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"I Think, Therefore I Ant."


February 19

   
The Secret Journals of Leon Schlesinger
 
      


Leon Schlessinger was studio head and president of Warner Brother’s animation division from 1937- 1946. A notorious gambler and drinker, Mr. Schlesinger is reputed to have called the cartoons that he produced “trash” and generally took a singular uninterest in the work created by his studios.

His journals, long thought destroyed in the Acme Factory fire of 1949, were just recently uncovered. The following are few of the more revealing excerpts... 

PORKY’S CONTRACT CAPERS

Began contract renewal talks with Porky. Talk about your shit ways to start a day!  The pig’s still angry at me for giving Petunia the axe. But business is business and that little piglet couldn’t act to save her greasy butterball ass.  I don’t know why the little oinker’s so upset. I mean it’s not like he was bonking her or anything -- Porky’s little secret might fool the rest of America, but we know which way the wind (that is to say, Porky), blows around here.

Of course he’s also still pissed about the diet we put him on…. But, Jesus Christ, something had to be done.  The little fucker had gotten way too fat: Now don’t get me wrong, I know fat is funny, but it can also be disgusting. And the pig has really let himself go. For God's sake, you can see the lard sweating off the pig in every one of his pictures. 


Porky's 1st Toon "I Haven't Got A Hat"

So blubber boy comes into my office and shoots a nasty scowl at a picture of me and Daffy at The Brown Derby that I have on my desk. Then he waddles over to a chair and plunks his big bacon ass into it… I make a mental note to call the cleaner’s the moment that fat boy leaves.

We stare at each other in silence for a minute or so. I’m gazing into his snout and wishing that he wore trousers, and he’s sort of twitching. I give him a look that says, ‘what’s on your mind?’

He’s just getting ready to speak when I beat him to the punch.  “Porky, baby, you look great, piggy!” 

I tell him the diet’s doing wonders for him and then inform him I only have a few minutes.

“Well, L-l-l-l-l-Leon,” he finally manages to sputter out… Now I know this cracks up all of America, but personally, it drives me insane. Truth be told, if that porcine puke wasn’t so popular, I’d have dumped him ages ago.  No shit, there’s something about that stutter that just gets under my skin.

“I’ve, l-l-l-looked over the co-co-con-con-paper work,” he tells me, “and I have to admit I’m more than a little pe-pe-pe-perturbed.”

I look him over with total disgust.  I make sure he understands my look, plain and simple.   This little piggy would still be Leonard Cummings, and working at a market in Iowa if it wasn’t for me.  And although this son of a swine has the nerve to talk money with me, to bitch about what I’m paying him, I’m not worried.

Sure, I know the people at Disney don’t have a lead pig and rumour is Porky’s being having lunches with the beloved, drunken, fascist, Uncle Walt.  But I know the Porkster, better than anyone else.   “Look Porky,” I grab a bottle and offer him a drink that I know he’ll refuse, “if it were up to me, that number would be a lot higher, hey you know I love you, chunky, but the fact is, well, you’re not our number one star anymore.” 

He’s offended by the truth; as a rule most pig actors are.  He starts ranting about Warner Brother’s being in the dumpster until he came along and how if it wasn’t for him, yada yada yada... I admit he’s right about this and thank him profusely for all he’s done for the studio. But I’m quick to remind him that right now he’s our number three star.

Then I casually mention a smelly skunk with all kinds of screen potential that our talent scouts have been checking out – just to make him a little nervous. He doesn’t flinch, I offer up a primo parking spot, all the slop he desires and dinner with Lana Turner.

His sardonic laughter sends shudders down my spine, so I decide to play my ace in the hole.

“Look, Pork, that’s the best I can do, if you don’t like it maybe you should go somewhere else.”

I can see his little pink pig eyes light up. Obviously Walt’s offered up a sweet pot, but by my next sentence whatever hope he had is all but a memory.

“I mean,” I continue (it’s an idle threat but I know I’ve got him), “I’m sure there are lots of studios interested in you.  I can only hope that they’re as successful as we have been at keeping your little, oh let’s call them, fruity extra curricular activities, out of the press.”

The pig suddenly gets agitated; he now accepts my offer of a drink. “You wouldn’t d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-dare!” he squeals. 

I light up a cigarette and smile.

“Not intentionally,” I tell him, “but you know how it is. Stories get told; somehow the press gets wind of it.  And I don’t think Uncle Walt would take too kindly knowing his new pig was a... set designer.  In fact, I’m pretty sure he disapproves of, or some might even say, positively detests, that kind of behaviour.”

For a second or two I think he’s gonna start crying, I really hope not because I’m not in the mood for a laugh. But he doesn’t… Instead, he looks at the contract and asks me if that’s all I can offer.

“Th-th-th- that’s all Porky!” I tell him.

 “Leon,” he says, “has anyone ever told you that you’re a p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-p-prick!”

I tell him yes. He signs the contract and storms out. I have a quick drink, call the cleaners, joke to myself about just taking Porky to them, and then go out for a ham sandwich.

               

Daffy Duck in…
  “THE QWACK FIEND” 

"That tootsie you lined me up with gave me the clap!" 

Daffy gives me a wacky smile; his eyeballs shoot out of his head, his jaw drops to the ground then his body goes limp and forms into a little black puddle. Unable to stop myself, I burst out laughing.   Sure, I’ve been peeing shards of glass all morning and my dick is in a frightful state, but that duck is so goddamned funny. 

“Suffering succotash,” he cackles, “talk about your sour persimmons, hoo hoo hoo!” 

I bust a gut. By the time the duck’s helped me off the floor, all the while singing this crazy, improvised song about venereal disease, my urge to ring his scrawny neck has gone.

“Don’t worry, Leon, we’ve all been there before, lover boy.”  He winks at me mischievously and then reaches into his down and pulls out a card. “He’s a very discrete physician, Leon, so don’t sweat it, cousin.”

With the exception of Daffy, I’ve always done my best to avoid having to deal with the talent. Truth be told, they make me wanna puke. And as far as I’m concerned, at 7 minutes a flick, these frenetic actors always wear out their welcome. 

That Bogey is friends with the rabbit sends my head spinning…  Still there’s no accounting for tastes, and like I said, I really love this duck, warts and all.

“Say Leon,” Daffy says, a mouthful of gob spraying me in the face. “Come here,” he jesters for me to move closer, I’ve already got my guard up when I notice the strange and demented glint in my buddy’s eyes. He looks around the office in a paranoid sort of way, making sure it’s just the two of us.  He loudly whispers into my ear, “I was wondering, about those little white goodies.  Brother, they sure do the trick!”

Before I can say anything, he hops on an imaginary bicycle and begins riding it around the office while the musical tune of “Merry Go Round Broke Down” begins reverberating off my office walls.

I feel a pang of sorrow in my heart.

“Daffy,” I tell him, “you don’t need that shit, hell, you’re funny enough.”

The duck hops off the bike and in a lightning bolt his body is wrapped around my head. Now he’s draped in a tuxedo jacket and tails, his hair done up like some great French lover,  “Be quiet Cheri,” he croons, French accent and all.  “Don’t be afraid for Daffy, he knows exactly what he’s doing. Take me to the casaba; we will make beautiful musique together.” He starts kissing my forehead passionately. 

I try and pull him off me, but of course, his body just keeps stretching. Finally with all my might, I fling him off of myself and watch in amazement as he does a great, ‘duck bouncing off the walls,’ routine….

It’s pure Daffy nuttiness.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, the soundtrack for, “Freddie The Freshman,” comes up and Daffy’s wearing a Yankees uniform and is winding up to pitch one to me. 

“It’s all up to you, DiMaggio, we need you to score for ol' Daffy.”  Well I swing at it with the bat that has mysteriously appeared in my hand (that duck is pure magic I tell you) And the next thing I know the duck is fielding the ball and telling me to go for home plate.  “Slide DiMagio, slide!” `he roars. Once again, somehow, I’m caught up in his crazy world.

After three bumps on my noggin and one explosive cigar, I’m making a phone call for him… Now that the duck knows he’s getting what he wants he relaxes and plunks himself down on my desk in a provocative pose, but I can see he’s hurting.

45 minutes pass and he starts acting more than a little screwy. He begins pacing back and forth, wearing a hole into my floor, then he starts walking on the walls and defacing my pictures. He paints a moustache on a picture of my mother. He starts ranting, real crazy like.

“Not bad for a kid who never took a lesson, eh Leon? Eh Leon? EHH LEON???? EHHHHH LEON? HOO HOO HOO HOO HOO!!! HOW MUCH LONGER? HOW MUCH LONGER?” 



I try and keep him settled with scotch and cigarettes but it’s a tough business. Secretly I worry about the potential damage this crazy duck could do to the studio. The last thing I want is to see the messed up mallard getting dragged out in a hospital stretcher on his way to the nut house -- unless, of course, it’s in one of my pictures. 

75 cigarettes, six bottles of scotch, and a couple of minutes later, I notice he’s staring to shake in a cold sweat.  Things are starting to go beyond funny. He’s desperate for the drugs, I’ve seen the look before. He spends the next fifteen  minutes on the phone berating his agent, I can hear the guy crying over the extension.  Thankfully, before Daffy can start in on his agent’s wife’s physical shortcomings there’s a knock at my door and the qwacked fiend will finally be getting what he needs.

“Thanks a million, Leon,” he says, then plants me a big wet one on the lips and casually exits, leaving me to pay up on his account.

About a half an hour later I'm just about to go out for lunch when my secretary bursts into my office and tells me that Mel Blanc has just found Daffy in the men’s room. The fucking duck is lying in his vomit with a syringe hanging out of his wing. 

I tell her I’ll handle it; find the card of the discrete doctor that Daffy gave me earlier and start dialing.

THE RABBIT SEES RED 

Starring Bugs Bunny

I had just finished watching the dailies of the rabbit’s latest film and was feeling more than slightly depressed,  “Slick Hare” was destined to be yet another in the string of hits that the rabbit had starred in. Bugs had moxy, he had ‘noive,’ he had charisma, he had star power, he was making me a rich man, but I still couldn’t escape the fact that I hated him…

More than any of my stars, more than anyone else in the world, I hated him. I hated his cocky arrogance, I hated his ears, his Brooklyn accent, his meteoric rise to the top and I hated his vegetarianism…  I’m a meat and potatoes man and don’t trust anyone who doesn’t feel the same way: Most of all though, I hated the fact that I needed him. 

I was sucking back some scotch in the hopes of improving my mood, when all of a sudden the door swings open and in he walks like he owns the place.  Now under any other circumstances, I’d nail the bastard who had the gall to just sashay in without an appointment, but with the bunny...well, things were different with him. I always felt that he knew it pissed me off that he could get away with this type of behavior, and was sure that that was the main reason he acted this way.  Without even asking, he wanders over to my desk, pours himself a large drink, opens a gold cigarette case, produces a carrot and begins chewing on it, the sound of his crunching on the thing annoyed me, but what annoyed me even more was the fact that I knew the next word’s out of his mouth. 

“Eeeh, what’s up, shit for brains?’



I rub my hand deep into my face and once again secretly wish that once, just once, Elmer would get it right and blow the fucking rabbit’s nuts off.

“Very funny, Bugs,” I falsely laugh, hoping that whatever crap it is he has to spew is over with quickly. He pours himself another drink and reaches into his cigarette case, I emit a low groan and he returns it with a sour look.

“So what can I do for you?”  I ask.

“D’you see the dailies?”  He scratches himself idly, all the while looking incredibly pleased.

“Yes, yes, I saw the dailies...” I try to leave it at that, but he gives me a look that says, ‘and?’ so, knowing his massive ego I follow with, “good work, very funny stuff.”

"Good?”  The goddamned rabbit sneers, “Good, Leon?” he says with a familiarity I find offensive, “Good?  What are you some kind of wise guy?  This was some of me best work. Why I’m sure to get the Academy Award for this one… And you...”

“It was great Bugsy,” I say, knowing he hates the nickname, but before he can interject I follow with, “some of your best work, truly inspired; that coconut pie routine with Elmer, gosh, it was still funny the fifth time you did it.”

He chews on his lip, not sure whether I’m being sarcastic or not, then decides to let it go.

“What ‘cha think of Bogey?”

Once again, my heart sinks.  Bogey in a Bug’s film... How could he?  My favorite actor in the world; a guy I’d give me left nut to produce, and here he is in a bunny film.  To make matters worse, not only is Bogey friends’ with the rabbit, but he thinks he’s a comic genius.  Bogey idolizes the rabbit, the way I idolize Bogey, it’s just not fair, damn it!   “He was great.” I manage to mumble.

“But not as great as me, right, Leon?”  The vermin baits me.

“No, Bugs, not as great as you.” I get ready for the drill.

“And why is that, beaver puss?”

"Because you’re the greatest talent in all of Hollywood, Bugs. There’s no one who can top you.” The words make me gag, I reach over for my bottle and notice a tingling in my left arm; it feels like little animated kittens licking at my veins. Even a heart attack, I think to myself would be better than another five minutes with this offensive, egomaniacal rodent.

“That's right. Now listen prune face,” the rabbit says, suddenly all business, “I ain’t working for McKimson anymore, you got that Leon?  The guy’s a hack, he’s holding me back, he makes me look offensive.  That guy has no sense of the comic poetry that is Bugs Bunny.”

Comic poetry!  This was a new angle. “Look, Bugs,” I can hear the pleading in my voice and it makes me hate myself.

“Shut up you maroon, and listen to this!”  The rabbit pauses for a second, and then lets go with one of the loudest and ungodliest sounding farts I’ve ever heard. “Boy, ain’t that stinker?”  He chuckles balefully, and I have to agree, the room is suddenly over powered with the scent of noxious bunny fumes.

I can feel a vein on my forehead, it’s pounding to get out of my skull, and I once again relive all the indignities this lousy rodent has put me through...

The endless gag-fest of joy buzzers and handshakes; the burning pokers up my butt; the wet kisses on the mouth, it was an insult, I knew it.  Then there were my suspicions that he was sleeping with my wife, not to mention the fact that I was convinced it was him who had removed the brakes from my car. 

“Lookin’ a little hot under the collar, fat boy,” Bugs chortled.

I turned my attention back to this fucking loathsome piece of shit and took a full spray of seltzer in the face, completed with the smashing of the bottle on my noggin.  I snapped. 

Suddenly I’d had it, I’d never liked the little pellet dropping asshole to begin with, and it was time to tell him as much.  I’d let him know what I really thought of him (even though I was sure he suspected it all along) and his raging ego.  I’d tell him the academy thought he was a joke, and that he’d be long dead before he ever won an Oscar.  I’d confess my secret loathing about his need to do drag, and tell him how much it sickened me.  As far as I was concerned he was a sexual weirdo who got off on it; in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if he was wearing a bra and panties even as we spoke.



 I’d remind him of his reluctance to join in on the propaganda films, of his Nazi sympathizing past, his socialist background, his cowardice to take a stand and what a hypocrite he was… 

And then, in my greatest moment of triumph, I’d kiss him square on the lips and tell him about the latest project I had in store for him; I called it, ‘The Pregnancy Test.’

I wanted to say all of that, but all I could manage was, “You’re fired.”

“Oh, a power struggle eh?” the rabbit didn’t flinch.  “Okay, Leon.”  He waltzed (literally) to the door, turned back, gave me an evil smile and said, “Of course you know, this means war.”

I heard the door slam behind him: a loud echoing boom that shattered every piece of glass and knocked over every book in my office. The light from above me crashed onto my head… it was only natural it should, of course… 

A couple of hours later I was told I was wanted upstairs, I didn’t bother going. Once the rabbit had declared war, I knew it was over.


"And that's that..."


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