YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Prized Animator : * Isadore 'Friz' Freleng, 88, will be honored for a lifetime of cartoon artistry, including creation of Bugs Bunny and the Pink Panther.


Thufferin' thuccotash!

Animation giant Isadore "Friz" Freleng will receive the first lifetime achievement award given by the Santa Clarita Valley International Film Festival.

The 88-year-old Freleng will be honored Saturday night for a body of work that includes Oscar-winning cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, Sylvester and Tweety, Speedy Gonzales and the Pink Panther. The prize will be known as the Friz.

One of the geniuses who put the "loon" in Looney Tunes, Freleng worked his goofy magic at Warner Bros. for more than 30 years. In 1963, he joined with David De Patie to create De Patie-Freleng Enterprises. There he fathered the Pink Panther, whose debut in the title sequence of Blake Edwards' film almost stole the show from star Peter Sellers. "Time magazine wrote it up and said it was better than the picture," Freleng recalled recently. "Blake didn't like that."

Freleng, who lives in Westwood with his wife of 61 years, taught himself animation from a book. As one of the shapers of Bugs, Daffy Duck and other animated zanies who zoom through the American subconscious, he gets stacks of mail from scholars and fans alike. He continues to produce original art in the style of animation cels, sold through Warner Bros. Studio stores for as much as $1,700.

He and his fellow animators never thought of their six-minute movies as tomorrow's classics. "We were just making a living," Freleng says. But the Warner Bros. artists always competed against each other, and they were ever ready to puncture the pretensions of their snooty rival, Disney. Today the Warner Bros. pantheon is nearly as famous as Mickey and his pals and even more fondly regarded by people who once got sent to their rooms without their supper. At this very moment, the Warner Bros. store in Topanga Plaza is selling shirts, address books and other merchandise featuring a scene from Freleng's 1957 Oscar winner, "Birds Anonymous," in which Sylvester tries, and fails, to rise above being a puddy tat.

Freleng, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones and the other great Warner Bros. animators hold no rights to the characters they breathed such raucous life into. "The Pink Panther probably earns him more money than all his other work combined," says Norman M. Klein, a CalArts animation expert familiar with Freleng and his work.

Honored by the American Film Institute and other prestigious bodies, Freleng was the most musical of the Warner Bros. animators. "His sense of rhythm and timing was remarkably adept," Klein says. In his view, Freleng's genius is sometimes underrated by historians of animation because "it wasn't as flashy as some of the others."

As evidence of Freleng's intuitive understanding of what makes a cartoon comedy work, Klein points to the creation of Granny, a seemingly sweet old lady who manages to make Sylvester's life a living hell. "The cuter the character the more sadistic it can be," Klein reminds. He also cites the complexity and depth of character that Freleng brought to Tweety, who had been just another mean-spirited little canary in the hands of animator Bob Clampett.

Freleng's best work, says Klein, praising him very highly indeed, "is very elegant and silly."

When Freleng talks about his characters, he talks about acting. "We really became actors with a pencil," he says. "That's the difference between them and the characters you see today. We made them act." As a result, no one thinks of Bugs or Sylvester as drawings. "Today," Freleng says, "the dialogue does the acting, and the characters just move."

Bugs Bunny was so real, according to Freleng, that people would ask him where the wascally wabbit lived. And Freleng himself sometimes talks about his characters as if they were human actors with human attributes. "Nobody liked working with Porky Pig much because he was sort of a square," Freleng says. And the animator once told Klein, "I couldn't stand having Bugs up against Elmer because Elmer had the brains of a chicken."

And now the answer to the question on everybody's lips: Is Freleng really the model for Yosemite Sam? Yes, you varmints. "I have the same temperament," Freleng admits. "I'm small, and I used to have a red mustache."


What: Awards dinner, hosted by radio and TV personality Tom Hatten.

Location: Magic Mountain Studios, Studio 1, 26030 Avenue Hall, Santa Clarita.

Hours: 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

Guest speaker: Chuck Jones, another of the Warner Bros. animation geniuses.

Price: $75.

Call: (805) 257-7977 or (805) 257-7778.

Los Angeles Times Articles