Chuck Jones 1912 - 2002
In a career spanning over 60 years, Jones made more than 300 animated films, winning three Oscars as director and in 1996 an honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement. Among the many awards and recognitions, one of those most valued was the honorary life membership from the Directors Guild of America.
During the Golden Age of animation Jones helped bring to life many of Warner Bros. most famous characters—Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd and Porky Pig. The list of characters he created himself includes Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Marvin Martian, Pepe le Pew, Michigan J. Frog, and many others. He also produced, directed, and wrote the screenplays for "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," a television classic, as well as the feature-length film "The Phantom Tollbooth." In addition, Jones was a prolific artist whose work has been exhibited at galleries and museums worldwide.
Jones often recalled a small child who, when told that Jones drew Bugs Bunny, replied: "He doesn't draw Bugs Bunny. He draws pictures of Bugs Bunny." His point was that the child thought of the character as being alive and believable, which was, in Jones' belief, the key to true character animation.
Born on September 21, 1912 in Spokane, Washington, Jones grew up in Hollywood where he observed the talents of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. After graduating from Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles (now California Institute of the Arts in Valencia) Jones drew pencil portraits for a dollar-a-piece on Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles. Then, in 1932, he got his first job in the fledgling animation industry as a cel washer for former Disney animator, Ubbe Iwerks. It was at Iwerks Productions that he met Dorothy Webster, to whom he was married in 1932.
In 1936 Jones was hired by Friz Freleng as an animator for the Leon Schlesinger Studio (later sold to Warner Bros.). Jones admired and revered Freleng for the rest of his life, saying, "No one except Tex Avery had as perfect a sense of timing as did Friz Freleng." He worked his way up from cel washer to assistant animator, then animator, and finally in 1938, he directed his first short animated film, "The Night Watchman," stopping only briefly in July of 1937 to welcome his only child, daughter Linda, to the world.
After Avery and Clampett left the studio in the early 1940s, Friz Freleng, Robert McKimson, Chuck Jones, working with their own formidable team of writers, layout artists, background painters, and animators, created cartoons until the studio was closed in 1962. This period is often noted as the "Golden Age of Animation." Arguably some of the most enduring cartoons ever made were produced in this period; most of them still enjoy worldwide recognition to this day.
When Warner Bros. closed their animation studio Jones moved to MGM where he created new episodes of the Tom and Jerry cartoon series. While there, in addition to "The Phantom Tollbooth" and "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas", Jones directed the Academy Award-winning film, "The Dot and the Line."
Jones established his own production company, Chuck Jones Enterprises, in 1962 and produced nine half-hour animated films for television including "Rikki Tikki Tavi" and "The White Seal", both of which were based on stories in Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book".
After the death of his first wife, Jones met and married the love of his life, Marian Dern, who remained his best friend, lover, and companion for the rest of his life.
In the late 70s Jones and his daughter, Linda, pioneered a continuing art business featuring limited edition images created by Jones depicting scenes from many of his most cherished cartoons. He continued to support his daughter's business, generously making appearances, drawings, and paintings, in addition to signing countless editions of images, which continue to delight collectors and fans worldwide.
One of his films, the Wagnerian mini epic, "What's Opera, Doc?" was inducted into the National Film Registry in 1992 for being "among the most culturally, historically and aesthetically significant films of our time." Since then, the Smithsonian's National Film Registry has also added his "Duck Amuck" and "One Froggy Evening" to its roster of the most important films of the 20th century.
In recent years, Jones' work has been honored at film festivals and museums throughout the world, including a one-man retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. His autobiography, "Chuck Amuck", was published in 1989, now in its fifth printing. "Chuck Reducks, Drawing on the Fun Side of Life", his follow-up to the first book, was published in 1996.
In 1999, Jones established the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity, designed to recognize, support, and inspire continued excellence in art and the art of classic character animation. The Center, a 501(c)3 organization is dedicated to re-invigorating the creative spirit through art classes, exhibitions, lectures, and film festivals, all of which spring from the material in the Chuck Jones archive. His writings, art, and other ephemera from a nine-decade life, along with his philosophy of guiding and nurturing instruction, form the basis of the programs.
Director Peter Bogdanovich once explained the enduring appeal of Jones' work: "It remains, like all good fables and only the best art, both timeless and universal."
Chuck Jones died at the age of 89 in February 2002, but he leaves a legacy of brilliance, comedy, joy, color, and laughter that will live on forever.