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Obituaries

Chuck Jones, 89; Animation Pioneer

February 23, 2002|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Chuck Jones, the animator who helped give life to that wascally wabbit, the portly pig, the lisping duck and the tormented coyote, died Friday in his Corona del Mar home. He was 89.

The three-time Oscar winner, whose career spanned more than 60 years and involved the creation of more than 300 animated films, died of congestive heart failure. His wife of 20 years, Marian, was at his side.

While he will always be remembered as the animator who helped create Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and Wile E. Coyote, among many others, he most recently began to dedicate himself to fine art drawing. His work has been exhibited at galleries and museums worldwide, including a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Still, Jones considered his cartoon characters as real as any subject he depicted in his museum pieces.

"Animation isn't the illusion of life," he said in a biography on his Internet page. "It is life."

Jones' wife said Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and other characters all represented a part of her husband and his fun-loving sense of humor.

"All the characters came from inside of him," she said Friday night. "That was him, and he was amazing."

In recent weeks, Jones had become confined to a wheelchair. But he retained his famously wry humor, his wife said.

A recent example:

"A week and a half ago," Marian Jones said, "several family members were standing around his house, and he came in on a wheelchair. He took one look and said, 'This is quite a confab of people. Who is getting hung?'"

Jones' fans included such contemporary filmmakers as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Film director Peter Bogdanovich described Jones' work as "like all good fables and only the best of art, both timeless and universal."

Just last year, Jones was inducted into the Animation Hall of Fame in Los Angeles, along with Walt Disney.

Among animators, Jones was considered "the father of contemporary animation," said Terry Thoren, a longtime friend who heads the animation studio that produces the Rug Rats cartoons.

"He was the true leader of our industry after Walt Disney passed away," Thoren said. "The fact that he is gone creates a big void in our industry."

In 1996, he was presented an honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement. Among his many awards and recognitions, one of those he most valued was the honorary life membership from the Directors Guild of America, according to a family representative.

He also produced, directed and wrote the screenplays for "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," as well as the feature film "The Phantom Tollbooth."

The animation pioneer stayed active. In 2000, he launched a new character, Timber Wolf, who appeared in a series on Warner Bros. Online and Entertaindom.

Born on Sept. 21, 1912, in Spokane, Wash., Jones grew up in Hollywood, occasionally working as an child extra in Mack Sennett comedies.

After graduating from Chouinard Art Institute, which evolved into the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, Jones drew pencil portraits for a dollar apiece on Olvera Street for a time.

In 1932, he got his first job in the fledgling animation industry as a cel washer for former Disney animator Ub Iwerks.

Four years later, Jones became an animator for the Leon Schlesinger Studio, which was later sold to Warner Bros., and in 1938 directed his first film, "The Night Watchman."

Heading his own unit, Jones remained at Warner Bros. Animation Department until it closed in 1962. During that time, he and animators such as Tex Avery and Bob Clampett developed and refined Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and many others.

The three men, whom Thoren called "the Beatles of animation," came up with their own scripts while working in cramped bungalows on the back lot of Warner Bros. Studios.

Jones was the last surviving member of the trio.

Jones moved to MGM, where he created new episodes for the Tom and Jerry cartoon series. While there, he directed the Academy Award-winning film "The Dot and the Line."

He later started Chuck Jones Enterprises and produced nine half-hour animated films for television including Rudyard Kipling's "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" and "The White Seal."

In the late 1970s, Jones and daughter Linda Jones Clough started a continuing art business, selling limited edition images created by Jones and depicting scenes from his most enduring cartoons.

One of those films was the 1957 Wagnerian mini-epic "What's Opera, Doc?" The film was inducted in 1992 into the National Film Registry, being praised as "among the most culturally, historically and aesthetically significant films of our time."

Two years ago, Jones established the Chuck Jones Foundation to recognize, support and inspire continued excellence in the art of classic character animation.

Jones also is survived by daughters Linda and Rosalin Bellante; son Peter Dern; brother Richard Kent Jones; by his first wife, Dorothy Webster, and by grandchildren Todd Kausen, Craig Kausen and Valerie Ericsen, and Jason, Scott, and Kevin Bohrer of his wife by her previous marriage. He also is survived by six great-grandchildren.

A memorial is being planned in Newport Beach.

In lieu of flowers, the family asked that contributions be made in the name of Chuck Jones to the Motion Picture & Television Fund or to the Chuck Jones Foundation.

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Times wire services contributed to this report.

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