Yosemite Sam. Artist: Friz Freleng.


Original Medium: Theatrical Animation
Released by: Warner Bros.
First Appeared: 1945
Creator: Michael Maltese
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Writer Michael Maltese claimed he based Yosemite Sam's personality on that of director Friz Freleng. If that's the case, Freleng seems to have taken the gibe in proper spirit. He pitted that …

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… furry little bundle of irascibility against Bugs Bunny in a couple of dozen hilarious cartoons — one of which, Knighty-Knight Bugs (1958), won an Academy Award.

Sam made his first appearance in the Freleng-directed cartoon Hare Trigger (released April 21, 1945) — or did he? Red Hot Ryder (named after Fred Harman's famous cowboy star), Bugs's short-statured, short-tempered antagonist in Bob Clampett's Buckaroo Bugs, which came out eight months earlier, bears more than a passing resemblance to him. Was Red an earlier version of the same character? After all, many toons undergo radical design changes during their early years — for example, Betty Boop and Donald Duck, to say nothing of Bugs himself. And quite a few, including Chip'n'Dale and Tweety Bird, aren't given their proper names until their second appearances.

It's a moot point. It wasn't until 1948 that the bombastic little runt made another appearance — this time as a pirate, in Buccaneer Bunny. By that time, Clampett had left the Warner Bros. studio and was working on creations of his own — most notably Beany & Cecil, which was to debut on Los Angeles TV station KTLA in 1949. So the Freleng version was the one the studio went with, and before long Yosemite Sam had become a familiar sight to American moviegoers.

Sam's cartoons came out on a regular basis, one or two a year, until 1964. The last one was Pancho's Hideaway, released Oct. 24 of that year. Freleng directed all but one — Dumb Patrol, which came out earlier in '64, was by Gerry Chiniquy. Sam was paired with Bugs in all but three of his cartoons. Daffy Duck was his antagonist in Along Came Daffy (1947); in Honey's Money (1963), he had no co-star; and in his very last outing, he came up against Speedy Gonzales.

Sam wasn't a big star in comic books, but he did supporting roles with the other Warner characters in the Dell comic books of the 1950s. Oddly enough, it was only from 1970-84, long after the heyday of licensed animated characters in American comic books (as well as Sam's own heyday as an animated character), that Gold Key gave him his own series. Today, he makes occasional appearances in DC's Looney Tunes comic book.

Like the other Looney Tunes guys, Sam has enjoyed generations of television exposure. He also appeared with the rest of them in the 1988 toon-laden extravaganza Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and in the 1996 movie Space Jam. Also like them, he seems likely to remain in the public eye for a long time to come.


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