Chuck Jones had a great-uncle Lynn who used to tell him that a pig could not be made into a racehorse. What might reasonably be hoped for, he said, was "a mighty fast pig."
So postulate a kid born, 1912, in Spokane. Endow him with a directionless passion for drawing. Enroll him in what was available, Chouinard Art Institute, in Los Angeles of all places, at a time when L.A. was a parvenu's paradise, a cultural desert. Next—1930—plunge the world into economic despair. Sit back, wait. No, do not expect a Malibu Leonardo. But, should genes and fortune and circumstance conspire just so, you may be rewarded with a surprising version of Uncle Lynn's "mighty fast pig."
Such is one approach to Charles Martin (Chuck) Jones, indisputably a master in an art—he'd have called it a trade—that only now is starting to be defined. That was motion picture Character Animation, and it flourished in One place in
the world—Southern California—for perhaps thirty years (say 1933–63). Its several dozen practitioners (or several hundred; definitions are elastic) had the good fortune never to be aware that they were practicing anything resembling an art. (Otherwise put: neither did Animation Critics exist, nor were any Traditions easy to lay hold of.) It flourished thanks to economic givens that ought to have made anything of lasting interest impossible. Then it faded amid paeans to social progress. (And the brief flowering of Periclean Athens: was that perhaps equally chancy? We simply do not know how such things happen.)
Chuck Jones, 81 at this writing and going strong, now finds himself firmly installed in Animation History, a domain of learning that commenced to flourish less than two decades ago. One early instance is the January–February 1975 issue of Film Comment . Another is Jay Cocks's "The World that Jones Made," in the December 17, 1973, issue of Time . Though generous to Jones's way with studio properties—Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck—Cocks drew special attention to the glorious one-shots: One Froggy Evening, notably; and Duck Amuck, which the priesthood is now about ready to call "self-reflexive." Should you ever face the solemn task of preserving just one six-minute instance from the unthinkable thousands of hours of animated footage that's accumulated since—oh, since 1914, you'd not go wrong in selecting "a Jones."
To savor such wonders you need to examine them repeatedly; and as long as they existed only on film, high cost kept access restricted to affluent fanatics. A like situation obtained in the long centuries when books were accessible solely via manuscript copies, too expensive for individuals to dream of. Today the video cassette recorder permits most of us to own
the classics of animation, and certainly the finest work of Chuck Jones, at the total cost of a dinner or two or three on the town. For whatever purposes the VCR may have been marketed, friends of animation at least may perceive its worth. It's one more prizeworthy mighty fast pig.
The Jay Cocks article first alerted me to Chuck Jones. A letter to Cocks fetched a Jones address; then a letter to Jones brought Jones to Baltimore, where, one memorable afternoon and evening, he discoursed, drew pictures for children, and showed a Johns Hopkins audience a film anthology. The texture of the discourse was memorable; I wish I could recall who it was he characterized as "a trellis of varicose veins." And the films—I'll not forget Arnold Stein the Milton scholar, inclining his head after One Froggy Evening to confide, "That was simple . . . and AB-so-lute."
As it was.
At Corona del Mar, California, in July 1990, I saw Chuck and Marian Jones daily for a week. What got taped on those visits is a primary source for this book. Though I've since tried to cross-check facts, I can't guarantee them. Animation history remains rife with vagaries of human memory. Meanwhile it seems worth setting down what I can offer.
A word about printed sources. In addition to the January–February 1975 Film Comment, and one article in a later issue (May–June 1976), I've drawn on Jones's own 1989 memoir Chuck Amuck, on Steve Schneider's 1988 That's All Folksh!: The Art of Warner Bros. Animation, on Joe Adamson's 1990 Bugs Bunny: Fifty Years and Only One Grey Hare, and on John Grant's Encyclopedia of Walt Disney's Animated Characters (second edition, 1992). I've not meticulously acknowledged every use,
partly to keep footnote clutter thinned out, partly because my most frequent recourse to a book or an article was for cross-checking something I'd heard from Chuck Jones. Like all great raconteurs he tends to have formulaic versions of key stories, and when what I heard was almost word for word what another interviewer had heard I felt under no obligation to dwell on the fact.
Four people I've never met helped make this book possible. Jennifer Jumper in Seattle was heroic in transcribing tapes riddled with nonsense such as airplane noises. Dave Mackey in Oakhurst, New Jersey, made a key video available and has since answered flurries of queries. Paul Raulerson in Eagan, Minnesota, explicated the computer's way of handling a comma. And Harry McCracken in Arlington, Massachusetts, put at my disposal his tape library and his vast knowledge of Animation History. I'm in touch with the four of them thanks to a computer network: the Byte Information Exchange (BIX). We enjoy a high-tech age and ought to acknowledge it.