Bugs Bunny is an animated cartoon character; created in 1940 by Leon Schlesinger Productions (later Warner Bros. Cartoons) and voiced originally by the legendary vocal artist, Mel Blanc. Bugs is best known for his starring roles in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of animated short films, produced by Warner Bros. during the golden age of American animation. His popularity during this era led to his becoming an American cultural icon, as well as the official mascot of Warner Bros. Entertainment.
Bugs is an anthropomorphic gray hare or rabbit who is famous for his flippant, insouciant personality; a Brooklyn accent; his portrayal as a trickster; and his catch phrase "Eh... What's up, doc?", usually spoken while chewing a carrot. Though a similar rabbit character began appearing in the Warner Bros. cartoon shorts during the late 1930s, the definitive character of Bugs Bunny is widely credited to have made his debut in director Tex Avery's Oscar-nominated film A Wild Hare (1940).
Since his debut, Bugs has appeared in various short films, feature films, compilations, TV series, music records, comic books, video games, award shows, amusement park rides and commercials. He has also appeared in more films than any other cartoon character, is the ninth most-portrayed film personality in the world, and has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
According to Chase Craig, who was a member of Tex Avery's cartoon unit and later wrote and drew the first Bugs Bunny comic Sunday pages and the first Bugs comic book; "Bugs was not the creation of any one man but rather represented the creative talents of perhaps five or six directors and many cartoon-writers. In those days the stories were often the work of a group who suggested various gags, bounced them around and finalized them in a joint story conference." A rabbit with some of the personality of Bugs, though looking very different, was originally featured in the film Porky's Hare Hunt, released on April 30, 1938. It was co-directed by Ben "Bugs" Hardaway and an uncredited Cal Dalton (who was responsible for the initial design of the rabbit). This cartoon has an almost identical plot to Avery's Porky's Duck Hunt (1937), which had introduced Daffy Duck. Porky Pig is again cast as a hunter tracking a silly prey who is more interested in driving his pursuer insane and less interested in escaping. Hare Hunt replaces the little black duck with a small white rabbit. The rabbit introduces himself with the odd expression "Jiggers, fellers," and Mel Blanc gave the character a voice and laugh much like those he would later use for Woody Woodpecker. Hare Hunt also gives its rabbit the famous Groucho Marx line, "Of course you realize, this means war!" The rabbit character was popular enough with audiences that the Termite Terrace staff decided to use it again. According to Friz Freleng, Hardaway and Dalton had decided to dress the duck in a rabbit suit. The white rabbit had an oval head and a shapeless body. In characterization, he was "a rural buffoon". He was loud, zany with a goofy, guttural laugh. Blanc provided him with a hayseed voice.
The rabbit comes back in Prest-O Change-O (1939), directed by Chuck Jones, where he is the pet rabbit of unseen character Sham-Fu the Magician. Two dogs, fleeing the local dogcatcher, enter his absent master's house. The rabbit harasses them, but is ultimately bested by the bigger of the two dogs. This version of the rabbit was cool, graceful, and controlled. He retained the guttural laugh but was otherwise silent.
The rabbit's third appearance comes in Hare-um Scare-um (1939), directed again by Dalton and Hardaway. This cartoon—the first in which he is depicted as a gray bunny instead of a white one—is also notable as the rabbit's first singing role. Charlie Thorson, lead animator on the film, gave the character a name. He had written "Bugs' Bunny" on the model sheet that he drew for Hardaway. In promotional material for the cartoon, including a surviving 1939 presskit, the name on the model sheet was altered to become the rabbit's own name: "Bugs" Bunny (quotation marks only used, on and off, until 1944). In his autobiography, Blanc claimed that another proposed name for the character was "Happy Rabbit." In the actual cartoons and publicity, however, the name "Happy" only seems to have been used in reference to Bugs Hardaway. In Hare-um Scare-um, a newspaper headline reads, "Happy Hardaway.