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Dick French

Dick French

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Also Known As: Richard French Died:
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The career of animation giant Friz Freleng encompassed much of the history of his chosen medium. He entered the industry in 1927 during the silent era as an animator on the popular Oswald the Rabbit series produced by the young visionary Walt Disney. Freleng also helped usher in the sound era in cartoons--notably with the three-minute pilot film "Bosko the Talk Ink Kid" (1929)--as the chief animator during the early days of the Harman-Ising studio (which soon evolved into producer Leon Schlesinger's animation unit at Warner Brothers). After a brief but transformative stint as a director at Fred Quimby's cartoon unit at MGM from late 1937 through early 1939, Freleng entered his multi-Oscar-winning glory days at Termite Terrace (the bungalow on the Warner lot where the animation department was housed) in the 1940s and 50s. Even during the artistically diminished era of 60s and 70s Saturday morning TV cartoons, he emerged as a major player in a very different field. Freleng truly saw it all and played a substantial role in making it happen. While Bob Clampett was achieving new heights with Porky Pig--whom Freleng had introduced in "I Haven't Got a Hat" (1935)--in the black-and-white "Looney Tunes"...

The career of animation giant Friz Freleng encompassed much of the history of his chosen medium. He entered the industry in 1927 during the silent era as an animator on the popular Oswald the Rabbit series produced by the young visionary Walt Disney. Freleng also helped usher in the sound era in cartoons--notably with the three-minute pilot film "Bosko the Talk Ink Kid" (1929)--as the chief animator during the early days of the Harman-Ising studio (which soon evolved into producer Leon Schlesinger's animation unit at Warner Brothers). After a brief but transformative stint as a director at Fred Quimby's cartoon unit at MGM from late 1937 through early 1939, Freleng entered his multi-Oscar-winning glory days at Termite Terrace (the bungalow on the Warner lot where the animation department was housed) in the 1940s and 50s. Even during the artistically diminished era of 60s and 70s Saturday morning TV cartoons, he emerged as a major player in a very different field. Freleng truly saw it all and played a substantial role in making it happen.

While Bob Clampett was achieving new heights with Porky Pig--whom Freleng had introduced in "I Haven't Got a Hat" (1935)--in the black-and-white "Looney Tunes" series, Freleng helped enliven the color "Merrie Melodies" with a series of Hollywood caricatures in such mid-30s releases as "At Your Service Madame" featuring W.C. Squeals and "Coo Coo Nut Grove" (both 1936) which boasted a galaxy of stars (e.g. Clark Gable, Johnny Weismuller, Katherine Hepburn, Harpo Marx) in cartoon form. Freleng's solid if unremarkable work at Warners in the 30s was followed by a period of mastery in the 40s and 50s as he supervised some of the studio's most fondly remembered cartoons featuring the likes of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Speedy Gonzales, Road Runner, Sylvester and Tweety.

Unlike some of his peers (e.g. Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett), Freleng has rarely been hailed as an innovator. Nonetheless his best Warner Brothers cartoons display an impeccable sense of comic timing, a flair for character and a rare ability to balance slapstick action and punchy verbal humor with tenderness. Freleng helmed the first appearance of the red moustachioed bandit Yosemite Sam in "Hare Trigger" (1945). Reportedly, writer Michael Maltese based the volatile little villain's personality on that of Freleng himself. Freleng became the primary director of Sam's many subsequent confrontations with Bugs Bunny. In 1947, Freleng revised Bob Clampett's original design of Tweety, paired him with Sylvester the Cat and won the Warner Brothers cartoon division its first Oscar with "Tweety Pie." Subsequently the exclusive director of Tweety, Freleng was responsible for many wacky scenarios featuring the little bird, Sylvester and Granny. He also redesigned Robert McKimson's fleet-footed Mexican rodent and directed him in the Oscar-winning "Speedy Gonzales" (1955).

A music lover and amateur musician, Freleng timed his cartoons to music and gave many of them musical motifs. Outstanding examples include "A Hare Grows in Manhattan" (1947), set to the rabbit's catchy rendition of "The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady" ("...a regular old-fashioned goil"), and "Showbiz Bugs" (1957) in which a murderously envious Daffy plants a bomb set to detonate when Bugs hits a certain note on the xylophone while playing "Those Endearing Young Charms." Freleng also directed a series of purely musical cartoons beginning with "Rhapsody in Rivets" (1941) which featured a group of animals building a skyscraper to the accompaniment of Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2."

When the animation department shut down in 1963, Freleng became a mogul by forming DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, a successful and prolific producer of animated cartoon fare primarily for children's TV, with David H. DePatie. They leased the Warner animation studio and set up shop. Ironically their first assignment was reviving the Warner Brothers cartoon series--on about half the previous budget--for a few more uninspired years (1964-67). Director Blake Edwards helped put the new company on the map by hiring them to animate the title sequence for his new detective comedy vehicle for Peter Sellers, "The Pink Panther" (1964). The success of this feature led to a popular series of theatrical shorts featuring the silent but colorful feline beginning with the Oscar-winning "The Pink Phink" (1964). These, in turn, generated a long running (1969-79) children's series featuring the panther, the Inspector, the Ant and the Aardvark and assorted critters.

Joining Hanna-Barbera and Filmation as the primary suppliers of TV kiddie fodder, DePatie-Freleng also produced numerous series and specials including several well-received Dr. Seuss projects beginning with the holiday classic "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (CBS, 1966). Though they featured limited animation, the Depatie-Freleng product was never quite as numbingly formulaic as their competitors'. Long after the Pink Panther cartoons ceased to be funny, they were still blessed with attractive and distinctive design. There were even ocassional glimmers of Freleng's once celebrated sense of comic timing. DePatie-Freleng also designed the title sequences for various features including the first "Panther" sequel, "A Shot in the Dark," and "The Best Man" (both 1964).

Late in his career, Freleng produced several theatrical compilation features, showcasing some of his memorable Warner Brothers work; "Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie" (1981), "Bugs Bunny's 3rd Movie: 1001 Rabbit Tales" (1982) and "Daffy Duck's Movie: Fantastic Island" (1983). He also turned up as a grand old man in several TV specials honoring Bugs Bunny and Company. Fortunate to live long enough to be recognized and hailed as a genius, Freleng received numerous awards and retrospectives including the 1,962nd star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1992.

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CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Girl on the Spot (1946) Bill
2.
 The Chicago Kid (1945) Jones
3.
 Week-End at the Waldorf (1945) Clerk
4.
 Easy to Look At (1945) Orchestra leader
5.
 That Night with You (1945) Leason
6.
 River Gang (1945) Reporter
7.
 Ladies Courageous (1944) Dutch pilot
8.
 Dixie Dugan (1943) Phillips
9.
 Margin for Error (1943) Photographer
10.
 The Hard Way (1943) Playboy
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