History of Film — Bugs Bunny Exposed


Sep 27

By way of introduction, no, this has nothing to do with wellness, although the entertainment industry tried for decades to reinforce strict standards of morality that were intended to create better citizens. Your author is a journalist with many interests and I thought this might be of interest to some. And if you go to Snopes, you will see they judge this page, this subject as an internet myth. However, the Mikkelsons haven’t put as much time and effort into this subject as I have, so I will forgive them.

Censorship in Hollywood began in the wake of the Fatty Arbuckle rape and murder scandal. Although Arbuckle was never convicted, conservatives throughout the land felt a need to clean up Hollywood and produce healthier and more wholesome entertainment for all ages. And though the “rules” were laid out, it wasn’t till Mae West flaunted them in her first (and only Academy Award nominated film, She Done Him Wrong that the industry clamped down tightly on productions.

William Harrison Hays, Sr, Harding’s campaign manager, was appointed Postmaster General after Harding’s successful run for the White House. Hays resigned his position after a year to become the first president of the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors of America.

Their goal was to renovate the industry and set standards, which at that time, varied from state to state. Studios were charged for these changes; by the foot of excised film and for each title card edited. then there was the cost of duplicating and distributing separate versions of censored films to each state per the rules of that state.

It wasn’t Hays who came up with the final code, or Hays Code as it would be called, but a handful of priests and lay persons, with the blessings of Cardinal George W. Mundelein of Chicago who turned it over to Hays. It had been exactly what he’d been looking for.

The production code consisted of three general principles:

  1. No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin.
  2. Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented.
  3. Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation.

It was from these general principles that specific restrictions were drawn up. Nudity and suggestive dancing was prohibited, as well as illegal drug use, offensive language, and even mixed race marriages.

In the thirties, cartoons came under the scrutiny of the Hays Office and you can only imagine the shake up as suddenly some barn yard animals had to wear clothing. Because animation could do anything the creator could dream up, censoring cartoons was a bit more complex than censoring feature films. As written up in a 1939 copy of Look Magazine, “Robert Taylor may kiss Garbo in a feature picture, but it isn’t considered nice for Porky Pig to kiss Petunia Pig in an animated cartoon. Censors prefer the romance of the hand-holding type.”

Additionally, censorship on feature films began during the scripting of the film and while filming. For cartoons, only after they were completed did they appear before the censor. Cutting just a few feet of film out of a cartoon destroyed hundreds of hours of work.

In his first film, Tweetie Bird was drawn pink. When Tweetie appeared next, it was yellow because censors felt the pink color just made the bird look naked. For Fleisher, it was the demand of the Hays Office to put a longer dress on Betty Boop that led to her demise. Audiences were just no longer interested in her without minor titillations of her skirt popping up and panties showing.

When WWII broke out, filming in America did not not slow down, but kicked into high gear churning out film after film as fast as production lines spat out tanks, planes, and ammo. War cartoons (propaganda) were the subject of every studio: Disney, Fleisher, MGM, Columbia, Warner Brothers, and some independents.

Many of the cartoons were aimed at War Bond drives, but most were educational, teaching soldiers some of the skills they’d need to stay alive. Patriotic cartoons abounded as Bugs Bunny became an honorary Marine and Donald Duck got drafted into the Army.

And the Hays Office rules went out the window when it came to the Private Snafu cartoons (and others) Warner Brothers made for the troops. They were made to instruct and entertain the young men going off to war. Thus concessions were made.

But not all cartoons of the time touched on the war; Bugs still got the better of Elmer Fudd, while Tom chased Jerry.

One thing we seem to forget today is that cartoons were made by adults for adults. Yes, the kiddies loved them, but there was no Saturday cartoons special on television (there wasn’t even television). Cartoons were made to play before the feature film.

Cartoonists were comedians, clowns, jokesters, and buffoons. They believed that they’d never worked a day in their lives. At Warner Brother’s Studios, the Looney Tune artists lived and worked in a building they called, Termite Terrace. When they weren’t dreaming up gags, they were outside acting them out. Frank Tashlin, Chuck Jones, Friz Frieling, and Bob Clampett were the main directors at Warner Brothers in 1942. Each had his own style, his own method, but the gags were often shared between them.

With the Hays Office flooded with films to preview, someone in the Termite Terrace came up with a plan to slip something past the censors: just a few frames of Bugs Bunny’s penis. I’ve interviewed three artists/animators about this conspiracy, two of whom would only talk about this off the record, finally agreeing to speak “anonymously.”

This is one of those secrets that just couldn’t stay hidden. Nobody is sure who thought it up, but the animators made sure cells had been drawn up to replace any footage excised, just in case the reviewer (or reviewers) caught the offensive frames.

Nobody caught them.

In March of 1942, The Wabbit Who Came To Supper was released and over the years only a few people have admitted to knowing anything about the naughtiness of the “bathroom scene.” Most people don’t see a thing; the scene goes right past them. Then there are those who write it off as the tub behind Bugs appearing through his legs that causes the “illusion” of a penis on Bugs, but it is clearly Bugs Bunny’s furry penis, and I will prove it to you.

This is the 1942 Bugs Bunny. It was drawn prior to his features being regularized on a model sheet drawn by Robert McKimson in 1943 (see below). You will notice that the white on Bugs’ belly does not continue all the way to his crotch. Only a few times does white of his belly appear to reach his crotch when Bugs bends his flexible backbone and his tummy is curved outwards.

In 1943, Robert McKimson drew out the model sheet which is still used today to draw the famous “wabbit.” Note in the upper right corner that he’s written: “White of belly continues thru to tail.” Prior to this, drawings of Bugs were not standardized and his design was left up to the artists involved as long as they recreated the Bugs everyone knew and loved.

In this drawing, we see that the white of his belly appears to reach his crotch. However, never once in this cartoon does his crotch climb up into the white (or relatively speaking, does the white of his belly extend onto his legs).

Note that we are about to be told that it is the split between his legs that the towel will reveal (in the upcoming scene), and we are expected to believe that it extends into the white of his belly, when this drawing shows that there is definitely gray between his belly and his crotch.

This is the first frame of Bug’s exit from the tub. Notice his “furyness” is starting to make an appearence.

In this next frame we see it momentarily standing at attention. We are told at the Internet Movie Database: “As Bugs steps out of the bathtub and readjusts his towel, the white tub in the gap between his legs creates the illusion that he is exposing himself.”

There are a couple things wrong with this interpretation. First, it is the towel behind him we would see, not the tub. Were it the tub we were seeing, it would be shadowed as the tub is shadowed to his left and right and below the towel. Additionally, were it the towel behind him, it too would be darkened by shadow. However, as you can see, it’s as white as his gloves (and a shade whiter than his belly). And the gray, to his right (your left) of his manhood comes up too high to be part of his normal gray, and that is because it is a shadow. If you call it an illusion created by peering between his legs, then the white of his belly now extends below his crotch breaking up his gray coloring which throughout the cartoon is not broken up.

If you overlay the frames, you’ll see that as Bugs bends to adjust his towel, his penis drops too. If you think you are seeing between his legs, shouldn’t the grey of his outer body be on top of this opening? His body lowers as the “area” lowers. However, note in this frame, we don’t see a smooth line of his “supposed” crotch, but at the top (your) left, there’s an indent. The indent was drawn to display his penis penetrating his fur.

These are the last two frames in the series.

Next you can see the animation in slow motion:

There you have it. With all the evidence, we can easily debunk the view that this is an illusion.

  • The area is not shaded to match the background.
  • We are supposed to believe that the white of his belly now extends below his crotch and the gray is now broken up by the white of his belly when this can only be explained by his white, furry penis protruding up above the gray.
  • The penis has shadow and substance when it touches the white fur on his belly.

And now for one last little video to show you that when Bugs stands, nowhere in this cartoon does the white of his belly break the grey area of his outer body except in the “bathroom scene.” I’ve made both images of Bugs the same size to make the grey areas match in both and to illustrate how whatever it is that pops up, is breaking up the grey area of his outer body.

Some would ask why anyone would go to the trouble of investigating and writing this all up, while a film historian would not. This is film history. One day, on a Warner Brothers lot, a group of adults clowning about decided to try to “pull one over” on the censors and on the American public. They did it superbly, even allowing a morsel of doubt to float about. They loved “the gag” and this was one of their biggest. They went to their final rest laughing, knowing they’d pulled it off.