Leon Schlesinger

Active - 1930 - 1946  |   Born - in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States  |   Died - Dec 25, 1949   |   Genres - Comedy, Western

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Biography by Jason Ankeny

As the producer of Warner Bros. studio's legendary Looney Tunes animated shorts, Leon Schlesinger was the ringleader behind one of the most enduring and beloved cast of characters in cinematic history. Not only did he help give the world the likes of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig, but Schlesinger also launched the careers of famed animators Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, and Bob Clampett, voice-over personality Mel Blanc, and composer Carl Stalling.

Schlesinger first entered the Warner stable in 1929 as one of the financial backers who agreed to bankroll the studio's (and the film industry's) first foray into sound, The Jazz Singer. The rewards of the venture were tremendous for all involved, and the following year Schlesinger teamed with Rudy Ising, Hugh Harmon, and Friz Freleng to propose to Warners a series of animated shorts dubbed Looney Tunes, a name and concept loosely inspired by the success of Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies. Their first effort, 1930's Sinking in the Bathtub, proved so popular that a second series, Merrie Melodies, was quickly added. Soon Schlesinger and his team were providing at least one cartoon a month.

After about three years of relentless animation, the pressure proved too much for Harman and Ising, and both resigned. The group Schlesinger assembled in their wake was a virtual cartoon Hall of Fame, including the aforementioned Clampett, Jones, Avery, and Stalling as well as Robert McKimson and Frank Tashlin, who later went on to fame as the director of a number of Jerry Lewis comedies. Perhaps the most well-known and beloved of Schlesinger's finds was onetime radio personality Blanc, the voice behind more than 400 different characters in over 3,000 different shorts, a stunning 90 percent of all WB productions.

Schlesinger took a largely hands-off approach with his team, allowing them considerable creative latitude. The result was a frequently brilliant collection of animated short films which defined a rich and outlandish comic sensibility without peer. The series began to catch fire by 1937, the year Blanc took over vocal chores for Daffy Duck and Porky Pig. Three years later, the character Happy Rabbit was introduced, soon evolving into Bugs Bunny. In addition to masterminding such classics as 1938's The Daffy Doc, 1940's The Wild Hare, and 1943's Inki and the Minah Bird, Schlesinger also oversaw the creation of Looney Tunes staples including Elmer Fudd, Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, and Pepe LePew.

In 1944, Scheslinger was bought out of his Warner contract, leaving all the pieces of the puzzle in place as he exited. Freleng stayed on as head animator for more than 300 projects, Jones was a WB employee for six decades, and McKimson remained at his desk until the day in 1963 when studio chief Jack Warner closed down the animation department as a cost-cutting measure. The Looney Tunes series quickly entered television syndication, where they remain to this day.

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  • Produced exclusively for Warner Bros., including financing Hollywood's first talkie, The Jazz Singer (1927).
  • Produced the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoon series, hiring animators Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Friz Freleng and Bob Clampett, as well as voice-over artist Mel Blanc.
  • According to Chuck Jones, was one of the inspirations for the character of Daffy Duck---particularly Daffy's lisp and sense of entitlement.
  • Insisted that Warner Bros. cartoon shorts be exactly six minutes long, since that was the minimum duration that distributors would pay for.
  • Warner Bros. bought out his contract in 1944.