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Isadore "Friz" Freleng (August 21, 1906 â€“ May 26, 1995) was an animator, cartoonist, director, and producer best known for his work on the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of cartoons from Warner Bros. He introduced and/or developed several of the studio's biggest stars, including Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the cat, Yosemite Sam (to whom he was said to bear more than a passing resemblance) and Speedy Gonzales. The senior director at Warners' Termite Terrace studio, Freleng directed more cartoons than any other director in the studio (a total of 266), and is also the most honored of the Warner directors, having won four Academy Awards. After Warners shut down the animation studio in 1963, Freleng and business partner David DePatie founded DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, which produced cartoons (notably The Pink Panther Show), feature film title sequences, and Saturday morning cartoons through the early 1980s. The nickname "Friz" came from how "frizzly" his hair was at one time.

Early career

Freleng was born in Kansas Citymarker, Missourimarker, where he began his career in animation at United Film Ad Service. There, he made the acquaintance of fellow animators Hugh Harman and Ub Iwerks. In 1923, Iwerks' friend Walt Disney moved to Hollywoodmarker, put out a call for his Kansas City colleagues to join him. Freleng, however, held out until 1927, when he finally moved to California and joined the Disney studio. He worked alongside other former Kansas City animators, including Iwerks, Harman, Carmen Maxwell, and Rudolph Ising. While at Disney's, Freleng worked on the Alice Comedies and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons for producers Margaret Winkler and Charles Mintz.

Freleng soon teamed up with Harman and Ising to try to create their own studio. The trio produced a pilot film starring a new Mickey Mouse-like character named Bosko. Looking at unemployment if the cartoon failed to generate interest, Freleng moved to New York Citymarker to work on Mintz' Krazy Kat cartoons, all the while still trying to sell the Harman-Ising Bosko picture. The cartoon finally sold to Leon Schlesinger, who soon secured Harman and Ising to star Bosko in the Looney Tunes series he was producing for Warner Bros. Freleng soon moved back to California to work with Harman and Ising once again.

Freleng as director

Early Schlesinger cartoons

Harman and Ising left Schlesinger's studio over disputes about budgets in 1933. Schlesinger was left with no experienced directors, and therefore lured Freleng away from Harman-Ising to successfully fix cartoons directed by Tom Palmer which Warner Bros rejected. The young animator became Schlesinger's top director, and he introduced the studio's first true post-Bosko star, Porky Pig, in the 1935 film I Haven't Got a Hat. The film is notable for being one of the earliest examples of characterization in a cartoon. Porky was a distinctive character, unlike Bosko or his replacement, Buddy.

MGM

In 1937, Freleng left Schlesinger's after accepting an increase in salary to direct for the new Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cartoon studio headed by Fred Quimby. To Freleng's chagrin, he found he would be working on The Captain and the Kids, adapted from the popular comic strip The Katzenjammer Kids. The series failed to achieve much success, much as Freleng had predicted—though skillfully animated, the characters could not compete with the "funny animals" that prevailed at the time.

Back with Schlesinger and Warner Bros.

Freleng happily returned to Warner Bros. when his contract ended in late 1938. One of the first Looney Tunes directed by Freleng during his second tenure at the studio was You Ought to Be in Pictures, a short which blended animation with live-action footage of the Warner Bros. studio (and of Schlesinger veterans such as story man Michael Maltese and even "Leon" himself). The plot, which centers around Porky Pig being tricked by Daffy Duck into terminating his contract with Schlesinger to attempt a career in features, echoes Freleng's experience in moving to MGM.

Directorial achievements

Schlesinger's hands-off attitude toward his animators allowed Freleng and his fellow directors almost complete creative control and room to experiment with cartoon comedy styles, which allowed the studio to keep pace with the Disney studio's technical superiority. Freleng's style quickly matured, and he became a master of comic timing. Often working alongside layout artist Hawley Pratt, he also introduced or redesigned a number of famous Warner characters, including Yosemite Sam in 1945, the cat-and-bird duo, Sylvester and Tweety in 1947, and Speedy Gonzales in 1955.

Freleng and Chuck Jones would dominate the Warner Bros. studio in the years after World War II, Freleng largely concentrating on the above mentioned characters and Bugs Bunny. Freleng also continued to produce modernized versions of the musical comedies he animated in his early career, such as The Three Little Bops (1957) and Pizzicato Pussycat (1955). Freleng won four Oscars during his time at Warner Bros., for the films Tweetie Pie (1947), Speedy Gonzales (1955), Knighty Knight Bugs (1958) and Birds Anonymous (1957). And other Freleng cartoons such as Sandy Claws (1955), Mexicali Shmoes (1959), Mouse and Garden (1960), and The Pied Piper of Guadalupe (1961) were Oscar nominees.

Freleng was occasionally the subject of in-jokes in Warner cartoons, with billboards in the background of scenes advertising various products called "Friz". A good example can be seen in the Sylvester and Tweety cartoon Canary Row.

DePatie-Freleng Enterprises

After the Warner studio closed in 1963, Freleng rented the same space from Warners to create cartoons with his now-former boss, producer Dave DePatie (the final producer hired by Warners to oversee the cartoon division), forming DePatie-Freleng Enterprises. When Warner Bros decided to reopen their cartoon studio in 1964, they did so in name only; DePatie-Freleng produced the cartoons into 1966.

While much of Freleng's post-Warner work is considered of lesser quality than his earlier achievements, the DePatie-Freleng studio's signature achievement was The Pink Panther. DePatie-Freleng was commissioned to create the opening titles for the 1963 film The Pink Panther, for which layout artist and director Hawley Pratt and Freleng created a suave, cool cat character. The Pink Panther cartoon character became so popular that United Artists, distributors of The Pink Panther, had Freleng produce a short cartoon starring the character, The Pink Phink (1964).

After The Pink Phink won the 1965 Academy Award for Best Short Subject , Freleng and DePatie responded by producing a whole series of Pink Panther cartoons. Other original cartoon series, among them The Inspector, The Ant and the Aardvark, and Hoot Kloot, soon followed. In 1969, The Pink Panther Show, a Saturday morning anthology program featuring DePatie-Freleng cartoons, debuted on NBC. The Pink Panther and the other original DePatie-Freleng series would remain in production through 1980, with new cartoons produced for simultaneous Saturday morning broadcast and United Artists theatrical release.

DePatie-Freleng is credited with the creation of Frito-Lay's Chester Cheetah, on the Food Network show "Deep Fried Treats Unwrapped"; as well as creating the colored opening title sequence to I Dream of Jeannie.

By 1967, DePatie and Freleng had moved their operations to the San Fernando Valleymarker. Their studio was located on Hayvenhurst Avenue in Van Nuysmarker. One of their projects featured Bing Crosby and his family called, Goldilocks and had songs by the Sherman Brothers. At their new facilities they continued to produce new cartoons until 1980, when they sold DePatie-Freleng to Marvel Comics, who renamed it Marvel Productions.

Later career

Freleng later served as an executive producer on three 1980s Looney Tunes compilation features, which linked together several of the classic shorts with new animated sequences. The Freleng-produced compilation features were The Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie (1981), Bugs Bunny's 3rd Movie: 1001 Rabbit Tales (1982), and Daffy Duck's Movie: Fantastic Island (1983).

Death

On May 26 1995, Friz died of natural causes, aged 88. The WB animated TV series Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries was dedicated to his memory.

Notes

  1. His exact year of birth varies by source; some give 1905, others 1906. The year chosen here is that of his grave marker. See Freleng Isadore "Friz" Freleng at findagrave.com.
  2. Gifford, Dennis. "Obituary:Friz Freleng." The (London) Independent. May 29, 1995.


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