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Bugs Bunny Turns 75

Everyone’s favorite cartoon rabbit has reached three-quarters of a century in age, turning 75. In honor of Bugs Bunny’s birthday, we bring you Forward’s David Kaufmann’s look at Bugs’ Jewish influences:

Can we find the rabbi in the rabbit? As far as I can tell, Bugs never uses a word of Yiddish, but he does have a yidisher kop . He has the gift of gab as well as a fine command of Acme products. Poor Elmer — was there ever a Jew named Elmer? — never stands a chance. Of course, it is well known that Bugs comes from a long line of tricksters. He is an Eastern Anansi, an American Hershele Ostropoler. He’s even distantly related to Isaac Babel’s Odessa gangster, Benya Krik…

During the golden age of Warner Brothers cartoons, the only other characters with marked accents were Pepé Le Pew and Speedy Gonzales, and they were foreign. The rest of our banner favorites — Elmer, Tweety, Sylvester and their ilk — tended to have speech impediments. (According to Chuck Jones, Sylvester’s lisp was actually a take-off of the much-disliked producer Leon Schlesinger. Schlesinger didn’t get it.) Bugs is pure New Yawk, a fine mixture of Brooklyn and the Bronx. Not for him the posh elongated vowels of a Roosevelt (“I hate wahhhhhhr”). Rather, his are the clipped nasal sounds of a smart-aleck rabbit of the streets (“Ain’t I a stinka?”). Nothing patrician there. Bugs is a bunny of the people, a working-class hero who clearly isn’t Irish and is hardly Italian…

Rabbits ain’t kosher, but what does it matter? The “Looney Tunes” shorts in which Bugs appears are always structured around extinction and endurance, the two great poles of Jewish thought and dream. They are purimshpiels in which Haman is played by an amiable stooge with a rifle that chronically misfires. What more do we need?

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