As midterm season winds down and the raging fires in and around Los Angeles finally subside, Ha’Am thought it best to showcase a lighthearted article for this week’s Historical Ha’Am column. So, whatever it is you’re recuperating from this week, please sit back, take a breath, and enjoy this playful piece written by Sheila Tuller in 1992:
“Many Simpsons fans are probably aware of the recent revelation that Krusty the Clown is Jewish. In this touching episode, Bart and Lisa help reunite the popular entertainer-comedian-jester with his estranged father, Rabbi Krustofski. However, to those familiar with the ins and outs of the cartoon entertainment biz, this should come as little surprise. For in fact, there are many prominent toonsters, both on TV and the silver screen, who are Jewish.
Although few toons emphasize their own Jewishness in their work, the contribution of the Jewish animated to American entertainment should not be underestimated. One of the earlier Jewish pioneers of the animated art form was Olive Oyl of “Popeye” fame. Olive’s parents gave her this unique name when she was born on the fifth night of Chanuka.
Miss Oyl’s strong Jewish background is partly responsible for the fact that she and Popeye (who is not Jewish) have never married. Rumors have it that Olive will marry the muscle-bound sailor if he agrees to convert. Until now Popeye has refused, declaring that ‘I am whats I am, and that’s all that I am.’
Other famous Jewish cartoon characters abound throughout Hollywood and adjacent Toontown. Although not himself a Jew, Fred Flintstone is said to have Jewish ancestors who, upon landing at Ellisrock Island, changed their names from Flintstein to the now renowned Flintstone.
Droopy Dog, that anemic star and hero to millions, was actually born in the old country. Having escaped Poland before the war, Droopy only spoke Yiddish when he came to Hollywood. Although he never mastered English, his few lines such as ‘Hey, bub,’ ‘I’m the hero of this picture,’ and ‘Which floor, sir?’ have endeared him with generations of fans.
Other prominent Jewish cartoon stars have included Shaggy, the self-preserving food fanatic from ‘Scooby Doo’ and, for you ‘Ren and Stimpy’ maniacs, Muddy Mudskipper. But perhaps the most famous toon of the Jewish faith is America’s favorite rabbit, Bugs Bunny.
The great grey hare grew up in Brooklyn. ‘You can probably tell from the way I enunskiate my woyds,’ Bugs says with a buck-toothed smile. ‘Yeah, back then Brooklyn was a beayoootiful place for a young spritely rabbit like myself to spend my more tender years.’
Still, he explains, it was often difficult for the young aspiring comedian to grow up both as a Jew and a rabbit. ‘I always had bullies ‘n mugs pickin’ on me. I loyned to be pretty street smart. Like I always say, us rabbits got our muscles up here, in our heads.’
Bugs, like many other Jews, has been no stranger to persecution. He quickly learned to foil his pernicious tormentors whether motivated by the anti-Jewish or anti-rabbit sentiments, whatever the case may be. Bugs Bunny’s long running rivalry with Elmer Fudd began during those youthful days in Brooklyn. ‘He still falls for the ol’ rabbit dressed as a duck and vicey cersy. Ya’d think by now he’d loyn by now,’ bemoans Bugs, ‘but he don’t know me very well, do he?’
Interestingly, ‘Bugs’ was not the famous bunny’s given name. ‘My parents named me Benjamin after an uncle or somethin’. It was either that or Hymie.’ But all of his friends called him Bugs, and this rabbit was determined to make his adopted title a household name.
It was not long before Bugs entered show business. ‘Like many of my steamed colleagues, I got my big break in Vaudeville.’ Similar to many of his Jewish contemporaries, Bugs started his career by entertaining in the Catskills. ‘Yeah, that’s where I first met Daffy (Duck),’ he fondly remembers.
When questioned about his famous catch-phrase, ‘What’s up, Doc?’ Bugs laughs, ‘Oh, that comes from my dear mudder.’ Like many a Jewish mother, Mrs. Bunny, it seems, was determined that her darling son would grow up to become a doctor. Luckily for Warner Brothers and millions of adoring fans, Bugs turned to comedy, ‘but a bit of that doctor razamataz stuck,’ he explains.
At age 52, Bugs resides quietly, with the exception of occasional interruptions from the likes of Yosemite Sam and the Tasmanian Devil, in a hole in long Island. He is looking forward to celebrating Passover, or Hop-Over as he prefers to call it, with friends and family.”
-Sheila Tuller, Spring 1992