GEORGE AND JUNIORMedium: Theatrical Animation
Released by: MGM
First Appeared: 1946
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John Steinbeck's 1937 novel, Of Mice & Men, and the 1939 movie made from it, had a big effect on American culture — not just because the powerful and memorable story moved its readers and viewers so strongly, but also because its two protagonists, George and Lenny, were so easily parodied. The Warner Bros. parodies,
in which Sylvester Pussycat hangs around with a big, dumb cat who calls him "George" because "I can't pronounce 'Sylvester', George", are well-known to modern audiences because of their endless reruns on TV, but they weren't the only ones. MGM had a parody too — a brief series where they were drawn as bears, and their names were George and Junior.
George, like his namesake in Steinbeck's story, was small and smart, while Junior, like Lenny, was large and mentally deficient. In the original story, they were Depression-era migrant workers, but since the Depression was long over by 1946, when these cartoons began, they were just a couple of homeless bums.
The original story concerned their shared dreams, but in the cartoons, they were motivated simply by trying to eat. George was constantly having bright ideas to make a few bucks, whereas Junior's function was to obstruct George's plans with his clumsy stupidity. A source of follow-up humor was Junior resignedly accepting George's punishment for messing things up.
Since the characters were ready-made, it's hard to say anybody actually "created" them. But the cartoons were directed by Tex Avery, who also has the best claim to having created Bugs and Daffy. Avery introduced them in Henpecked Hobos, which MGM released on October 26, 1946.
Three more Avery-directed episodes followed. In the last, Half-Pint Pygmy, released August 7, 1948 (in which the money-making scheme was to capture the world's smallest pygmy), both responded to repeated failure by shooting themselves in the head — a series-ending ploy Avery had earlier inflicted on Screwy Squirrel.
Since their series was good and over, in Avery's later cartoon Lucky Ducky, a couple of otherwise identical characters were redesigned as dogs and not given names. MGM was through with them.
But in cartoons, death isn't necessarily permanent. Almost a half-century later, the Hanna-Barbera studio revived them, just as it had Tom & Jerry, Droopy and other MGM characters. What A Cartoon!, the Cartoon Network series that introduced Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Lab and Johnny Bravo, did two new episodes in 1995, Look Out Below and George & Junior's Christmas Spectacular.
But that was their last hurrah. The days of making a succesful cartoon series, even a short one, by parodying Of Mice & Men are long gone, and so, finally, are George & Junior.