Sunday, July 29, 2007

Ben Hardaway -- the Birth of the Screwball


At the Golden Age Cartoons forum, Lonesome-Lenny shares his theory about Ben Hardaway:

It seems pretty clear to me that he is the creator of the "daffy" screwball character, as we know it, in classic Hollywood cartoons. He had a strong hand in creating Bugs Bunny, and it's evident that he played an equally strong role in creating Woody Woodpecker. I'm uncertain if he contributed to any of Daffy Duck's early appearances, but I'd guess it's likely he did. Hardaway was truly onto something with this notion of the anti-social, screwball character. It was a fresh wind of influence in animation. It helped others give up trying to create an imitation Mickey Mouse, and fanned the flames of the brash, lively spirit of 1940s animation.

J. J. Hunsecker disagrees with this theory (and doesn't seem to be a very big fan of Hardaway's cartoons, either):

I wouldn't credit Hardaway with the creation of the "daffy" screwball character. I give that credit to Tex Avery, with Porky's Duck Hunt (the writing is credited to Rich Hogan for that cartoon. Though sometimes the credits on the Schlesinger cartoons are wrong). From the interviews I've read it seems that Hardaway decided to imitate Porky's Duck Hunt with Porky's Hare Hunt, by putting Daffy in a rabbit suit. The "daffy" hare eventually evolved into Bugs Bunny thanks again to Tex Avery. Woody Woodpecker is also based on Avery's version of Daffy Duck.

Hardaway's entire style -- from writing, drawing, and directing -- was crude and unsophisticated. Avery might not have been a great draftsman himself, but he was a terrific gagman and director. Shamus Culhane wrote that to Hardaway a joke was a joke, and it didn't matter if it fit the character or not.


Lonesome-Lenny responds:

I do agree that Avery deserves the credit for the basic creation and refinement of the screwball character in animation. Hardaway had his own formula, which he tried out at WB, in competition with Avery's (and Clampett's) and ran amok with at Lantz. What fascinates me is that Hardaway kept pursuing his heavy-handed path, while other writers and directors continued to refine the zany character in animated cartoons.

I re-read portions of Culhane's memoirs last night, and refreshed my memory of how much the director disliked Hardaway's writing. So did co-storyman Milt Schaffer. Culhane describes story meetings in which Hardaway kills himself with his lengthy puns, while Schaffer just rolls his eyes toward the ceiling... I really wonder how Hardaway was able to have such influence in the animation world when his work was so checkered. Perhaps Lantz liked him personally, and wanted to give him steady work?


Sogturtle replies:

Actually Hardaway's cartoon career goes all the way back to Iwerks' Flip the Frog cartoons and we can credit him with a lot (if not all) of the lovably strange and weird humor in those cartoons. His hiring and influence at Schlesinger's is definitely attributable to Friz Freleng. Ben's gag-influence during his six plus years at Schlesinger's really only became recognizable when he graduated up to director and particularly the second time around. Honestly his writing there (or story-editing) is SO submerged into the "omelettes" that the directors and two story crews created that a person can't really detect a clear "Hardaway cartoon mindset" until he took the director's chair.

Whether Ben had any contribution into "Porky's Duck Hunt" is and will remain unknown since the story-crews alternated and the cartoon bears no story credit. As such we really can only credit Tex Avery with Daffy's creation (and Tex always sat in with the story crew so regardless which crew helped with the cartoon, the demented duck had to have been Tex's baby). HOWEVER as well documented, Hardaway loved the idea of Daffy being a looney-tooney character and latched onto it with the oft quoted line "I'm going to put that duck into a rabbit suit". And THAT is where Ben's weakness is most obvious as he and the crews came up with some fine and funny gags in his and Dalton's two rabbit cartoons, but he showed NO understanding of HOW to create a LIKABLE character. His rabbit is not just looney but patently obnoxious in those cartoons.

85 comments:

SEATTLECHEF@AOL.COM said...

I agree, Hardaway did have a strong hand in creating the character. He offered more than just his nickname, however, his drawing suggested the personality that developed. That's why the posessive apostrophe(Bugs' Bunny) has been part of the story from the beginning. The drawing can be seen here, http://bugshardaway.blogspot.com/

SEATTLECHEF@AOL.COM said...

"No ability to create a likable character" ???
Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker aren't enough to prove that Hardaway had some ability with character design? The greatest animated character of all time not likable? Wow, tough crowd. There is a very short list of people who have contibuted more to the Golden Age of Animation than Hardaway. Crude and unsophisticated? Perhaps, but certainly not without immense talent and a very high level of skill. The artwork linked here http://bugshardaway.blogspot.com/ does not appear to me to be crude, but rather, very highly skilled. Have you any images to offer of Hardaway's drawing that would substantiate your opinion? Please share.

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