In 1940, Warner Bros. asked its illustrators for sketches of a “tall, lanky, mean rabbit” for a cartoon titled “Hare-urn Scare-urn.”
Someone in the office labelled the submission from cartoonist “Bugs” Hardaway as “Bugs’ Bunny” and sent it on.
Although his drawings weren’t used, the words that labelled them were given to the rabbit star of the 1940 cartoon “A Wild Hare,” which introduced “Bugs Bunny.”
According to Bugs Bunny: 50 Years and Only One Grey Hare, he was born in 1940 in Brooklyn, New York (in a warren under Ebbets Field, famed home of the Brooklyn Dodgers)
Bugs’s debut as a star was the 1940 short A Wild Hare, where he first uttered his trademark line, “What’s up, Doc?”
Other Well-Known Lines
His other popular phrases include “Of course you realize, this means war”, “Ain’t I a stinker?” and “I knew I shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque.”
Bugs Bunny has a Flatbush accent, an equal blend of the Bronx and Brooklyn dialects (of the New York Accent)
By 1941, Warner Bros’. cartoon department, technically Leon Schlesinger productions, had found its niche in animation, funny cartoons, and a lot of the credit for that can be given to Fred “Tex” Avery. However, one incident in 1941 would cause Tex to leave the WB studio forever and move on to MGM, where he exploded into one of the zaniest cartoonists of all time with the likes of his “Droopy” and “Wolf” cartoons. Avery had been a blessing to Leon Schlesinger, WB cartoons’ producer, because he had created Bugs Bunny. However, there was one early Bugs cartoon Leon didn’t like, because the ending had Bugs falling from a cliff with no resolution. “The Heckling Hare”, Avery’s 3rd Bugs cartoon, pitted the Rabbit against a dopey hunting dog not unlike “Meathead” from Avery’s “Screwy Squirrel” series for MGM years later. Due to Schlesinger’s decision to cut the original ending to this cartoon (which is now lost) the headstrong Avery literally walked out on Schlesinger and moved to MGM. Now, the cartoon is seen on TV with the ending in which Bugs and the dog “brake” in midair before they are about to crash after falling off a cliff, and we hear Bugs say “Nyah, fooled ya didn’t we?!” The original lost ending had Bugs fall off another cliff before the iris out.
Bugs at War
Bugs was popular during World War II because of his free and easy attitude, and began receiving special star billing in his cartoons by 1943. By that time, Warner Bros. was the most profitable cartoon studio in the United States. Like other cartoon studios, such as Disney and Famous Studios had been doing, Warners put Bugs in opposition to the period’s biggest enemies: Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and the Japanese. The 1944 short Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips features Bugs at odds with a group of Japanese soldiers. This cartoon has since been pulled from distribution due to its racial stereotypes.
In the cartoon Super-Rabbit, Bugs was seen in the end wearing a USMC dress uniform. As a result, the United States Marine Corps made Bugs an honorary Marine Master Sergeant.
From 1943-1946, Bugs was the official “mascot” of Kingman Army Air Field, Kingman, Arizona, where thousands of aerial gunners were trained during World War II. Some notable trainees included Clark Gable and Charles Bronson. Bugs also served as the mascot for 530 Squadron of the 380th Bombardment Group, 5th Air Force, USAF, which was attached to the Royal Australian Air Force and operated out of Australia’s Northern Territory from 1943 to 1945, flying B-24 Liberator bombers.
Bugs Bunny cartoons air in countries outside of the United States. In most cases, the original US cartoons are simply redubbed in the native language and the characters are usually given names more fitting for the country in which they are appearing. For example, in Finland, Bugs Bunny is called Väiski Vemmelsääri.
In 2002, TV Guide compiled a list of the 50 greatest cartoon characters of all time as part of the magazine’s 50th anniversary. Bugs Bunny was given the honor of number 1. In a CNN broadcast on July 31, 2002, a TV Guide editor talked about the group that created the list. The editor also explained why Bugs pulled top billing: “His stock…has never gone down…Bugs is the best example…of the smart-aleck American comic. He not only is a great cartoon character, he’s a great comedian. He was written well. He was drawn beautifully. He has thrilled and made many generations laugh.
Video: Wild Hare (1940)
Special thanks to www.bigsiteofamazingfacts.com, toolooney.goldenagecartoons.com and www.answers.com