November 15, 1963 Louie Louie

For two years, FBI investigators interviewed witnesses. They listened to the song at varying speeds, backward and forward, but the relentless search for bawdy material came up empty. In the end, the song was ruled “unintelligible at any speed”.

In 1955, Richard Berry wrote a song about a Jamaican sailor returning to his island to see his lady love. It’s a ballad, a conversation in the first person singular, with a bartender. The bartender’s name is Louie.

The song was covered in Latin and R&B styles in the fifties, but was never more than a regional hit on the west coast.

Louie3“Mainstream” white artists of the fifties and sixties often covered songs written by black artists. On April 6, 1963, an obscure rock & roll group out of Portland, Oregon covered the song, renting a recording studio for $50. They were The Kingsmen.

Lead singer Jack Ely showed the band how he wanted it played. Berry’s easy 1-2-3-4, 1-2, 1-2-3-4 ballad would be changed to a raucous 1-2-3, 1-2, 1-2-3 beat.

The guitar work could only be described as anarchic, the lyrics unintelligible.  The Kingsmen recorded the song in a single take. It was released by a small label in May and re-released by Wand Records in October, 1963. Sales of the single increased through the 15th of November, the song entering the Billboard Top 100 chart on December 7.

Rock & Roll music is so mainstream now, that it’s hard to remember how subversive and decadent it was considered to be.

Louie Louie’s impenetrable lyrics led to all kinds of speculation about what was being said.  More than a few imaginations ran wild. Fabricated lyrics ranging from mildly raunchy to pornographic were written out on slips of paper and exchanged between teenagers, spurring interest in the song and driving record sales through the roof.

Concerned parents contacted government authorities to see what could be done. One parent, a Sarasota, Florida junior high school teacher, wrote to Attorney General Bobby Kennedy. “Who do you turn to when your teen age daughter buys and brings home pornographic or obscene materials being sold along with objects directed and aimed at the teenage market in every City, Village and Record shop in this Nation?” The letter ends with a plea, complete with four punctuation marks: “How can we stamp out this menace????
louierfk1

The FBI took up the investigation in 1964 under the ITOM statute, a federal law regulating the Interstate Transportation of Obscene Material. There are 119 pages in the FBI’s archival website, covering the case.

For two years, FBI investigators interviewed witnesses. They listened to the song at varying speeds, backward and forward, but the relentless search for bawdy material came up empty.  In the end, the song was ruled “unintelligible at any speed”.

Louie4Strangely, the feds never interviewed Kingsmen lead singer Jack Ely, who probably could have saved them a lot of time.

The song has been covered by numerous artists over the years, including Paul Revere & the Raiders, Otis Redding, Motorhead, Black Flag and Young MC.  The best version ever, has got to be the Delta Tau Chi fraternity version from John Landis’ 1978 movie, Animal House.

“OK, let’s give it to ’em.  Right now”.

October 31, 1897 The Real Dracula

In the end, we are left with the tale of a warlord.  A prince.  A sadist.  An impaler.  A psychotic madman who, 400 years after his death, would inspire the name of Count Dracula.

In modern Romanian, “Dracul” means “The Devil”.  In the old language, it meant “the Dragon”, the word “Dracula” (Drăculea) translating as “Son of the Dragon”. Count Dracula, favorite of Halloween costume shoppers from time immemorial, has been with us since the 1897 publication of Bram Stoker’s novel, of the same name.

Stoker’s working titles for the manuscript were “The Un-dead”, and “Count Wampyr”.  He nearly kept one of them too, until reading about Vlad Țepeș (TSE·pesh), a Wallachian Prince and 15th century warrior, who fought on the front lines of the Jihad of his day.  

Stoker wrote in his notes, “in Wallachian language means DEVIL“.  In a time and place remembered for its brutality, Vlad Țepeș stands out as extraordinarily cruel.  There are stories that Țepeș disemboweled his own pregnant mistress.  That he collected the noses of vanquished adversaries, some 24,000 of them.  That he dined among forests of victims, impaled on spikes.  That he even impaled the donkeys they rode in on.   

Founded in 1330, the Principality of Wallachia is a region in modern-day Romania, situated between the Lower Danube river and the Carpathian Mountains.  A crossroads between East and West, the region was scene to frequent bloodshed, as Ottoman forces pushed westward into Europe, and Christian forces pushed back.

Order of the DragonIn 1436, Vlad II became voivode, (prince), of Wallachia.  The sobriquet “Dracul” came from membership in the “Order of the Dragon” (literally “Society of the Dragonists”), a monarchical chivalric order founded by Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund in 1408, dedicated to stopping the Ottoman advance into Europe.

Shifting loyalties put the Wallachian prince in a weakened position, forcing him to pay homage to Ottoman Sultan Murad II, including participation in the Ottoman invasion of the nearby Romanian principality of Transylvania.

Transylvanian voivode John Hunyadi persuaded Vlad to fight with him against the Ottomans.  Vlad was summoned to a diplomatic meeting in 1442 with Sultan Murad II, and brought his two younger sons, Vlad III and Radu, along.  The meeting was a trap.  Vlad was thrown in prison but later released in exchange for a pledge to pay annual tribute, and the promise of 500 Wallachian boys to serve as janissaries in the Ottoman army.  Vlad III, age 12, and his younger brother were left behind as hostages, to ensure the loyalty of their father.

The timeline is unclear, but Vlad Dracul appears to have been convinced that his sons were “butchered for the sake of Christian peace”, sometime around 1444.   Byzantine historian Michael Critobulus writes that Vlad and Radu fled to the Ottoman Empire in 1447 following the murder of their father and older brother Mircea, suggesting that the two were released, most likely following Vlad’s pledge of homage to the Sultan.

The terms of the boys’ captivity were relatively mild by the standards of the time, and Vlad became a skilled horseman and warrior.  Radu went over to the Turkish side, but Vlad hated captivity, developing a deep enmity for his captors that would last all his life.

Vlad_Tepes_002
Vlad III Țepeș

With the death of his father and older brother, Vlad III became a potential claimant for the throne in Wallachia.  Vlad won back his father’s seat in 1448 with Ottoman support, only to be deposed after only two months.  Sometime later, he switched sides in the Ottoman-Hungarian conflict.

Following the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman Empire stood ready to invade all of Europe.  

Vlad III regained the Wallachian throne in 1456 with military support from King Ladislaus V of Hungary.  The new prince made it his first order of business to cut ties with the Ottoman Empire, terminating the annual tribute which had formerly ensured peace between Wallachia and the Caliphate. 

A group of visiting Ottoman envoys declined to remove their turbans in Vlad’s court, citing religious custom.  The prince commended them for their religious devotion and ordered the turbans nailed to their skulls, assuring them that now, they would never be removed.

According to stories circulated after his death, Vlad III needed to consolidate power, against his fractious nobles (boyars).  Hundreds of them were invited to a banquet, only to be stabbed, their still twitching bodies then impaled on spikes.

Vlad Dracul statue5Ethnic Germans had long since emigrated to these parts, forming a distinct merchant class in Wallachian society.  These Saxon merchants were allied with the boyars.  It was not long before they too, found themselves impaled on spikes.

Vlad invaded the Ottoman Empire in 1461, by his own count killing “23,884 Turks and Bulgarians”.

Sultan Mehmet II, conqueror of Constantinople, invaded Wallachia at the head of an army 150,000 strong in 1462, only to find the roads lined with a “forest of the impaled”, and the capital city of Târgoviște, deserted.

The Byzantine Greek historian Laonikos Chalkokondyles writes: “The sultan’s army entered into the area of the impalements, which was seventeen stades long and seven stades wide. There were large stakes there on which, as it was said, about twenty thousand men, women, and children had been spitted, quite a sight for the Turks and the sultan himself. The sultan was seized with amazement and said that it was not possible to deprive of his country a man who had done such great deeds, who had such a diabolical understanding of how to govern his realm and its people. And he said that a man who had done such things was worth much. The rest of the Turks were dumbfounded when they saw the multitude of men on the stakes. There were infants too affixed to their mothers on the stakes, and birds had made their nests in their entrails”.

To give a sense of scale to this horror, a “stade” derives from the Greek “stadeon” – the dimensions of an ancient sports arena. 

In the end, the Romanian principalities had little with which to oppose the overwhelming force of the Ottoman Empire.  Vlad III Țepeș would be twice deposed only to regain power.  Unable to defeat his more powerful adversary, Vlad was exiled for several years in Hungary, spending much of that time in prison.  Heaven help the poor rodent who fell into his hands, in that wretched cell.

Bran-Castle-count-dracula.jpg3_
Bran Castle

Vlad successfully stole back the throne following the death of his brother Radu at the head of an Ottoman column in 1475, but this last reign would be brief.  The prince of Wallachia was marching to yet another battle with the Ottomans in 1477, when he and his small vanguard of soldiers were ambushed, and Vlad was killed.

Today, the mountaintop Castle in Bran, Romania is celebrated as the “home” of Count Dracula.  Ironically, neither Bram Stoker nor Vlad Țepeș ever set foot in the place.  There is some debate as to the veracity of these tales, and whether they were significantly embellished. Johannes Gutenberg invented the modern movable type printing press in 1439 when Vlad III was about 8, so his contemporaries had ample opportunity to tell their stories. Many were written by his detractors, of which a guy like Vlad “the Impaler”, had many.  Yet the details of these stories are virtually identical, suggesting they contain significantly more than a grain of truth. 

Statues of Vlad Țepeș dot the Romanian countryside, though his burial place is unknown.  In the end, we are left only with the tale of a warlord.  A prince.  A sadist.  An impaler.  A psychotic madman who, 400 years after his death, would inspire the name of Count Dracula.

Tara_Rumaneasca_map
Territories held by Wallachian prince Mircea the Elder, father of Vlad II “Dracul”, c. 1390

October 5, 1968 Magic Carpet Ride

Joachim‘s mother Elsabeth had to flee with the baby in the harsh winter of 1945, as the oncoming Soviet Red Army destroyed all in its path. The two would escape the Iron Curtain one more time in 1948, this time in a dangerous nighttime dash which the then-four year old remembers to this day.

Joachim Fritz Krauledat was born in Tilsit, East Prussia on April 12, 1944, a region later absorbed into Soviet Russia. The boy never met his father.  A German soldier on the Eastern Front of WWII, Fritz Krauledat would be killed months before the birth of his son.

Joachim‘s mother Elsabeth had to flee with the baby in the harsh winter of 1945, as the oncoming Soviet Red Army destroyed all in its path. The two would escape the Iron Curtain one more time in 1948, this time in a dangerous nighttime dash which the then-four year old remembers to this day.

“Pack your rucksack Joachim. We’re going on a trip.’ That was all my mother told me the night we escaped from East Germany” ….. We crossed near the Hartz Mountains south of Brunswick and Hannover. I remember seeing search lights moving, ……… As the women passed under the wire, one of our guides took me by the hand and led me through, As I crouched I could hear a commotion, then gunfire, maybe a machine gun burst. Hurry, hurry, hurry just keep running implored our guide.” *

JohnKayYoungThe family settled for a time in Hannover, West Germany, barely avoiding the communist noose as it closed around their former home in the East.

Krauledat was an indifferent student, possibly due to poor eyesight. He’s legally blind, afflicted since birth with achromatopsia, a condition which left him totally colorblind and severely averse to light.  Even as a child, he was rarely seen without the dark glasses which would later become his trademark.

The boy became interested in music, listening over the British Forces Broadcasting Service and US Armed Forces Radio.  Listening to his transistor radio, Little Richard singing in a language he didn’t understand, Joachim Krauledat knew.  He was going to become a rock ‘n roll singer.

The family moved to Canada in 1958, where the Canadian National Institute for the Blind offered him a Wollensach reel-to-reel tape recorder.   The “Talking Book Program” was intended to bring the spoken word to visually impaired students.  This 14-year old was more interested in the “record” button.

The gym teacher called him “John”, while his mother became “Mrs. K,” to the other kids.  The name stuck.  Years later, Joachim Krauledat legally changed his name to John Kay.

“ From as far back as I remember, I always liked music.”

– John Kay

The family moved to Buffalo in 1963, where the young musician found his possibilities limited.  At age 20 he and his buddy Klaus packed up the ’62 Chevy, and headed west.  The “Mother Road”.  Route 66.

The next several years were spent honing and developing his music, a folk and blues singer performing throughout North America. Kay joined a blues rock and folk group called “The Sparrow” in 1965, becoming part of the rock music scene in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, and the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.

johnkay66
Heading West, Route 66

The band added a couple new members in 1967, changing their name to a character from a Herman Hesse novel. They called themselves Steppenwolf.

Steppenwolf became one of the world’s foremost rock bands, with standards like “The Pusher”, and “Monster”, releasing “Magic Carpet Ride” on this day in 1968. They gave us the term “Heavy Metal” with the rock anthem “Born to Be Wild”, but that didn’t refer to the music. “Heavy Metal Thunder” referred to large, loud, motorcycles.

Steppenwolf toured for over 40 years. There isn’t a Baby Boomer alive who wouldn’t read this and come away with one of their songs in his head. They’ve sold over 25 million records and licensed their songs in over 50 motion pictures. The music is iconic, from the sound track of the 1969 “Easy Rider” film to their last performance on July 24, 2010, at the three day HullabaLOU music festival in Louisville, Kentucky.

John KaySteppenwolf gave us 22 albums.  We all know them in one way or another. Yet, the lead singer’s escape from the horrors of the Iron Curtain, not once but twice, is all but unknown. That, as Paul Harvey used to say, is the Rest, of the Story.

 

  •  John Kay from his autobiography, Magic Carpet Ride

September 14, 2004  Fake but Accurate

“Conservative” news sources like PJ Media rose in the aftermath, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that a bunch of bloggers “in their jammies” uncovered in hours what the vaunted news gathering apparatus of CBS News failed to figure out in weeks.

It was September 8, 2004, less than two months before the 2004 Presidential election.  CBS News aired a 60 Minutes™ broadcast hosted by News Anchor Dan Rather, centered on four documents critical of President George W. Bush’s National Guard service in 1972-‘73.  The documents were supposed to have been written by Bush’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry B. Killian, who’d passed away in 1984.

GW-Bush-in-uniformThe documents came from Lt. Col. Bill Burkett, a former Texas Army National Guard officer who had received publicity back in 2000, when he claimed to have been transferred to Panama after refusing to falsify then-Governor Bush’s personnel records.  He later retracted the claim, but popped up again during the 2004 election cycle.  Many considered Burkett to be an “anti-Bush zealot”.

Within hours of the broadcast, the documents were criticized as forgeries.  Internet forums and blogs challenged the terminology and typography of the memos.  Within days it came out that the font used in the memos didn’t exist at the time the documents were supposed to have been written.

That didn’t stop the Boston Globe from running a story entitled “Authenticity Backed on Bush Documents”, a story they later had to retract.

Criticism of the 60 Minutes’ piece intensified, as CBS News and Dan Rather dug in and defended their story.   Within the week, Rather was talking to a Daily Kos contributor and former typewriter repairman who claimed that the documents could have been written in the 70s.  Meanwhile, the four “experts” used in the original story were publicly repudiating the 60 Minutes piece.

Other aspects of the documents were difficult to authenticate without access to the originals.  CBS had nothing but faxes and photocopies, and Burkett claimed to have burned the originals after faxing them to the network.

Fake but AccurateThe New York Times interviewed Marian Carr Knox who’d been secretary to the squadron in 1972, running a story dated September 14 under the bylines of Maureen Balleza and Kate Zernike.  The headline read “Memos on Bush Are Fake but Accurate, Typist Says“.

The story went on to describe the 86 year-old Carr’s recollections that she never typed the memos, but they accurately reflected the feelings of Lt. Col. Killian.  “I think he was writing the memos”, she said, “so there would be some record that he was aware of what was going on and what he (Bush) had done.”

Yet Killian’s wife and son had cleared out his office after his death, and they didn’t find anything even hinting at the existence of such documents.  Others who claimed to know Carr well described her as a “sweet old lady”, but said they had “no idea” where her statements had come from.

CBS News would ultimately retract the story, as it came out that Producer Mary Mapes collaborated on it with the Kerry campaign.  Several network news people lost their jobs, including Rather and Mapes.

dan-rather-cnnPublic confidence in the “Mainstream Media” plummeted.  Many saw the episode as a news network lying, and the “Newspaper of Record” swearing to it.

“Conservative” news sources like PJ Media rose in the aftermath, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that a bunch of bloggers “in their jammies”, uncovered in hours what the vaunted news gathering apparatus of CBS News failed to figure out in weeks.

Such news media bias is nothing new.  In 1932-33, New York Times reporter Walter Duranty reported on Josef Stalin’s deliberate starvation of millions of Ukrainians, known as “Holodomor”.  “Extermination by hunger”.   With 25,000 starving to death every day, Duranty won a Pulitzer with such gems as:  “There is no famine or actual starvation nor is there likely to be.” – (Nov. 15, 1931), and,  “Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda.” – (Aug. 23, 1933).

Walter Duranty

The 1993 NBC Dateline “Exploding Truck” edition didn’t get the desired effect when they crash tested that pickup truck, so they rigged another one with a pyrotechnic device.  Sure enough, that one exploded on cue.  The “Exposé” was fiction masquerading as “News”, but hey.  The explosion made good television.

In a transparent attack on an administration with which it had political disagreements, the New York Times ran the Abu Ghraib story on the front page, above the fold, for 32 days straight.  Just in case anyone missed the first 31.

And who can forget that edited audio from George Zimmermann’s 911 call.  Thank you, NBC.

If the point requires further proof, watch ABC News Charlie Gibson’s 2008 interview with Sarah Palin, then read the transcript.  Whether you like or don’t like Ms. Palin is irrelevant to the point.  The transcript and the interview as broadcast, are two different things.

The political process is afflicted when news agencies act as advocates in the stories they cover.  Our system of self-government cannot long survive without an informed electorate.  That may be the worst part of this whole sorry story.

Bill Clintons Cat
Press photographers, in search of the perfect image. Of Bill Clinton’s cat.

September 13, 1501 David

If you look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, you would never know that the artist who produced such a work didn’t care for painting. Michelangelo was a sculptor. “Along with the milk of my nurse,” he said, “I received the knack of handling chisel and hammer, with which I make my figures”.

The Renaissance has been variously described as an advance beyond the dark ages, andMasters of Italian Art a nostalgic period looking back to the Classical age. Whatever it was, the 15th and 16th centuries produced some of the most spectacularly gifted artists, in history.

None more so, than the Italian Masters.

There was Leonardo and Donatello, Raphael, Brunelleschi and Botticelli, but only one of them would have his biography written while he was still alive. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, had two. Only one of these men would have his home town renamed after himself.  Today, the Tuscan village of Caprese is known as Caprese Michelangelo.

If you look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, you would never know that the artist who produced such a work didn’t care for painting. Michelangelo was a sculptor. “Along with the milk of my nurse,” he would say, “I received the knack of handling chisel and hammer, with which I make my figures”.

Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel

He was “Il Divino”, “The Divine One”, literally growing up with the hammer and chisel. He had a “Terribilità”, a sense of awe-inspiring grandeur about him that made him difficult to work with, but he was widely admired and imitated. Michelangelo was that insufferably cocky kid who wasn’t bragging, because he could deliver.

Michelangelo-David-rearThe massive block of Carrara marble was quarried in 1466, nine years before Michelangelo was born. The “David” commission was given to artist Agostino di Duccio that same year. So difficult was this particular marble block that he never got beyond roughing out the legs and draperies. Antonio Rossellino took a shot at it 10 years later, but he didn’t get much farther.

25 years later, the Guild of Wool Merchants wanted to revive the abandoned project, and went looking for an artist. The now infamously difficult marble slab had deteriorated for years in the elements, when Michelangelo stepped forward at the age of 26.  The prevailing attitude seems to have been yeah, give it to him.  That will take him down a few pegs.

Michelangelo began work on September 13th, 1501. His master work would take him three years to complete.

The 17′, six-ton David was originally intended for the roof of the FlorenceDavid, Michelangelo Cathedral, but it wasn’t feasible to raise such an object that high. A committee including Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli was formed to decide on an appropriate site for the statue. The commitee chose the Piazza della Signoria outside the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence.

It took four days on a specially constructed cart to move the David statue into position, the unveiling taking place on September 8, 1504. Among the dignitaries gathered for the occasion was the Mayor of Florence, Vasari Pier Soderini, who complained that David’s nose was “too thick”.

Michelangelo climbed the statue with a handful of marble dust, sending down a shower of the stuff as he pretended to work on the nose. After several minutes, he stepped back and asked Soderini if it was improved. “Yes”, replied the Mayor, now satisfied. “I like it better. You have given it life”.Michelangelo at Work

August 8, 1969 Paul is Dead

Like the child’s game of “telephone”, the story picked up details with each retelling.  There had been an argument at a Beatles recording session. McCartney left in anger, and crashed his car. To spare the public from grief, the Beatles replaced him with “William Campbell”, the winner of a McCartney look-alike contest.

In January 1967, a car belonging to singer/songwriter and Beatles’ band member Paul McCartney, was involved in an accident.  He wasn’t driving at the time, but no matter.

The story was told and retold.  Before long, not only had McCartney himself been involved in the crash.  He’d been killed in it.

Like the child’s game of “telephone”, the story picked up details with each retelling.  There had been an argument at a Beatles recording session. McCartney left in anger, and crashed his car. To spare the public from grief, the Beatles replaced him with “William Campbell”, the winner of a McCartney look-alike contest.Paul is dead

The February issue of “The Beatles Book” fanzine tried to put the issue to rest, but some stories die hard.  A cottage industry grew up around finding “clues” to McCartney’s “death”.  Hundreds were reported by fans and followers of the legend. John Lennon’s final line in the song “Strawberry Fields Forever” sounded like “I buried Paul”.  (McCartney later said the words were “cranberry sauce”).  When “Revolution 9” from the White Album is played backwards, some said they could hear “turn me on, dead man”.

Photographer Iain MacMillan shot the cover photo for the Beatles’ last recorded album, Abbey Road, on this day in 1969. The ten-minute photo shoot produced six images, from which McCartney himself picked the cover photo. It shows the band crossing the street, walking away from the studio.

As soon as the Abby Road album hit the streets, the “Paul Is Dead” enthusiasts were off and running. It was a funeral procession, couldn’t anybody see that? Lennon, dressed in white, symbolizes the preacher. Ringo Starr was dressed in black.  He was the mourner. George Harrison was wearing blue jeans and a shirt.  Of course he was the gravedigger.Paul is dead, news

And then there was McCartney, barefoot and out of step with the other members of the band. Clearly, he symbolized the corpse. McCartney later explained that he’d been barefoot that day, because it was hot.

No one ever satisfactorily explained, nor did anyone ask, to my knowledge, how Paul McCartney got to march in his own funeral procession.  No matter, the Abby Road cover put the rumor mill over the top.

On October 12, a caller to Detroit radio station WKNR-FM told DJ Russ Gibb about the rumor and its clues. Gibb and his callers then discussed the rumor on the air for the next hour. Roby Yonge did the early AM shift at the powerhouse WABC out of New York. Yonge spent a full hour discussing the rumor, before he was pulled off-air for breaking format. WABC’s signal could be heard in 38 states at that time of night, and at times, other countries. The Beatles’ press office issued a statement denying the rumor, but it had already been reported by national and international media.

Paul is still with us-Life_magazine_nov_69The November 7, 1969, Life magazine interview with McCartney and his wife Linda finally put the story to rest. “Perhaps the rumor started because I haven’t been much in the press lately“, he said. “I have done enough press for a lifetime, and I don’t have anything to say these days. I am happy to be with my family and I will work when I work. I was switched on for ten years and I never switched off. Now I am switching off whenever I can. I would rather be a little less famous these days“.

If they’d had Photoshop in those days, we’d probably still be hearing the rumors, today.

July 27, 1940 Bugs Bunny

A Utah celery grower once offered a lifetime supply of their product to everyone at the studio, if they switched Bugs over to a celery diet.  But carrots it was.  For fifty years, production had to stop as Mel Blanc, the real-life voice of Bugs Bunny, stopped to spit out the raw carrot he ate to make the sound of his character eating a carrot.

The earliest version of the Bugs Bunny cartoon character had something of his later personality, though he was smaller, with a voice sounded more like Woody Woodpecker.  He first appeared in “Porky’s Hare Hunt”, released on April 30, 1938, a little white wisecracking rabbit, entering the scene with the odd expression “Jiggers, fellers”.  Hare Hunt was the first to introduce the Elmer Fudd character, and first to use the Groucho Marx line, “Of course you realize, this means war!”

According to his 1990 “biography”, Bugs Bunny was born in Brooklyn New York on July 27, 1940, in a warren under Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  A Utah celery grower once offered a lifetime supply of their product to everyone at the studio, if they switched Bugs over to a celery diet.  But carrots it was.  For fifty years, production had to stop as Mel Blanc, the real-life voice of Bugs Bunny, stopped to spit out the raw carrot he ate to make the sound of his character eating a carrot.

Bugs evolution“A Wild Hare”, directed by Tex Avery and released on this day in 1940, was the first recognizable Bugs Bunny cartoon.  For the first time Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny are cast as hunter and tormentor, the first time Mel Blanc used that trademark Flatbush accent, and the first in which Bugs uses his catchphrase, “Ehhh, What’s up, Doc?” A Wild Hare was a huge success in theaters, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short Film and ensuring Bugs Bunny’s future as a stock character.

AWildHareIn 1941, “Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt” became the second Bugs Bunny cartoon to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short Film.  It didn’t win the award, and Bugs later made fun of the award in “What’s Cookin’ Doc?”.  In 1944 he demands a recount, claiming to be the victim of “sa-bo-TAH-gee”.

Bugs Bunny was receiving star billing by World War II, helping to make Warner Bros. the most profitable cartoon studio in America.   He appeared along with Porky Pig and Elmer Fudd in a 1942 US war bond commercial, going toe to toe with a group of Japanese soldiers in “Bunny Nips the Nips” in 1944.  The cartoon was later pulled due to the racially stereotypical manner in which it treated the Japanese.  Bugs went to “Joimany” to face off against Göring and Hitler in “Herr Meets Hare” in 1945, the first time he “musta made a wrong toin at Albaquoique”.

Bugs even showed up in rival studio Paramount Pictures’ “Jasper goes hunting”, once.  He popped out of his rabbit hole and said “What’s up Doc”, realizing his mistake only when he hears the orchestra play the wrong theme. “Hey, I’m in the wrong picture!” he says, and there he went, down the rabbit hole.Thats all folks

It was usually Porky Pig who brought Looney Tunes films to a close, with his trademark “Uh-b-dee, uh-b-dee, uh-b-dee, that’s all, folks!”, but Bugs replaced him at the end of “Hare Tonic” and “Baseball Bugs”.  He busted out of a drum, same as Porky, munching on a carrot and saying in that Brooklyn accent, “And that’s the end!”.

Bugs Bunny has appeared in more films, both short and feature length, than any other cartoon character in history.  He’s the ninth most portrayed film personality in the world.

Here ends this day’s Today in History.  Now, “shhh.  Be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting wabbits.  Huh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh”.

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