Robert McKimson--Two Appreciations

Every toon has to be created by somebody. And Honey Bunny had the great good fortune to be created by one of animation's legends, Robert McKimson, who in turn was one third of a legendary family of animators, cartoonists and directors. What follows on this part of the Honey Bunny Home Page are two appreciations - one of Robert, from a fan's perspective; and the other, of the three McKimson brothers, from one who was a lot closer. My sincere thanks to Robert McKimson, Jr. for permission to reprint this article that originally appeared in the Winter/Spring '99 issue of Animato Magazine.


This article is about the McKimson brothers, Tom, Robert and Charles, their background and place in the history of animation, as seen through the eyes of a son and nephew.

Tom, Robert and Charles (in order of age) were born in Colorado and had two sisters. Their father, a newspaper publisher in Colorado and Texas, eventually moved the family to Los Angeles in 1926. The boys were all natural born artists and could draw from the time they could pick up a pencil. The natural talent is attributed to their mother, who had artistic ability, though undeveloped.

All three brothers began their animation careers at an early age. Tom and Robert began with Walt Disney in 1928. Tom worked as an assistant for Norm Ferguson and Robert as an assistant for Dick Lundy. They remained there about a year and started at $18.00 per week. After three months they were elevated to $25.00 per week. They left for more money and became head animators at the Romer Grey Studio, a new cartoon studio started by the son of Zane Grey, the famous western writer. The major character was "Binko the Cub," and they animated three or four pictures, which never got out of the pencil stage. To assist the brothers, the studio hired a few young animators, including Jack Zander and Pete Burness. It turned out that Romer decided to spend more money on having a good time than making cartoons. Thus, the studio was closed. It turned out that several years ago, most of the pencil drawings were found in the house where the studio was located.

In 1931, both brothers went over to Harman-Ising cartoon studios as animators. At that time, the studio had an arrangement with Leon Schlesinger to release cartoons through Warner Bros. The major character was "Bosko" and Tom's first screen credit was "It's Got Me Again," and Robert's was "Bosko's Store," both in 1932. In 1933 Schlesinger and Harman-Ising parted ways. Tom stayed with Harman-Ising and Robert went with Schlesinger who opened up on the Sunset lot and went on to release through Warner Bros. Thus, from 1931 until the cartoon studio closed in 1963, Robert McKimson was the longest continual employee of the studio.

In 1932 Robert had an automobile accident that, for whatever reason, made him animate faster, up to eighty feet per week, and he could visualize animation. He was always fascinated with portraiture and anatomy and went to art school for many years to perfect his artistic ability. He became the principal model sheet maker for Warners, and in the mid-1930s was named animation supervisor.

Brother Charles entered into the animation field in 1937 with Warner Bros. and animated for Tex Avery. His first screen credit was in 1939, "Land of the Midnight Fun." He remained there until 1941 when he was drafted into the U.S. Army Signal Corps. He animated training films for the Army until his release in 1946.

Meanwhile, Tom rejoined Robert at Warner Bros. in 1942 doing animation and layouts for Bob Clampett. He remained with Warners until 1947 when he joined Whitman/Dell Publishing as Art Director for comic books, coloring books and comic strips. He eventually became overall Art Director and retired in 1972. However, he remained active doing comic books and animation until his passing in 1998. Tom was one of the great talents in the history of comic book art. I believe his accomplishments and place in animation art is well established.

Charles rejoined Warners in 1946 and became an animator for brother Robert, and stayed until 1954. He then joined brother Tom at Whitman/Dell Publishing and became Art Director for comic and coloring books. He remained there until 1963, and left to start his own animation company, doing TV and motion picture titles and commercials, which were released through Pacific Title. Charles closed that business in 1994, but remained active with McKimson Productions doing animation art projects. His ability to create animated TV and motion picture titles was much sought after by the studios. Along the way, he earned two "Emmy" awards for his titles, which further honored his artistic and technical ability. He passed away in April 1999.

Robert McKimson, after animating over 50 cartoons for various directors, became himself a director at Warner Bros. Cartoons in 1944, replacing Frank Tashlin. His first release was "Daffy Doodles," and his first Bugs Bunny cartoon was "Acrobatty Bunny," both in 1946. Additionally, in 1946 his first Foghorn Leghorn cartoon, "Walky Talky Hawky," was nominated for an Academy Award. He was also nominated in 1957 for "Tabasco Road." During his tenure at Warner Bros. he directed a total of 175 cartoons, and created several charatcters to include: Foghorn Leghorn-1946, "Walky Talky Hawky"; Hippety Hopper-1948, "Hop, Look and Listen"; Sylvester, Jr.-1950, "Pop 'Em, Pop"; "Original" Speedy Gonzales-1953, "Cat Tails forTwo"; and the Tasmanian Devil-1954, "Devil May Hare." He is also credited in the Library of Congress as author/artist of Bugs Bunny (1944). This is amongst 12 listings in the Library of Congress for the McKimson family, as author/artist, for various Warner Bros. Cartoon characters.

Robert created Foghorn Leghorn as a secondary character to Henery Hawk. The character was molded after Senator Claghorn of the Fred Allen radio show. Obviously the character, from the beginning, became primary with Henery playing the foil. The Tasmanian Devil, Robert's most famous character, was almost put out of existence after the first cartoon. The character was created after Robert, a crossword puzzle fanatic, suggested creating a character based upon a Tasmanian Devil, a name appearing in the puzzles. Up to that time, the studio had been using characters usually modeled after rabbits, mice, cats, etc. He asked his animators, including brother Charles, to draw their version of the character. All of the versions looked somewhat similar. Robert took his version and the other drawings and put them into the model sheet of the character as we know him today. Thus, the first Tasmanian Devil cartoon "Devil May Hare." After it appeared, the studio manager, Eddie Selzer, told Robert not to make any more Taz cartoons. He thought the character was too violent. However, a couple of years later, the demand for Tasmanian Devil cartoons got to Jack Warner who told Selzer to make more Taz cartoons. Thus, four more cartoons were made and the character went on to greatness.

When the studio was closed in 1963, Robert continued directing theatrical and TV animated cartoons and commercials for various studios until his untimely passing in 1977. He was the consummate artist who studied to become one of the finest animators and diectors in animation history. In 1984, Robert McKimson was honored with an "Annie" award for his contribution and achievements in animation. A humble man who never "blew his own horn" and passed away all too soon. I could only wish that somehow, somewhere, he could see the joy and happiness he has brought to millions upon millions of people, not only for this and past generations, but for generations to come.

As you can see, the McKimson brothers' accomplishments, and wide range of talents, from 1928 until today, has created a legacy no other three brothers have equaled in their field. I can only hope that their places in the history of animation and comic book art will continue to be recognized and appreciated.

(This article reprinted with the kind permission of the author; ©1999, Robert McKimson, Jr.)

And now, for a fan's appreciation of Robert, click here.