Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pepe Le Pew

Three years ago on my birthday I gave my opinion of Daffy Duck. For my birthday this year I will blog about an often misunderstood character: Pepe Le Pew (otherwise known as "that French skunk who's always trying to fuck cats")

The original concept of the character came from Mike Maltese. You see, in the 1930's and 40's there was a well known French actor named Charles Boyer. He had scored a huge hit with
American audiences with his Pepe Le Moko character in the movie Algiers (1938). Well, more specifically he scored a hit with American women. With his deep voice and gentle charm it's easy to see how these women could be won over by him. They liked him a little TOO much actually. He was the kind of handsome and charming actor that caused wives to nudge husbands, sisters to nudge brothers, and girlfriends to nudge boyfriends and say "now why can't you be more like that? See, he's a gentleman. He wouldn't have yelled at my mother last Thanksgiving...." So, I think the reason Mr. Maltese decided to put this type of personality into a skunk was to avenge all the hen-pecked husbands out there. That's the way his subversive/satirical mind worked.
Here's Charles doing what he does best. (Don't let your wife/sister/girlfriend see this, it could be dangerous for you):

But, Pepe Le Pew is not merely a celebrity caricature. There are other aspects of his personality that really distance him from Mr. Boyer.
1. Pepe needs to be the chaser. There's a certain chauvinistic part of him that causes him to need to be the pursuer. It's unclear if he feels this way because he needs to dominate someone (specifically a female) or if he just simply grew up in an old fashioned world where men and women had their specific roles in society and the idea of either gender upsetting that balance was thought to bring about anarchy and the destruction of the family unit. Perhaps a bit of both. This situation comes about in the Pepe cartoon Little Beau Pepe.

In this cartoon he joins the Foreign Legions and falls in love with the fort's mascot, a black & white cat who gets her skunk-stripe by rubbing up against a painted ladder. The soldiers run off due to Pepe's stench and so he and the cat have the fort all to themselves.
While pursuing her, he stops and talks to the camera/audience and says, "why does a woman run away when all she wishes to do is be captured?" Of course, we all know the real reason she runs away from him, but that's not the point. His comment indicates that he loves chasing her all over the place but wishes that her inevitable capture was just a trifle bit easier. However, he changes his tune at the end. After she passes out from the desert heat, Pepe sprays himself with every perfume he can find and then sings a very romantic song
about himself. This of course works too well for Pepe. As he says,
"I have overstocked the furnace". She is now pursuing him. Instead of being glad that this lover's chase is 1,000,000 times easier, his immediate reaction is fear. He runs from her as fast as he can while saying to the camera/audience "why is it that when a man is chased by a woman, all he wish to do is get away?"
That was one of Chuck Jones' specialties. He really knew how to develop very complex characters within (what would be under lesser directors) repetitive formulas. This is of course much more apparent with his Wile E. Coyote character, but he adds some interesting wrinkles to his Pepe Le Pew character as well. Which brings me to point #2:
2. Pepe thinks so highly of himself and his love-making skills that he doesn't notice how repulsive he is. Every time that cat runs away from him he always makes an one excuse or
another about how she's just "putting her make up on" or "finding a nice private trysting place for us". Even when she violently assaults him before fleeing for her sanity, he still feels as though she is playing "hard to get" rather than simply trying to get away from him. He must have had several successful encounters with actual female skunks all who must have spoken highly of him. That's one plausible explanation for this attitude of his. Either that or he's simply delusional. Nevertheless, it definitely feuls the fire for his relentless chasing.
Of course, both these aspects have caused several women's groups and PTA members to cryfoul over the years, especially when that dreaded disease known as "political correctness" started contaminating too many of the earth's citizens (hey, scientists, hows about we start developing a vaccine to rid us of that pandemic already). They are correct when they point out that Pepe's actions are a blatant (and hilarious) case of sexual harassment. He's giving her affectionate attention that she clearly doesn't want. Every time she tells him to stop (by either running away or assaulting him and then running away) he keeps going. That's the definition of harassment. However, rather than let it go as a clever comedy of errors to
be enjoyed, some of the more militant members of these women's groups go much much further. They claim that "these cartoons were made to encourage little boys to develop rape fantasies that
they'll attempt to bring to reality. And also, little girls will think that rape is 'cute' or 'amusing' and will be ill-prepared when sexual
assault happens to her". Oh, of course, serial rapists like The Boston Strangler and Ted Bundy were all created by a little french skunk who appeared in movie houses and then on Saturday morning.
Here's the real poop. Those apsects (numbered 1. and 2.) I mentioned earlier both basically came from another writer at the Warner Bros. studio, Tedd Pierce.

No, he didn't add those traits to the character, he lived them.

You see, Tedd Pierce was very much a "party animal" before anyone had even coined that term. You think you and your buddies like to rip up the town with your drunken antics, you'd be eating Tedd's dust. He would party so far into the night that he would look at his watch and exclaim "Whoa! It's time for work already". So, go straight to work from wherever he was partying half drunk and half hungover. And by straight to work, I mean STRAIGHT to work. No time for showering, brushing teeth, shaving, or anything. You can imagine the
stench on such a man. However, sometimes he'd go through several days in a row like this. Once at work after a solid night of partying, he contribute gags and story ideas but also take as many cat-naps as he could. Then when work was done, it was off to the swinging bar scene again where he'd once again party until it was time for work again. So, quite often he had several days worth of filth and stench all over him. And yet, despite this, he still thought of himself as a "ladies' man". He was constantly trying to make time with the ink & paint girls. And, every time one of those girls tried to get rid of him, he never thought of it as a rejection. She was merely "feisty" or "playing hard to get".
This is what inspired Chuck Jones to create Pepe Le Pew the way that he did. He was merely making fun of Tedd. Of course, Chuck Jones' track record with females was quite lacklustre to say the least (at least Chuck himself felt that way). Part of it could have been green-eyed jealously from Chuck. But, mostly Pepe was meant to be a swipe at Mr. Pierce.
So, the next time you hear the PC thought police try to supress Pepe with claims of "promoting
molestation fantasies", direct them to this blog post and then inform them that Chuck Jones and Mike Maltese weren't trying to promote rape with their Pepe Le Pew character. They were actually saying "Hey, Tedd. Ya! I'm talking to you Mr. Pierce. See this skunk? That skunk is YOU, jackass!!" They never said that out loud to him of course. They hoped that maybe Pepe would drop a subtle hint about his conduct in the ink & paint room. But, wouldn't you know it, true to Tedd's self-absorbed, egotistical personality, he never caught on. Tedd Pierce is even credited for co-writing the second Pepe cartoon Scent-imental Over You.

Sadly, Pepe and this cat aren't allowed to do their schtick anymore, thanks to all the humouless PC bandits that ruin everything. For example, take a look at this MCI commercial starring them:

They actually get along and even have a healthy and mutually loving relationship. Sure it's a more ideal situation that most rational people wish to achieve. But, WHERE'S THE COMEDY IN THAT??!! In order for entertainment to be... well... entertaining, a certain amount of conflict is needed. As John Cleese once stated, the basis of all comedy are the 7 deadly sins. Take away Pepe Le Pew's lust, greed, and pride and you end up with a big pile of nothing much like the situation in that commercial up there.
So, with that, I'll leave you with one of Pepe's original classics. This one, I think, has a perfect balance of sex and violence (that being S & M). Watch and enjoy:

Oh, and...

Happy birthday to me.
Happy birthday to me.
Happy birthday dear David.
Happy birthday to me.


  1. Nice piece.

    I'll have to look at the Daffy Duck one.


    (oh god, did I just type buddy.....get my out of Cape Breton)

  3. A hilarious and serious opinion about this charachter, I never laughed so much and realised how all those voices about Pepe are true! Happy birthday

  4. Was looking for the inspirations behind Pepe Le Pew and ran into this great article, that not reveals some of the characters behind the characters, but also some of the deeper messages one would miss if just laughing at the surface. One thing you may find amusing is that while this was probably by no means intentional, the French actor Yves Montand in the movie 'Let's Make Love' has such a striking resemblance to an actual human Pepe Le Pew, that one cannot roll in laughter:

  5. I believe the Pepe character was modeled after the French Claude Dauphin on the movie April in Paris that was womanizing in french from the beginning to the end of the movie. In fact one of his lines was, "she always fights off the first two kisses..." He even sounds like the skunk!

    1. Ok sure. Chuck Jones was a highly intellectual man who was inspired by many cultural works. It's entirely possible he could've been inspired by this film too.