Book Review: “I Say, I Say…Son!” A Tribute to Legendary Animators Bob, Chuck, and Tom McKimson
If asked to name the most famous and legendary Warner Bros. cartoon directors, most people would name Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, and maybe Tex Avery or Frank Tashlin. Few would name Bob McKimson as one of Warner Bros.’ “greats,” Yet Bob McKimson had the longest career at the Leon Schlesinger/Warner Bros. studio. He also helped develop the personalities of WB’s most popular cartoon megastars such as Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig, and undisputedly created more of the famous Warner Bros. “second string” cartoon stars such as Foghorn Leghorn, Speedy Gonzales, and the Tasmanian Devil; as his son Robert McKimson Jr. shows in this thoroughly researched and profusely illustrated biography of his father and his two equally talented cartoonist brothers. And after Warner Bros. closed down its animation unit in 1963, Bob McKimson continued to work at several other Hollywood animation studios creating theatrical and TV animation cartoons from Mr. Magoo to the Pink Panther. Bob McKimson is overdue for animation history recognition, and his son has given it to him in this book.
Robert McKimson was born in 1910, the middle of three brothers who were all gifted cartoonists. He and Tom began to work at the Walt Disney studio in 1929, but quit in 1930 to join the animation staff of Romer Gray who was starting a new studio. Gray’s underfinanced studio ran out of money in 1931 after four theatrical cartoons starring Binko the Bear Cub were drawn but not produced. Bob and Tom next went to work for Harmon-Ising Productions, who were making Bosko cartoons for Leon Schlesinger Productions for release through Warner Bros. In 1933 Harmon-Ising and Schlesinger had a falling-out and split into two separate studios. Tom went with Harmon-Ising, while Bob stayed for what became over thirty years at Schlesinger’s, which was eventually bought out by Warner Bros.
“Schlesinger considered Bob McKimson to be the fastest animator in the studio, and they had an excellent rapport.” (p. 41) In 1935 Fred “Tex” Avery became one of Schlesinger’s four directors, and Bob McKimson was assigned to his unit along with new animators Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones. Before that, McKimson had worked with Schlesinger’s other directors, Friz Freleng, Jack King, and Earl Duvall. He worked on the first Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, and Bugs Bunny cartoons from the mid-1930s while Clampett, Jones and others were promoted around him. Finally in 1944, when Frank Tashlin quit just after Leon Schlesinger sold his studio to Warner Bros. and retired, Bob McKimson became a director.
McKimson Jr. recounts his father’s career as a director, often working with his brothers who had joined the Warner Bros. staff by this time. He describes WB’s later cartoon characters such as Pepe le Pew and the Coyote and the Road Runner, but he goes into the greatest detail over the characters that his father created, especially Foghorn Leghorn, the tall Southern-accented rooster who was tiny Henery Hawk’s foil. McKimson also worked on many Bugs Bunny and Sylvester P. Pussycat cartoons and others (McKimson created Sylvester’s son, Sylvester Jr.), which are described. Tom McKimson left Warner Bros. in 1947 for the Los Angeles office of Western Publishing, the company that produced the licensed comic books and coloring books of most animation studios’ funny-animal characters, including Warner Bros.
In 1953 Jack Warner briefly closed the animation department to concentrate on 3D movies. He quickly changed his mind and reopened the animation studio, but while it was closed, Chuck left to work with Tom at Western Publishing. Bob stayed with Warner Bros. until it closed its animation department for good in 1963. His last work for WB animation was for the combination live-action/animated The Incredible Mr. Limpet, featuring Don Knotts who is turned into a fish.