
In between gulps of his morning meal, Fudd explained to me that he had walked the streets all night in a daze after finding Betty in bed with another man. As the morning sun edged over the horizon, Fudd remembered that he had the important breakfast meeting to attend, and he rushed over to the restaurant. “That wascally whowe wasn’t going to come between me and my big bweak” , he explained.
Director Michael Curtiz was already seated when Fudd arrived. “What happened to you?” he asked an unshaven and unwashed Fudd, who was still in full hunting garb, with rifle in hand. As the details of the contract were reviewed, Fudd was mixed with powerful emotions. On the one hand he was still stunned from Betty’s betrayal. On the other he was being offered the biggest contact of his professional career. He was exhausted yet euphoric at the same time. For some reason, with all the strong emotions rushing through his veins, he couldn’t help his mind from wandering and thinking about his father and the love that he was denied because of all those damn rabbits.
Just as Fudd was in the midst of this turbulent psychological and emotional state, a stranger walked into the restaurant. He had taken a wrong turn on his way to Albuquerque and was looking for directions. He overheard two patrons talking in whispers about “Fuddovich”, who was sitting at a table across the room. Being a rabbit himself, he naturally assumed that they were talking about Fudd’s father, the great veterinarian, and not the budding young actor. The rabbit decided to approach Fuddovich and introduce himself to the famous healer… “Ah, what’s up Doc?” he asked Fudd.
Fudd was overcome with rage… “What did you just say, wabbit?!” he asked. “Ah… what’s up Doc?” the rabbit repeated. Already exhausted, overwhelmed, and full of emotions, Fudd exploded at the mention of his father’s name by the rabbit. He reached for his rifle and began shooting… emptying the gun of all its bullets. He finally got control of his senses he surveyed the damage he had caused. He had missed the rabbit by a mile, but had shot Curtiz in the leg. He ran out of the restaurant and into the street. The rabbit stayed behind and tended to the wounded director, who was grateful for his assistance. So grateful was he in fact, that later that week he would sign the rabbit to 5 picture deal, and thus launch the career of Bugs Bunny.
Fudd walked in stunned disbelief at what had just happened. When he came to grips with what he had done, he thought for a fleeting moment about ending it all. Both his career and his family had all been taken from him within the last 24 hours. He found himself at the harbor, and considered ending it all by jumping into the cold waters. Instead, he decided to go away... far away from all the madness and his troubles. He secretly boarded a foreign fishing vessel that was about to leave port and hid on the lower deck. The date was December 6, 1941. Within 24 hours, Japan would strike Pearl Harbor, while Fudd sailed unaware towards Tokyo. Within a month, Elmer Fudd would be made a General in the Japanese Imperial Army.
EMLER FUDD PART V: AMEWICAN HEWO
Japanese authorities were uncertain about what to do with Fudd, who had come ashore with nothing but his hunting attire and shotgun. As the translator who assisted his interrogators couldn’t understand his accent, there was much confusion as to who Fudd was claiming to be. Somehow, in the miscommunication, the Japanese came to believe that Fudd was a high-ranking U.S. General who had decided to join their side in the conflict with America.
Fudd was taken to be introduced to Emperor Hirohito. As fate would have it, the two men became instant friends. After finding Betty in bed with another man, Fudd felt all alone in the world. Similarly, as Emperor, Hirohito had been isolated from the rest of society and was lonely for a friend who would see him as someone other than just an Imperial leader, and the rustic American with his charming good looks fit the bill. As a result, over the objections of his advisors, Hirohito invited Fudd to stay with him indefinitely at the Imperial Palace.
At the Palace, Elmer lived out the childhood he had been robbed of. Despite the language barrier, he and Hirohito would spend hours together… frolicking in the Emperor’s garden; writing ribald haikus about geisha girls; carving phallic symbols into bonsai trees; and re-enacting the dance steps from the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers films that the Emperor’s aids had smuggled into Japan. Each morning the Emperor would great Fudd with an enthusiastic “Herro, Ermer”, to which Fudd would reply (while wearing his silk samari-inspired pajamas) “Good Mowning, Hiwohito!”
As the men grew closer, Hirohito decided to reward Fudd for his friendship by making him an honorary General in the Japanese army. In that role, Fudd would often accompany the Emperor at ceremonial military events, as he did on one hot summer day when they traveled to an exhibition of new weaponry. Fudd became enamored by all the firepower and was especially intrigued by the new machine guns that were on display. He whispered to Hirohito through a translator “Can you just imagine how many wabbits we could kill with that thing!” In an ill-advised move, an excited Fudd picked up a gun to inspect it closer, and in the process not only shot and killed 2 members of the Imperial High Command, but also wounded General Tojo’s favorite tabby, Fluff Fluff.
The shocked and enraged Japanese leadership called for Fudd’s immediate execution. Hirohito overruled them in order to save his friend, and a compromise was eventually reached. It was agreed that Fudd would be handed over to US authorities as part of a prisoner exchange. The Japanese in return received a pack of Marlboro Cigarettes, as well as 4 Hershey chocolate bars with expiring ‘best before’ dates.
By the time Fudd reached American soil, word of his ‘heroic attack’ on Japan’s leadership had spread to the U.S. and he was greeted as a war hero. Tens of thousands attended the tickertape parade that was held in his honor in Washington, D.C.. At a formal dinner that was held at the White House that evening, FDR asked Fudd what the mood was in Japan, and whether the citizenry was becoming disgruntled with the war. In reply, Fudd, who had spent most of his time in the Emperor’s tranquil gardens, asked Roosevelt “What waw, you wascally Pwesident?
It was rumored that Elmer Fudd had made millions of dollars in endorsement deal revenue after World War II. Fudd himself claimed that he had made a pwetty penny as a result of his war hero status. Sadly, by the time of our interview, his fortune wa
Not wanting to lose Fudd as a unifying symbol in the propaganda war, administration officials kept quiet about the true nature of Fudd’s ‘heroism’. As a result, the endorsement deals soon came rolling in. Fudd signed a contract with a glue manufacturer that wanted to use his name and likeness for a new product aimed at school children. “Elmers Glue” became a huge success (although Fudd’s likeness on the bottle was later replaced with that of a bull after word got out that he had been intimately involved with Tokyo Rose while overseas). Fudd cinematic career was launched as well, as he was offered a lucrative film contact by Warner Brothers ‘ Looney Tunes division.
Indeed, the war years had been very kind to Fudd, and he would live off and milk his wartime fame and reputation well into the 1960s. But that decade would, of course, turn out to be one of upheaval and transformation ... both for America, and for Elmer Fudd.
ELMER FUDD PART V: A LONG DAY'S JOUWNEY INTO NGHT
I returned the next day for my final visit with Elmer Fudd, and handed him another bottle of alcohol. To my surprise, he looked at me disappointingly and asked “what awe you, a heathen? It’s Sunday!” He nevertheless took my gift, walked to a nearby filing cabinet, opened a drawer marked “Monday morning”, and inserted the bottle inside.
Fudd explained to me that after the war, he had eagerly sought to establish himself as a leading actor. To increase his appeal and marketability, he anglicized his name by officially shortening it to “Fudd”. He even experimented with various toupees, but the general consensus was that his head looked like the buttocks of a man requiring extensive electrolysis. Much to his disappointment, he found that despite whatever he did, he was typecast in roles playing opposite other animated characters. He simply could not overcome the ‘two-dimensional’ label that was to plague him for the rest of his career.
The last straw came when he lost the role of Marc Anthony in the 1963 epic Cleopatra to Richard Burton . As Fudd’s disillusionment with Hollywood grew, he gradually became immersed in the counter-culture movement of the era. He first became interested in the social radicalism of the 1960s when he heard of a woman’s rights protest that was to involve the burning of bras. The idea of see a group of topless women for free intrigued Fudd, and to support the cause, he purchased 5 large containers of brassieres for the event.
In 1968, Elmer Fudd embarked upon a journey in search of truth and enlightenment. This spiritual voyage led him once again to the Far East. He eventually found himself at the compound of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi during the same time period as the Beatles’ famous visit. A huge Rolling Stones fan, Fudd was eventually escorted off the premises after repeatedly referring to John Lennon as “Wingo”.
The 1970s were, in Fudd’s own words, a “puwple haze”. Fudd explained that “the last thing I wemembew was being at Woodstock in ‘69. We had wan out of bevweges, so I bwoke open a lava lamp and stawted dwinking the stuff inside. “ According to Fudd, he didn’t emerge from the chemical stew that was to become his life until 1980, when he found himself at the Republican National Convention in Detroit “making out with Bawbawa Waltews in a bathwoom stall during Wonald Weagan’s acceptance speech.
Since the toxic chemicals Fudd ingested caused as 10 year long black out, the only sources of information of what happened during the period are police records, old newspaper clipping and the gossip of Hollywood insiders. We know from CIA records, for example, that hunting gloves with the inscription “To Elmer. From your friend Dick Nixon, - Christmas 1971” where found at a parking lot outside the Watergate Hotel shortly after the break in of the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters. We know to that in 1974 Fudd was made an honorary Black Panther, and was given the code name “Pasty White Puma.”
Fudd also made the papers at the 1979 running of the Kentucky Derby, where a nasty war of words with fellow actor, Quincy Magoo , finally erupted into a physical altercation. Evidently, a few months earlier at private party at Studio 54, Fudd had asked Dianne Ross (with whom Magoo had been romantically linked) if she could spare “thwee fwee minutes to help me make a love child.” Magoo confronted Fudd when he ran into him at the Derby, and an argument ensued. Fudd apparently threw a mint julep at Magoo, the contents of which had evidently been laced with a powerful intoxicant. The incident caused serious damage to Magoo’s eyesight, who to this day refuses to eat or drink mint in any form.
During the 1970s, Fudd had squandered his fortune on narcotics, hallucinogen, booze and women. Indeed, his love of Jägermeister led him to officially adopt the name of the beverage as his middle name in 1979. Elmer J. Fudd’s downward spiral that left him destitute and alone, and his advancing age and erratic behavior made him a pariah in Hollywood. The downward momentum of that decade continued into the 80s and 90s. He was already deeply in poverty when, in the early 1990s, Fudd launched what many considered to be a frivolous paternity suit. He filed court papers claiming that he was “100 pewcent cewtain that he was the fathew of Mawy Kate Olsen, but was not totally suwe about hew twin sistew Ashley.” The judge in the case refused to order a DNA test, and in explaining his decision and doubt of Fudd’s fatherhood, argued that that “Mr. Fudd never could shoot straight in the past... so I don’t think this case would be any different.”
As the sun began to setting on Fudd’s cabin, I knew I our time together was coming to an end. Rehashing the past for my benefit had evidently taken a lot out of Fudd, whose attention was drifting. I got up and thanked him for his time and for his honesty. Before I left, I asked him if there was anything he wanted to add for the record, to which he replied “No… no, that’s all folks”.
I was at home eating breakfast when I first heard that Elmer J. Fudd was dead. Two years had elapsed since I had met the man, and although I knew the inevitable day would soon come due to his age and condition, I was still struck with sadness.
According to the television news reports, Fudd had committed suicide. The official Coroner’s report indicated that drowning was the cause of death. He had evidently attempted to end his life with a mail order rifle purchased from the ACME Corporation. True to form, he had missed his shot, and the bullet bounced around his room until it dislodged the chandelier located above the chair upon which he sat. The chandelier fell and knocked Fudd unconscious… his face landing in a large cereal bowl filled with Coco Puffs swimming in Wild Turkey Bourbon.
As Fudd died destitute and alone, the Screen Actors’ Guild contributed the funds for his burial. I could not attend the sparsely attended funeral service, but I resolved to visit his gravesite to pay my last respects the first chance I had, which turned out to be the following week. It was a sunny August day, and although the tranquility of the cemetery brought a sweet serenity to my mind, as I made my way towards his final resting place, each step tugged a little bit at my heart.
I came upon his simple tombstone and began to quietly sob. The inscription read simply “Elmer J. Fudd -- 1907 to 2003 -- Patwiot, Actow, Ladies Man”.I stood there beneath the trees as the summer breeze blew through my hair, and reflected on the life this giant had lived. As a token of my affection, I had brought with me a small bottle of gin. I bent to lay down the bottle when something orange resting up against the other side of the tombstone caught my eye. I gently picked up what turned out to be a beautiful bouquet of carrots, and I opened the attached card. It was signed simply with the initials “B.B.”