Benny Burro. Artist: Carl Barks.

BENNY BURRO

Original Medium: Theatrical Animation
Released by: MGM
First Appeared: 1941
Creator: Rudolph Ising
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For every Bugs Bunny, Warner Bros. had a dozen Pete Pumas, Claude Cats and Cecil Turtles — sure-fire cartoon stars, as attested by the cartoons they starred in, but not headliners, like most people have ever heard of. What non-headliner Charlie Chicken was to …

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Walter Lantz's studio, Benny Burro was to MGM's — a guy who got his start in animation, but made his greatest impact, such as it was, as a sidekick in comic books.

Benny made his first appearance as a supporting character in The Prospecting Bear, which MGM released March 8, 1941. He played Barney Bear's beast of burden, when Barney tried his hand at mining. The cartoon was directed by Rudy Ising, half of the team that started at Disney and went on to launch two major studios. History is silent on who provided the then-nameless character's voice.

Voice credit was still lacking when he achieved stardom in Little Gravel Voice, released May 15, 1942. It told a sweet, touching story about how the other animals all loved him — until they heard his voice, which was as raucous and rasping as a real burro's. Viewers who have expressed themselved on the subject have said it was a lot like actually sitting next to a burro.

Of course, like Dumbo, Rudolph and any number of other fictional characters, he prevailed in the story's overriding conflict not in spite of his personal deficits, but because of them. It made a cute cartoon, but as irritating as the character's voice was, he didn't appeal to viewers enough to warrant warrant making him a regular star.

That was almost, but not quite the sum total of his career in animation. Years later, he again turned up as Barney Bear's supporting character. Half-Pint Palomino was released November 10, 1953. The director, this time, was Dick Lundy, who had directed several cartoons starring Andy Panda a few years earlier.

Meanwhile, Benny, now equipped with a name, made a few appearances in Our Gang Comics, where Dell Comics ran stories about Tom & Jerry, Droopy and other MGM properties. There, with his voice no longer driving away potential fans, he was able to shine. Starting in the 11th issue (June, 1944), he was teamed up in every issue with his old pal, Barney Bear.

His stories, first as the star and then paired with Barney, were written and drawn by Carl Barks, the cartoonist whose stellar career in Donald Duck comics includes having created several characters with long-lasting appeal, such as Uncle Scrooge and Gyro Gearloose.

The series continued when the title was changed to Tom & Jerry in 1949. It also continued after the departure of Barks later that year. Barney and Benny shared the back pages with Flip & Dip and Wuff the Prairie Dog until #121 (August, 1954), after which Benny was dropped and Barney's co-stars became his nephews, Fuzzy and Wuzzy.

Benny Burro may have fizzled as an animated character, but he did manage to find a place in comic books.

— DDM

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Text ©2009 Donald D. Markstein. Art © MGM.