|Failure is at the heart of comedy, and I think a lot of people can associate with our characters’ failures.”
Born September 21, 1912, Chuck Jones was associated on a visceral, but not bitter level with failure. The product of an unsuccessful 1920s California entrepreneur, he and his three siblings often found themselves on the receiving end of a heap of embossed stationary and engraved pencils once attendant to a now defunct enterprise. “Draw” they were told. Draw they did. Every Jones child grew up to be a professional artist.
Shockingly skeptical of a conventional education’s utility and encouraged by his father, a 15-year old Chuck dropped out of high school to study at the Chouinard Art Institute (now the California Institute of the Arts). Graduating into the early days of the Great Depression, Jones’ first gig was peddling pencil portraits for a dollar a piece. As providence had it, the young animation industry needed Jones’ gifts more than Hollywood’s street corners did. In 1932, he landed his first job as a cell washer. By 1936, he’d risen high enough to be housed in “Termite Terrace,” old wooden buildings on Warner Brothers back lots as one of Tex Avery’s “Looney Tunes” and “Merry Melody” directors.
As animated as Jones was with his three essentials – “a pencil, a number of sheets of paper and a light source” – he was not so debonair with the dames. From this self-admitted shyness and purely of his sole conception was born my personal favorite character. From a “set” in France pranced Pepé Le Pew. Splashing onto the big screen in Academy Award-winning “For Scent-imental Reasons,” he pursues “Penelope Pussycat,” a black kitty cat who has unwittingly and unluckily squeezed under a freshly painted and still-wet white fence to emerge as the persistently pursued passion of the perfectly patient but putrid Le Pew.
Yours truly’s proclivity aside, the world ascribes Jones’ grandest achievement to a grand premier 21 years to the day before I was born. On September 17, 1949, not one, but two legends of levity were born. From that day forward, Acme’s virtual coffers would never be bare. But only one screen icon ever achieved animated levitation. Perhaps it came down to Jones’ inspiration for Wile E. Coyote, that of Mark Twain’s description of a “spiritless and cowardly” beast, “a living, breathing allegory of Want.” Of the ephemeral goal of catching the Road Runner, Jones later in life summoned a Santayana adage: “A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he’s forgotten his aim.”
Of course, I could never assign such a characterization to a contemporary figure who effortlessly comes to mind. Don’t be ridiculous. Let’s instead designate those lost leaders of the Federal Reserve who equally fit the portrayal of a lot that’s doubled down on the pursuit that so stirred Jones.
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