One of my favorite idea-generators came to the rescue again this evening. A random visitor arrived on the Twelve Mile Circle through an unusual search engine query. They were trying to research place names used in Looney Tunes cartoons. That sounds entertaining. I’ll take a shot at that.
Let’s start with a definition. I’ll try to stick with vintage Warner Brothers material, the Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies cartoon shorts that were presented in movie theaters from the 1940’s through the 1960’s. I’ll stay away from the modern era television productions like Animaniacs (although they offer a great geography lesson). And for the record, cartoon shorts shown before feature films are well before my time. I am not nearly that old. I remember all of these cartoons from endless hours of TV reruns during my stereotypical 1970’s latchkey childhood.
I’ve tried to trace locations back to their original sources where possible, with special thanks to the Internet Movie Database.
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Seriously, can any other location rise above Albuquerque, New Mexico as a Looney Tunes icon? Bugs Bunny always knew he "shoulda made a left toin at Alba-koi-kee." That catchphrase sticks in my mind more than any other. What I didn’t know until I researched this phrase was that if first appeared in a 1945 wartime cartoon, "Herr Meets Hare." Bugs popped from his hole expecting to arrive in Las Vegas, but instead landed in Germany at the foot of Hermann Göring. Hilarity ensues. This cartoon receives almost nonexistent airplay today because of the inappropriateness of using Nazi topics as comedic material. You can find copies all over the Intertubes though if you’d like to gain a better appreciation of the historical context.
Pismo Beach also figured prominently in my early media consciousness. I’ve never been to Pismo Beach and I know nothing about it, but I do remember reruns of 1957′s "Ali Baba Bunny." Bugs, traveling with Daffy Duck, arrived somewhere in the Middle East. Once again he’d missed his left turn at Albuquerque, having originally intending to arrive at Pismo Beach "and all the clams we can eat." This is the episode with Hassan Chop where Daffy gets shrunk to miniscule size and tries to grab the pearl: Mine! Mine! All Mine! You know the one I’m talking about. Classic.
There were a slew of other intended locations spread throughout various episodes, all missed because of what must have been a terribly problematic left turn somewhere in Albuquerque.
American Civil War Settings
The long tentacles of the American Civil War stretched through several Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies. I don’t have a theory other than people of that time may have heard first-hand stories of the conflict passed down from their grandparents or great-grandparents (the last veterans passed away in the 1950′s). Did this recurring theme come from societal memories or from more individualized family experiences of one or more of the writers? I don’t know.
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My favorite Civil War geographic reference came from Granny, the caretaker of Tweety and Sylvester, when she said, "I haven’t had this much fun since the boys got back from Gettysburg!" Granny was quite the hussy in her younger days, apparently.
An entire episode featured a Civil War theme in 1953’s "Southern Fried Rabbit." Yosemite Sam portrayed a colonel in the Confederate army trying to prevent Bugs Bunny from crossing the Mason-Dixon Line, a traditional boundary between northern and southern cultural areas. I could get into all sorts of technicalities about the twelve mile circle, the wedge, the transpeninsular line, Virginia before West Virginia split, blah, blah, blah, but for the sake of simplicity let’s describe this as basically the line between Maryland and Pennsylvania plus western Delaware. Yosemite Sam as a Confederate officer also seems like an unusual casting choice. Yosemite seems more akin to the Sierra Nevada range. California didn’t fall within Confederate territory the last time I checked. I’m probably over-thinking this.
Finally, many characters including Daffy Duck and Sylvester referred to "whistling Dixie." Granted, I recognize that Dixie in this context refers to the song and not the geographic area. However, culturally, it does have a direct connection to the American South.
That’s (not) All Folks!
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Want a few more real-world locations referenced or visited by Looney Tunes characters? These spots appear at various times:
- Miami, Florida: So long, Sammy! See you in Miami! (Bugs in "Bugs Bunny Rides Again," 1948), and similarly;
- St. Louis, Missouri: So Long Screwy, See You in St Louie
- St. Joseph, Missouri: What a tough audience! It ain’t like Saint Joe! (Bugs in "Hot Cross Bunny," 1947)
- Fort Worth and Dallas, Texas: That girl’s like that road between Fort Worth and Dallas …No curves (Foghorn Leghorn; couldn’t find the exact episode but widely quoted). I don’t know about this one. There appears to be at least a little curvature on the major highways between Ft. Worth and Dallas. I guess a reference to Australia’s Great Southern Railway would have been a bit too obscure?
- Rio Grande River: "Yeah, Yosemite Sam – the roughest, toughest he-man stuffest hombré that’s ever crossed the Rio Grande. An’ I ain’t no namby-pamby." (in Bugs Bunny Rides Again, 1948)
- Desert Southwest, USA: Any Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoon.
- Algiers, Algeria: Come with me to ze Casbah (Pepe Le Pew catchphrase). I’m interpreting Casbah literally as the citadel in Algiers rather than to a generic walled citadel found in many places in North Africa.
- China: Great horny-toadies! I think I dug all the way to Chinee! (Yosemite Sam in 14 Carrot Rabbit, 1952)
- Mexico: Numerous references to Speedy Gonzales, the "fastest mouse in all Mexico" and occasionally to his cousin, Slowpoke Rodriguez, the "slowest mouse in all Mexico."
- Interplanetary: Marvin the Martian frequents Mars, Earth, Venus and other such places.
Am I missing your personal favorites or anything obvious? Please add them in the comments. You’ll get double points for any Google Map links.
Caught on Camera?
I was contacted recently by a producer with NBCUniversal representing the television show Caught on Camera. He was interested in video footage I shot and placed on an old article, Lake Delton is Gone, for a story they’re developing on the massive June 2008 Wisconsin floods.
I provided the raw footage several weeks ago and frankly forgot about it. He contacted me again just recently to sign a release form. I think that means my footage will make it into the show. Who knows? Maybe it will end up on the cutting-room floor anyway.
Anyway, he said it’s supposed to air next Sunday (which I’m assuming is Sunday, August 7, 2011). Caught on Camera appears on the MSNBC network each Sunday at 8:00 Eastern Time. I’ll be watching. I find it ironic that I’ve never been on television myself but maybe one of my stupid low-quality videos might make it. How random is that?