Wednesday, June 23, 2010


4 years ago on my birthday, I made a post about Daffy Duck. Last year, I did a post about Pepe Le Pew. This year, while commemorating my 36th time witnessing our planet revolve around the sun, I will talk about another woefully misunderstood character: Tweety.

Not only do most people not know what Tweety is all about, some are even confused about what gender he is. And, of course, too many people under the age of 10 only know Tweety as a corporate trademark to be plastered all over girly-girl merchandise (which of course only adds to the gender confusion). Today, in this blog post, I will attempt to fully elucidate on what is the true essence of Tweety. And, in order to do that, I have to first talk about where Tweety came from.

Tweety came from the delightfully disturbed mind of one Robert Emerson Clampett (known as Bob Clampett to friends and fans). In the year 1942, Bob and his staff thought it would be fun to do a cartoon about Abbott and Costello as cats. Of course, they couldn't just fill up 7 minutes with aimless banter. This wasn't one of those cheap, suffocating, modern cartoons where they're only allowed to spew aimless banter. This was the golden age of animation. Audiences demanded action. So, they figured that it would be a good idea for these 2 cats to try to catch a bird. But, rather than our regular type of bird like a robin, a sparrow, or a chickadee that could fly around with ease, they thought to use a relatively new born bird. In real life, they are mere hors d'oeuvres to cats. The joke here, of course, is that the Abbott and Costello cats (here named Babbitt and Catstello) are so inept that they can't even catch an easy meal like this. The result of this concept was the instant classic: A Tale of Two Kitties.

As you can see, this is unmistakably Tweety's debut as a character, catch-phrase and all. Tweety's design was based on a naked baby picture of Bob Clampett that his mother proudly
displayed in their home. (It's also been said that Bob designed the wattle on the beak of the pelican referee in Porky and Daffy after his own testicles and also had several drawings of Daffy Duck's beak in The Great Piggy-Bank Robbery resemble a vagina. But that's mere hearsay and speculation.) However, I think Tweety is more than just a physical caricature of Bob as a baby. Tweety also represents both sides of Bob Clampett's brain: the wide-eyed innocent youth as well as the relentless prankster. Remember that Clampett started working at the WB studio when he was only 17 years old. Though not entirely small (he stood 6'3"), he was viewed as innocent youngster at first. That is until everyone got a load of the constant pranks Bob would pull on everybody (Chuck Jones' unit got hit the most by his and his staff's onslaughts). Therefore, I think Tweety is truly Bob's most personal creation. I should also mention at this point that Tweety is indeed a sociopath (hopefully that wasn't a component of Bob's personality). Just look at Tweety's eyes as he watches his feline adversaries suffer all sorts of pain. There is not one ounce of remorse. There is never a feeling of "perhaps I've gone too far". Any remorse that Tweety DOES show is done with a venal level of disdainful sarcasm. It's almost as if the suffering of cats doesn't affect him at all. Plus, he's as strong as an ox when he wants to be. All of this put together made Tweety quite a powerhouse to deal with.
Of course, the censor board (back then just as much as today) are no stranger to compromising artistic integrity. They very wilfully violated the very personal identification between Tweety and Bob's baby picture by demanding that they cover up Tweety's "nudity". The "nude" Tweety appeared two more times in the cartoons Birdy and the Beast and Gruesome Twosome. Sadly, it was around that time that Bob Clampett was leaving the studio (some say he quit and others say he was fired, it might have been a little of both). One of the last acts Clampett performed before leaving was allowing Tweety to be adopted by long veteran director Friz Freleng which involved covering up Tweety's nude body. They eventually settled on exchanging the pink paint for yellow and making Tweety officially a canary.
The result was the 1947 cartoon Tweetie Pie. It was not only the first time Tweety was paired with Friz Freleng's creation Sylvester the Cat, it was also the first cartoon that won an Oscar for Warner Bros. An intersting side note: producer Edward Selzer didn't want Slvester to be paired with Tweety. He even demanded to Friz drop Tweety and use the woodpecker from the previous Sylvester cartoon. Not only did Friz vehemently refuse to back down, he even handed Mr. Selzer his pencil and said, "Here! If you're so smart, you do it." and went straight home. Later that night, Friz got a phone call at home. It was Mr. Selzer saying "Okay, do it your way." From then on, Sylvester and Tweety were a team. Here is that cartoon now:

The Sylvester and Tweety team was a big hit with audiences with this cartoon. So much so that pretty soon, Warner Bros. had asked them to produce 3 Sylvester & Tweety cartoons every year. A task that I'm sure was quite daunting after a while.
Friz kept Tweety's personality relatively in tact with the first few cartoons he directed. Bad Ol' Putty Tat (c. 1949) somewhat reprises the vicious routineTweety gave to Catstello in A Tale of Two Kitties. In Home Tweet Home (c. 1950) Tweety attempts to "save" Sylvester as he's falling from the sky by placing a pillow on the ground. When Sylvester finally lands, it is suddenly revealed that the pillow contained a hidden anvil. "Who do you suppose put that in that pillow?" Tweety smugly asks. It was also at this time that the
series was emersed in some very ingenious premises such as in the cartoons Ain't She Tweet (c. 1952), Catty Cornered (c.1953), or the Oscar nominated Sandy Claws (c. 1955). However, as the 1950's waned on, it was clear that the series was merely cruising on auto-pilot. One last ingenious entry into the Sylvester & Tweety series was the Oscar winning Birds Anonymous (c. 1957). But it was surrounded by several other rather formulaic cartoons.
Not only that, Tweety was slowly changing throughout these cartoons. More and more, Tweety was doing less and less. In the cartoon Canary Row (c. 1950), Granny was introduced as Tweety's owner and protector. More often than not, from that point on, it was actually either Granny or a bull dog who would foil Sylvester's plans. Tweety would mostly observe from a safe vantage point. In Tweet and Sour (c. 1956), Tweety actually NEEDS Granny to save him from Sylvester. In Tweet Zoo (c. 1957), Tweety spends the last half of the cartoon perched on a tree inside the alligator cage where Sylvester can't even get near him. Check out this entry done late in the series. Tweet and Lovely (c. 1959):

Either the dog foiled Sylvester's traps or Sylvester ruined them himself. Tweety did absolutely nothing to protect himself.
This is the state in which Tweety languished for years, definitely after the original studio shut down. Finally, in 1996, the makers of Space Jam made a little attempt to return Tweety to his powerhouse roots. That's one of its highlights (among a long laundry list of major flaws).

But, soon afterwards, Tweety began to become an image to be posted on pink merchandise for girls along with Hello Kitty, Betty Boop, Dora the Explora, and the Disney princesses. Stuff like this:

There are even some girls with a relatively healthy obsession with him. I found more than a few of those in the Tweety Facebook group I commandeered. All of this has sadly lead way too many people to believe that Tweety may be a girl. I've been told he is even marketed as a girl in Israel.
Here's definite proof of Tweety's masculinity. Below is the original model sheet for Tweety's first cartoon.

Note that the bird's unofficial name in this cartoon was Orson (I assume he was named after
the highly acclaimed director Orson Welles). Orson is, of course, a boy's name. Check any book of Baby Names, they'll verify that. Another piece of evidence is in Bad Ol' Putty Tat (c. 1949).
Sylvester paints his finger up like a female bird and manages to lure Tweety away from his house with it. And, before Tweety realizes his new girlfriend is really a finger, he getsvery chivalrous when he thinks they are both in danger. "Don't worry, little chickadee! I'll save you!" He exclaims. And then there's Rebel Without Claws (c. 1961). This cartoon takes place during the American Civil War. Here Tweety plays a Confederate soldier. If he were a girl, wouldn't he have played a "southern belle"?
I think I can rest my case now.
Don't let any of that tacky, glittery merchandise fool you, Tweety is all man.

That's about all I have to say about Tweety for now. Feel free to elaborate on anything I said or even add your own comments.

Oh, and before I go:

Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday dear myself
Happy birthday to me