Happy Birthday, Daffy Duck!

United States - Scott #3306a (1999)

United States – Scott #3306a (1999)

Daffy Duck made his cartoon debut on April 17, 1937, making him 81 years old today. One of the things I love most about teaching kids is that I can relive my own childhood by using cartoons in the classroom. The only animated characters from the United States that most Thais are aware of are Mickey Mouse, Nemo, perhaps Buzz Lightyear, and the duo of Tom and Jerry. The girls also know Cinderella, Ariel from The Little Mermaid and the characters from Frozen. They tend to be wholly ignorant of Bugs Bunny, Daffy or Donald Duck, or my favorites, Speedy Gonzales and the Tasmanian Devil. It does make it interesting trying to incorporate these “new” cartoons into lessons from time to time.

I don’t have very many stamps bearing animated characters. I, like many older philatelists, was somewhat bemused when Bugs Bunny made his U.S. stamp debut in 1997 but I do remember standing in line at the Moscone Center in San Francisco to buy sheets at the PACIFIC 97 exhibition. Personally, I prefer Donald Duck as a character as he is often portrayed in a huge variety of emotions (making it a useful tool in the classroom when I want to teach words such as “anger”, “sadness”, “happiness”). I love the image on this stamp, Scott #3306a, where Daffy appears quite perturbed when noticing the stamps on the letters in his mailbox picture Bug Bunny (Scott #3137a or #3138a) and Sylvester and Tweety Bird (Scott #3204a or #3205a) rather than himself.

Daffy Duck 1Daffy Duck is an animated cartoon character produced by Warner Bros. Styled as an anthropomorphic black duck, the character has appeared in cartoon series such as Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, where he usually has been depicted as a foil of Bugs Bunny. Daffy was one of the first of the new “screwball” characters that emerged in the late 1930s to replace traditional everyman characters who were more popular earlier in the decade, such as Mickey Mouse and Popeye. Daffy starred in 130 shorts in the golden age, making him the third-most frequent character in the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies cartoons, behind Bugs Bunny’s 180 appearances and Porky Pig’s 162 appearances.

Daffy was number 14 on TV Guide‘s list of top 50 greatest cartoon characters.

Daffy Duck 2

Daffy first appeared in Porky’s Duck Hunt, released on April 17, 1937. The cartoon was directed by Tex Avery and animated by Bob Clampett. Porky’s Duck Hunt is a standard hunter/prey pairing for which Leon Schlesinger’s studio was famous, but Daffy (barely more than an unnamed bit player in this short) was something new to moviegoers: an assertive, completely unrestrained, combative protagonist. Clampett later recalled:

“At that time, audiences weren’t accustomed to seeing a cartoon character do these things. And so, when it hit the theaters it was an explosion. People would leave the theaters talking about this daffy duck.”

This early Daffy is less anthropomorphic and resembles a “normal” black duck. In fact, the only aspects of the character that have remained consistent through the years are his voice characterization by Mel Blanc; and his black feathers with a white neck ring. Blanc’s characterization of Daffy once held the world record for the longest characterization of one animated character by his or her original actor: 52 years.

The origin of Daffy’s voice, with its notable lateral lisp, is a matter of some debate. One often-repeated “official” story is that it was modeled after producer Leon Schlesinger’s tendency to lisp. However, in Mel Blanc’s autobiography, That’s Not All Folks!, he contradicts that conventional belief, writing, “It seemed to me that such an extended mandible would hinder his speech, particularly on words containing an s sound. Thus ‘despicable’ became ‘desthpicable.'”

Daffy’s slobbery, exaggerated lisp was developed over time, and it is barely noticeable in the early cartoons. In Daffy Duck & Egghead, Daffy does not lisp at all except in the separately drawn set-piece of Daffy singing “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down” in which just a slight lisp can be heard.

In The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950), Daffy has a middle name, Dumas as the writer of a swashbuckling script, a nod to Alexandre Dumas. Also, in the Baby Looney Tunes episode “The Tattletale”, Granny addresses Daffy as “Daffy Horatio Tiberius Duck”. In The Looney Tunes Show (2011), the joke middle names “Armando” and “Sheldon” are used.

Expressions of Daffy DuckVirtually every Warner Bros. cartoon director put his own spin on the Daffy Duck character — he may be a lunatic vigilante in one short but a greedy gloryhound in another. Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones both made extensive use of these two very different versions of the character.

Tex Avery and Bob Clampett created the original version of Daffy in 1937. Daffy established his status by jumping into the water, hopping around, and yelling, “Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo! Woo-hoo!” Animator Bob Clampett immediately seized upon the Daffy Duck character and cast him in a series of cartoons in the 1930s and 1940s. The early Daffy is a wild and zany screwball, perpetually bouncing around the screen with cries of “Hoo-hoo! Hoo-hoo!” (In his autobiography, Mel Blanc stated that the zany demeanor was inspired by Hugh Herbert’s catchphrase, which was taken to a wild extreme for Daffy.) Clampett physically redesigned the character, making him taller and lankier and rounding out his feet and bill. He was often paired with Porky Pig.

Daffy would also feature in several war-themed shorts during World War II. Daffy always stays true to his unbridled nature, however; for example, he attempts to dodge conscription in Draftee Daffy (1945), battles a Nazi goat intent on eating Daffy’s scrap metal in Scrap Happy Daffy (1943), hits Adolf Hitler’s head with a giant mallet in Daffy the Commando (1943) and outwits Hitler, Goebbels and Goering in Plane Daffy (1944). Daffy was “drafted” as a mascot for the 600th Bombardment Squadron.

600th Bomb Squadron emblem Daffy Duck.

600th Bomb Squadron emblem Daffy Duck.

For Daffy Doodles (his first Looney Tunes cartoon as a director), Robert McKimson tamed Daffy a bit, redesigning him yet again to be rounder and less elastic. The studio also instilled some of Bugs Bunny’s savvy into the duck, making him as brilliant with his mouth as he was with his battiness. Daffy was teamed up with Porky Pig; the duck’s one-time rival became his straight man. Arthur Davis, who directed Warner Bros. cartoon shorts for a few years in the late 1940s until upper management decreed there should be only three units (McKimson, Friz Freleng, and Jones), presented a Daffy similar to McKimson’s. McKimson is noted as the last of the three units to make his Daffy uniform with Jones’, with even late shorts, such as Don’t Axe Me (1958), featuring traits of the “screwball” Daffy.

While Daffy’s looney days were over, McKimson continued to make him as bad or good as his various roles required him to be. McKimson would use this Daffy from 1946 to 1961. Friz Freleng’s version took a hint from Chuck Jones to make the duck more sympathetic, as in the 1957 Show Biz Bugs. Here, Daffy is over-emotional and jealous of Bugs, yet he has real talent that is ignored by the theater manager and the crowd. This cartoon finishes with a sequence in which Daffy attempts to wow the Bugs-besotted audience with an act in which he drinks gasoline and swallows nitroglycerine, gunpowder, and uranium-238 (in a greenish solution), jumps up and down to “shake well” and finally swallows a lit match that detonates the whole improbable mixture. When Bugs tells Daffy that the audience loves the act and wants more, Daffy, now a ghost floating upward (presumably to Heaven), says that he can only do the act once. Some TV stations, and in the 1990s the cable network TNT, edited out the dangerous act, afraid of imitation by young children.

While Bugs Bunny became Warner Bros.’ most popular character, the directors still found ample use for Daffy. Several cartoons place him in parodies of popular movies and radio serials; Porky Pig was usually a comic relief sidekick. For example, Daffy in The Great Piggy Bank Robbery {1946} as “Duck Twacy” (Dick Tracy) by Bob Clampett; The Scarlet Pumpernickel {1950} Daffy was the hero and Porky Pig was the villain. In Drip-Along Daffy (released in 1951 and named after the popular Hopalong Cassidy character) throws Daffy into a Western with him labeled “Western-Type Hero” and Porky Pig labeled “Comedy Relief”. In Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century (1953), a parody of Buck Rogers, Daffy trades barbs (and bullets) with Marvin the Martian, with Porky Pig retaining the role of Daffy’s sidekick. In Rocket Squad, a 1956 parody of Dragnet and Racket Squad Daffy and Porky Pig pair up once again. Daffy also played Stupor Duck. Robin Hood Daffy {1958} casts the duck in the role of the legendary outlaw Robin Hood with Porky Pig as Friar Tuck. Besides being playing parodies, Daffy also played a salesman-who continually annoys a potential customer to buying something: in Fool Coverage Daffy actually succeeds into selling Porky Pig a $1,000,000 accident policy which only works under impossible conditions — unfortunately for Daffy, all the conditions occur!

Daffy Duck 3Bugs’ ascension to stardom also prompted the Warner Bros. animators to recast Daffy as the rabbit’s rival, intensely jealous, insecure and determined to steal back the spotlight, while Bugs either remained cool headed but mildly amused or indifferent to the duck’s jealousy or used it to his advantage. Daffy’s desire to achieve stardom at almost any cost was explored as early as 1940 in Freleng’s You Ought to Be in Pictures, but the idea was most successfully used by Chuck Jones, who redesigned the duck once again, making him scrawnier and scruffier. In Jones’ famous “Hunting Trilogy” (or “Duck Season/Rabbit Season Trilogy”) of Rabbit Fire, Rabbit Seasoning and Duck! Rabbit, Duck! (each respectively launched in 1951, 1952, and 1953), Daffy’s attention-grabbing ways and excitability provide Bugs Bunny the perfect opportunity to fool the hapless Elmer Fudd into repeatedly shooting the duck’s bill off. Also, these cartoons reveal Daffy’s catchphrase, “Youuu’re deththpicable!” Jones’ Daffy sees himself as self-preservationist, not selfish. However, this Daffy can do nothing that does not backfire on him, more likely to singe his tail feathers as well as his ego and pride than anything.

It is thought that Chuck Jones based Daffy Duck’s new personality off of his fellow animator Bob Clampett, who, like Daffy, was known as a loud self-promoter. In Beanstalk Bunny Daffy, Bugs and Elmer are once again teamed up in a parody of Jack and the Beanstalk (with Elmer as the giant) while in the spoofs of the TV shows The Millionaire and This Is Your Life, The Million Hare Daffy tries to defeat his arch-rival Bugs Bunny for a $1,000,000.00 prize given out by his favorite TV show and This Is a Life? Daffy tries to upstage Bugs Bunny in order to be the guest of honor on the show; in all three of these cartoons Daffy ends up a loser because of his own over-emotional personality (which impairs Daffy’s common sense and reasoning ability) and his craving for attention.

Daffy Duck 4Film critic Steve Schneider calls Jones’ version of Daffy “a kind of unleashed id.” Jones said that his version of the character “expresses all of the things we’re afraid to express.” This is evident in Jones’ Duck Amuck (1953), “one of the few unarguable masterpieces of American animation” according to Schneider. In the episode, Daffy is plagued by a godlike animator whose malicious paintbrush alters the setting, soundtrack, and even Daffy. When Daffy demands to know who is responsible for the changes, the camera pulls back to reveal none other than Bugs Bunny. Duck Amuck is widely heralded as a classic of filmmaking for its illustration that a character’s personality can be recognized independently of appearance, setting, voice, and plot. In 1999, the short was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.

When the Warner Bros. animation studio briefly outsourced cartoon production to DePatie-Freleng Enterprises (DFE) in the 1960s, Daffy Duck became an antagonist in several cartoons opposite Speedy Gonzales, who refers to Daffy as “the loco duck.” In Well Worn Daffy (1965), Daffy is determined to keep the mice away from a desperately needed well seemingly for no other motive than pure maliciousness. Furthermore, when he draws all the water he wants, Daffy then attempts to destroy the well in spite of the vicious pointlessness of the act, forcing Speedy to stop him. The Warner Bros. studio was entering its twilight years, and even Daffy had to stretch for humor in the period. In many of the later DFE cartoons, such as Feather Finger and Daffy’s Diner, Daffy is portrayed as a more sympathetic character (often forced to turn against Speedy at the behest of a common enemy) rather than the full-blown villain he is in cartoons like Well Worn Daffy and Assault and Peppered. The last cartoon featuring Daffy and Speedy is See Ya Later Gladiator, in what animation fans call the worst cartoon made by Warner Bros.

Screenshot of

Screenshot of “See Ya Later, Gladiator” (1968)

Daffy appeared in later cartoons. He was one of many Looney Tunes characters licensed by Warner Bros. to appear in the 1988 Disney/Amblin film Who Framed Roger Rabbit. In the film, Daffy (utilizing his original, wacky characterization) shares a scene with his Disney counterpart and rival Donald Duck whilst engaged in a piano duel. In 1987, to celebrate Daffy’s 50th anniversary, Warner Bros. released “The Duxorcist” as its first theatrical Looney Tunes short in two decades. Daffy Duck also appeared in several feature-film compilations, including two films centering on Daffy. The first was released in 1983, Daffy Duck’s Fantastic Island; the second came in 1988, Daffy Duck’s Quackbusters, which is considered one of the Looney Tunes’ best compilation films and featured another new theatrical short, “The Night of the Living Duck”. Daffy has also had major roles in films such as Space Jam in 1996 and Looney Tunes: Back in Action in 2003. The latter film does much to flesh out his character, even going so far as to cast a sympathetic light on Daffy’s glory-seeking ways in one scene, where he complains that he works tirelessly without achieving what Bugs does without even trying. That same year, Warner Bros. cast him in a brand-new Duck Dodgers series. It should be stressed that in this show, Duck Dodgers actually is Daffy Duck due to him being frozen in suspended animation in some unknown incident. He had a cameo appearance in The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries episode “When Granny Ruled the Earth”, first airing on March 27, 1999. Daffy has also been featured in several webtoons, which can be viewed online.

Daffy has also made appearances on numerous television series. In Tiny Toon Adventures, Daffy is a teacher at Acme Looniversity, where he is the hero and mentor of student Plucky Duck. Daffy is shown as a baby in Baby Looney Tunes and made occasional cameo appearances on Animaniacs and Histeria!. In Loonatics Unleashed, his descendant is Danger Duck (voiced by Jason Marsden), who is also lame and unpopular to his teammates. In the majority of these appearances, the uptight, neurotic and spotlight-hungry Daffy characterized by Chuck Jones is the most commonly-used version.

Daffy has been given larger roles in more recent Looney Tunes films and series. Following Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Warner Bros. has slowly moved the spotlight away from Bugs and more towards Daffy, as shown in the 2006 direct-to-video movie Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas, where Daffy plays the lead, while Bugs appears in a supporting role.

Daffy Duck 5

However, more recent merchandise of the duck as well as that featured on the official website have been shown to incorporate elements of the zanier, more light-hearted Daffy of the 1930s and 1940s. Producer Larry Doyle noted that recent theatrical cartoons were planned that would portray a more diverse Daffy closer to that of Robert McKimson’s design; however, due to the box office bomb of Looney Tunes: Back in Action, these new films ceased production.

Daffy returned to Cartoon Network in The Looney Tunes Show, voiced by Jeff Bergman. His characterization here seems to incorporate some elements of Clampett’s and Jones’ designs while giving him an overall cheery if dimwitted personality. In the show, he has moved out of the forest and shares Bugs’s house with him. Unlike Bugs and their neighbors, Daffy has no way of earning money and relies on Bugs for food and shelter. He tried on numerous occasions to get rich quick, but ended up failing repeatedly. Daffy’s one possession he is proud of is his papier-mâché parade float, constructed on top of a flatbed truck, which is his main means of transportation. It was destroyed by a car wash incident and Daffy sought to replace it with a yacht by tricking Porky into giving him the expensive loan, but his less-than-stellar boating skills ended that ambition. His parade float is repaired shortly after. His favorite singing artist is Elton John. While Daffy’s greed and jealousy of Bugs remains, it appears to be less antagonistic in this show and in one episode, Bugs even tells Daffy in spite of his faults, he is Bugs’ best friend.

Daffy starred in the 3-D short Daffy’s Rhapsody with Elmer Fudd that was originally set to premiere before Happy Feet Two but instead debuted prior to Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. The short features Daffy and Elmer in the first CG or 3-D depiction of these specific Looney Tunes characters. According to Matthew O’Callaghan, who directed the short, the audio comes from a 1950s recording for a children’s album.

Daffy appeared in the 2015 DTV movie Looney Tunes: Rabbits Run. Daffy appears in the Cartoon Network series New Looney Tunes where he is voiced by Dee Bradley Baker and has the personality that Tex Avery and Bob Clampett originally gave him in the 30s and 40s.

Dell Comics published several Daffy Duck comic books, beginning in Four Color Comics #457, #536, and #615 and then continuing as Daffy #4-17 (1956–59), then as Daffy Duck #18-30 (1959–62). The comic book series was subsequently continued in Gold Key Comics Daffy Duck #31-127 (1962–79). This run was in turn continued under the Whitman Comics imprint until the company completely ceased comic book publication in 1984. In 1994, corporate cousin DC Comics became the publisher for comics featuring all the classic Warner Bros. cartoon characters, and while not getting his own title, Daffy has appeared in many issues of Looney Tunes.

 

Daffy Duck 6On April 16, 1999, the U.S. Postal Service issued a 33 cent stamp, designed and illustrated by Ed Wleczyk of Warner Bros., featuring Daffy leaning against a rural mailbox with a “that’s despicable” look directed at two letters in the mailbox that bear stamps of other Warner Bros. characters on them. The stamp was issued in self-adhesive panes of 10 with the right side constituting a large version of the design with a single stamp while the left side was a pane of nine stamps. The two sides were separated by a row of microperforations. They were printed by Avery Dennison using the photogravure process with serpentine die-cut perforations of 11.1. Scott #3306 featured the pane of stamps all die-cut but Scott #3307 included one imperforate stamp in the right-side pane. There were 42,700,000 copies of the former printed but only 500,000 of the imperforate variety.

Envelope received from a stamp dealer in the United States (the packet contained stamps ordered from that dealer) on which none of the stamps received cancellations but, worse than that, many of the stamps were placed on top of other stamps...

Envelope received from a stamp dealer in the United States (the packet contained stamps ordered from that dealer) on which none of the stamps received cancellations but, worse than that, many of the stamps were placed on top of other stamps… It is no wonder that Daffy is looking fairly disgusted!

I have but one copy of the U.S. Daffy Duck stamp, which arrived on an envelope from a stamp dealer, partially overlapped with two additional stamps. None of the stamps were cancelled, part of an ever-increasing trend on mail originating in the United States. In fact, the U.S. is the only country that rarely seems to be able to get a proper postmark on its international mail nowadays and the only country where stamp dealers seem to regularly paste stamps onto the envelopes in such a haphazard manner, often covering other stamps rendering them unfit to collect. If you are going to use interesting stamps for postage, please consider that the recipient would like to soak and keep those stamps (a high likelihood if that recipient ordered stamps from you in the first place). I wouldn’t rant like this if it was an isolated incident but it has become quite the trend, unfortunately. Enough said…

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United States Flag 1912-1959

Looney TunesWarner Bros. Cartoons

 

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