Looney Tunes Geography

On August 4, 2011 · 17 Comments

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.


Albuquerque



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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?

Geography

On August 4, 2011 · 17 Comments

17 Responses to “Looney Tunes Geography”

  1. Roger Gentile says:

    I think Perth Amboy (New Jersey) figures in Bugs Bunny. In fact, it is implied in some case that that’s where Bugs comes from!

  2. Bill Harris says:

    And New York! Bugs was born and raised in New York (as if his accent wasn’t enough of a clue). The short “A Hare Grows in Manhattan” recounts his adventures growing up on the lower East Side.

  3. John Deeth says:

    My bet is that the left toin at Alba-koi-kee was a very specific spot on Route 66, a Y shaped intersection with New Mexico 194:

    “Route 66 is clearly shown following the course of Central Avenue. After passing downtown, the road angles slightly to the right, parallelling the river. Just after the Albuquerque Country Club (depicted rather prominently), it makes a left turn to approach the crossing of the Rio Grande.”

    Maps here: http://www.route66university.com/maps/newmexico.php

    Looks like it would be VERY easy for a confused cross-country traveler to veer right onto 194 instead of taking that left toin. It was probably notoriously well known by 40s era southern Californians.

    Of course, since Bugs generally traveled by tunneling underground rather than surface routes, I may be wrong.

    • I love that though, John. I may need to explore this intersection further…

      • John Deeth says:

        I can’t find it documented anywhere but it just seems obvious for a bunch of reasons: the golden era of Warner cartoons coincided with the Route 66 era, the southern California location of the studios, and the obvious fascination the Warner cartoonists had for the highways of the desert southwest as seen in the epic quests of Wile E. Coyote. And their love for in-jokes, one of which I just just got.

  4. Alger says:

    Well now that I look it turns out that Pismo Beach, CA was the “Clam Capital of the World”. Who knew?

    My question is, wasn’t Bugs’ hometown Los Angeles? If so, why he was always tunneling through New Mexico?

  5. Scooby says:

    Any chance that “left turn at Albuquerque” comment made some wartime censors nervous? That is a little close to Los Alamos.

  6. Erick says:

    In “Wet Hare,” Bugs battles Black Jacque Shellac over damming what must be the Columbia River. In the final moments, Jacque shoots a cannon through a succession of dams Bugs has constructed, winding up at the “Grand Cooler Dam.”

    The Grand Coulee Dam is clearly the source of the pun. The scenery in the cartoon could be that of Washington state, the French-Canadian Jacque, and the federal authorities who take him into custody point to it. Bugs is shown bathing under a waterfall at the beginning; the most likely location is Multanomah Falls, on the Oregon side of the Columbia. There is even a legend that the falls were created so a Native American princess could bathe in privacy.

    http://www.oregon.com/attractions/multnomah_falls

  7. Marc Alifanz says:

    One of my favorite Looney Tunes cartoons is 8 Ball Bunny, precisely because of the geography involved. I would venture to say there is no better Looney Tunes cartoon when it comes to geography. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/8_Ball_Bunny

    In one episode you see or have referenced:
    Brooklyn, NY
    New Orleans, LA
    Martinique
    The Panama Canal
    A traced map of South America
    Cape Horn
    Antarctica
    The South Pole
    and by reference, Hoboken, NJ

  8. Scott says:

    I seem to remember “Cucamonga” being mentioned a few times. I believe it’s a reference to Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

    It seems that there were many connections with Route 66, as the highway went right through the middle of Rancho Cucamonga.

    http://maps.google.com/maps?q=Rancho+Cucamonga,+CA&hl=en&ll=34.110668,-117.586498&spn=0.037238,0.06772&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=36.452734,69.345703&t=h&z=14

  9. Rhodent says:

    As a kid growing up in Maryland, “Southern Fried Rabbit” annoyed me to no end. The cartoon was wrong in implying that the Mason-Dixon Line was ever the boundary between Union and Confederacy, there were no plantations in Maryland (at least, not when I was watching the cartoons), and nobody I knew talked with the accent that the Yosemite Sam character was speaking with. My brother told me I was taking it too seriously, and he was probably right, but at the time I found it extremely irritating. Even today, I can’t resist the urge to correct people when they try to tell me that the Ohio River was part of the Mason-Dixon Line, or that the Mason-Dixon Line was the boundary between free states and slaves states (a statement that was not true for even a single day, et cetera.

    • The situation in Maryland was a bit more complicated during that period than many residents of the Free State probably realize today. It’s true that Maryland never joined the Confederacy. However it sat right on the border between conflicting points of view, with its western areas favoring the Union and its southern and Eastern Shore expressing deep Confederate sympathies. Much of Maryland remained within the Union essentially at the point of a gun. This prevented the national seat of government from becoming an isolated exclave completely surrounded by enemy territory.

      Slavery was legal in Maryland right up to the Mason-Dixon line, and it was not subject to the Emancipation Proclamation because the state remained within the Union. Emancipation wouldn’t come to Maryland until very late in 1864 when its citizens ratified a new state constitution. The 25,000-or-so Marylanders fighting in Confederate armies at the time of course were not present for the vote, and even then the new constitution barely passed by the slimmest of margins.

      I read a book this summer that I think you would enjoy: “The Siege of Washington: The Untold Story of the Twelve Days That Shook the Union” by John Lockwood and Charles Lockwood. There was a great fear during the initial days of the Civil War that Confederate forces would seize Washington, DC at the onset and deliver an early crushing blow. Union troops that rushed to Washington to shore-up fragile defenses were attacked by orchestrated mobs as they traveled through Baltimore by train. Maryland militias threatened and harassed Union troops throughout the state. The Mayor of Baltimore and the Governor of Maryland both made it clear to President Lincoln that they would not stand for any Union troops moving through their territory. Ultimately troops had to land in Annapolis and then rebuild rail lines as they marched towards Washington because Marylanders sabotaged the lines and cut communications by pulling down telegraph wires.

      Maryland never succeeded, its residents didn’t have the accents of Alabama, nor did it have a plantation economy, but there’s little doubt that a sizable portion of its population — including those who controlled many of the levers of its government — sympathized openly with the Southern cause during this period.

      • Rhodent says:

        Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ve always found the role of the border states in the Civil War fascinating.

        Incidentally, the reason I say that the Mason-Dixon line was never the border between free and slave is not because of Maryland, but because of Delaware. Since the MDL includes the not-quite-north-and-south line that forms the Maryland-Delaware border, Delaware is “north” of the Mason-Dixon line. Delaware never banned slavery on the state level, and like Maryland was not subject to the Emancipation Proclamation, so there was slavery north of the Mason-Dixon line until the day it became illegal nationwide.

  10. Kathy Biehl says:

    Bugs misses the turn for Perth Amboy in Hare-abian Nights!

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