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Bugs Bunny is a popular Warner Bros. cartoon character famed for his wisecracks and ability to handle any situation with a calm demeanor. Today's audiences know Bugs as a gray rabbit, but he started out as a small white rabbit. He made his first big screen appearance in an animated short called Porky's Hare Hunt on 30 April 1938.
The short film was directed by Cal Dalton and Ben Hardaway. Hardaway's nickname, incidentally, was Bugs. In this particular animated film, the character Porky Pig played a hunter who was harassed by a small white rabbit that is more concerned with driving Porky insane than escaping from a hunter. This movie was Bugs' first introduction to the world.
The animators decided to use the character in another film. Bugs' second appearance in the movies occurred in 1939 with the cartoon Prest-O Change-O. Bugs Bunny played a magician's pet rabbit that pesters two dogs seeking shelter in the magician's house during a storm.
The irreverent rabbit made his third appearance that same year in a film called Hare-um Scare-um. The film was directed by Dalton and Hardaway, but animator Gil Turner informally gave the rabbit its name. Turner wrote Bugs' Bunny on the model sheet since Turner always thought of the rabbit as Hardaway's creation. This cartoon featured Bugs as a gray bunny instead of his previous versions as a white rabbit.
Hare-um Scare-um was the first time Bugs sang in a film and the first time he dressed as a woman. Dressing in drag was a frequent occurrence in Bugs' movies. After this animated short, the rabbit was officially named Bugs Bunny in honor of his creator Hardaway.
The 1940 movie Elmer's Candid Camera marked Bugs Bunny's fourth appearance on film. Bugs and Elmer Fudd were changed slightly into the characters audiences are most familiar with today. On 27 July 1940, Bugs showed up in a film called Wild Hare and uttered his trademark phrase What's up, Doc? for the first time.
It wasn't until 14 September 1940, in the movie Patient Porky that Bugs Bunny's name was actually used in a film. American audiences finally learned the name of the popular cartoon character. By January 1941, Bugs was featured in his first starring role, Elmer's Pet Rabbit.
The clever rabbit's calm, wisecracking personality endeared him to World War II audiences, and Bugs quickly became one of the most popular Looney Tunes characters. In 1942, his look was refined; artists made his teeth less prominent and his face rounder. By 1958, the Bugs Bunny animated short Knighty Knight Bugs won an Oscar for Best Short Subject: Cartoons of 1958.
Some of the cartoons featuring Bugs have become American classics. Rabbit Fire, Rabbit Seasoning, and Duck, Rabbit Duck! are three cartoons that are called the Duck Season/Rabbit Season trilogy. They are widely regarded as some of director Chuck Jones' best work.
In 1957, What's Opera, Doc? featured Bugs and Elmer in a parody of the Wagner opera Der Ring des Nibelungen. The United States Library of Congress has since declared it to be culturally significant, and it was selected by the National Film Registry for preservation in its archives.
Bugs Bunny moved to television in the fall of 1960, starring in The Bugs Bunny Show, a program that ran on television for 40 years. It featured some of the original Warner Brothers shorts intermingled with new Bugs cartoons. It originally aired on prime time but moved to Saturday morning reruns after completing two seasons.
Bugs has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and has been featured in numerous cartoons, movies, and video games. In 1997, he was the first cartoon character to be featured on a U.S. postage stamp. A 2002 issue of TV Guide declared him the greatest cartoon character of all time.