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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Yosemite Sam - Oooooooooooh, That Varmint!

One of the very first entries that I ever did in this blog was a feature on a Looney Tunes villain. If you scroll back to the entry that is dated May 28, 2011, you'll see a cartoon spotlight on Elmer Fudd, and the various ways that he attempted to “kill da wabbit” known as Bugs Bunny.

Now, certainly Elmer Fudd tried his darndest to get his hands on Bugs Bunny, but try as he might, he couldn't outsmart the carrot munching, dress wearing, ACME stock holding bunny rabbit. It became a bit of a running gag of sorts. Every time Elmer Fudd starred alongside a cartoon short with Bugs Bunny, you knew that Bugs would get the upper hand every single time. I mean, let's face it, Elmer Fudd was never the most brilliant crayon in a box of Crayolas, and every single plot of his was foiled fairly easily.

So, I can see why some people might have the opinion that Elmer Fudd was just too easy of a target for Bugs Bunny's manipulations. Some might even call Bugs Bunny nothing more than a nasty bully for not giving Elmer Fudd a fair fight.

(Of which I say...if you were Bugs Bunny and you constantly had a hapless hunter trying to shoot you each passing day, would you NOT want to stop them in their tracks?)

Regardless, animator Friz Freleng decided to do something about it.

His goal was to create an adversary that would be a little bit more difficult for Bugs to outsmart so easily. Although small in size, his determination to get Bugs Bunny was very intense. He was not above violence and using bully tactics in order to get what he wanted. He's tougher than Elmer Fudd could have ever hoped to be, and he also learns from any mistakes he may have made before. He's also fairy ingenious in his plots to get Bugs Bunny, as he too much have ACME on speed-dial.

Really, the only thing that keeps this Bugs Bunny adversary from achieving his goal is his inability to refuse a challenge. I mean, if Bugs Bunny say, draws a line in the sand, then his nemesis du jour will have to find a way to cross it...even if there's a bottomless pit on the other side.

No wonder Yosemite Sam hates that varmint!

Yes, the subject for today's blog is the classic Looney Tunes baddie, Yosemite Sam. But, really, how terrible can a Looney Tunes character be if he has made people laugh for almost seven decades? I know that I certainly love me a Yosemite Sam cartoon marathon! I thought that I would post links to several Looney Tunes shorts starring both Sam and Bugs Bunny so that you could have your very own cartoon marathon.

Now, Yosemite Sam's very first official appearance was in the cartoon “Hare Trigger”, which debuted on May 5, 1945. However, an early characterization of Yosemite Sam was reported to have been drawn into the 1943 short “Super-Rabbit” (under the name of Cottontail Smith). So, let's just for the sake of argument say that Yosemite Sam is turning seventy years old this year! Wow...seventy years old, and his beard is still scarlet red. How does he do it?

TRIVIA: Other names that were considered when it came down to naming Yosemite Sam were “Texas Tiny”, “Wyoming Willie”, and “Denver Dan”! And, in the 1990 series, “Tiny Toon Adventures”, his student counterpart was the rich, scheming Montana Max.

Unfortunately, I tried looking for both of Sam's first appearances online, but came up short in both instances. However, many of Yosemite Sam's thirty-three appearances in Looney Tune cartoons are readily available online, so before they inevitably end up getting pulled, I'll post a few links to these cartoons. Enjoy them while you can!

SHISHKABUGS (1962) – In this cartoon, which is set in medieval times, Sam is a chef for a rather mean, spoiled, rotten king. Sam can't seem to do anything right for him, despite his obvious talent as a chef. But until Sam finds a way to create the perfect “hassenpfeffer”, the king will have him imprisoned and tortured. Now, the problem is that Yosemite Sam doesn't know what “hassenpfeffer” is. I honestly didn't know what the dish was at first. But doing a quick search on Wikipedia, I discovered that the meal is German in origin, and that one of the key ingredients is rabbit. And, naturally, when Bugs Bunny makes an appearance in the cartoon, you can only imagine what will happen.

TRIVIA: This is the shortest cartoon in the Merrie Melodies library, clocking in at just under five minutes.

HORSE HARE (1960) – We're going back to the year 1886 for this classic cartoon, and Bugs Bunny has been assigned to guard Fort Lariat from invaders. So, naturally, Yosemite Sam has to try and get in at all costs. What eventually happens causes something huge to happen between the cavalry and the Indians.

FROM HARE TO HEIR (1960) – In this cartoon, Yosemite Sam has been given a title...Sam, Duke of Yosemite. And, Sam is in dire straits, as his father has cut off his allowance. He needs money, and fast. Of course, Bugs Bunny announces that he has one million pounds to offer, and Sam is the lucky winner. But, there's a catch. In order for Bugs to give Sam the money, he has to control his temper...and if you've ever seen a Yosemite Sam cartoon, telling Sam to control his temper is like trying to build a house of cards in the middle of a hurricane.

PIKER'S PEAK (1957) – This one is probably one of my favourite Yosemite Sam cartoons ever. I suppose one could probably compare this cartoon to the reality television series, “The Amazing Race”, where Bugs and Sam are competing against each other to climb the “Schmatterhorn” for a cash prize. The ending has a twist that you'll never see coming!

RABBITSON CRUSOE (1956) – This is also one that I absolutely love for three things. It's a spoof of the popular book, “Robinson Crusoe”, it has some of the most incredible sight gags presented in a Merrie Melodies short, and there's a supporting character that never ceases to make me laugh in hysterics!

CAPTAIN HAREBLOWER (1954) – This episode is filled with real-life inconsistencies, but you know what? It's a Looney Tunes cartoon. You learn to overlook the fact that a bomb cannot stay lit underwater, or that people who get blown up into ashes can come back to life, or that talcum powder is more dangerous than we believe it to be.

BALLOT BOX BUNNY (1951) – Yosemite Sam is running for mayor of a small town (and doing a rather terrible job of it too). And, when Yosemite Sam makes a promise to get rid of all the rabbits in the country, Bugs doesn't care for that promise at all, and steps into the mayor race as the lone challenger for “Honest” Sam. Who wins the race? You'll have to click the title of the episode to find out!

ALONG CAME DAFFY (1947) – What? You think Yosemite Sam only has hatred for bunnies? In this clip, Sam (and what appears to be a twin brother) are starving, and are competing against a family of rats for food. They need to eat, or they will die of starvation. So, what do you suppose happens when Daffy Duck comes into the crossfire? A lot of hilarity, that's what!

And, that's all that I have to present for Yosemite Sam videos. To end this entry off, I ask a trivia question.  Do you know exactly how many actors played Yosemite Sam in his near 70-year existence? Well, the answer is nine!

The late Mel Blanc is obviously the voice artist that is most recognizable. He did play the role from 1945 until his death in 1989. And, here's an interesting tidbit about Blanc's version of Sam. He had great difficulty coming up with a voice for Sam until one day when he had a bunch of pent-up road rage inside of him and he let it out in a huge, powerful voice. That voice ended up being perfect for Sam, but after performing his voice for a set period of time, it left Blanc very hoarse. To get around it, Blanc always did Sam's voice last during recording sessions.

Maurice LaMarche currently does the voice for Yosemite Sam, having taken over in 1992.

But several voice artists have done one-off cameos in the name of Sam. In the 1988 film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, the voice was done by Joe Alaskey (as Blanc himself was unable to perform it). Jeff Bergman performed the voice on “Invasion of the Bunny Snatchers”. In the 1996 film “Space Jam”, Bill Farmer took on the role. Charlie Adler voiced Sam in an episode of “Tiny Toon Adventures”, Greg Burson voiced the role in “Animaniacs”, and in the few appearances he did on “Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries”, Sam was voiced by Jim Cummings.

In the most recent incarnation of Looney Toons cartoons, “Looney Tunes Back in Action”, Sam is voice by Jeff Bennett.

Believe it or not, even veteran actor Frank Gorshin (better known as “The Riddler” in the 1960s Batman series) took a turn voicing Yosemite Sam in “From Hare to Eternity”!

It's funny how a character so small in stature could have so many people working behind the scenes to give him his voice.

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