The usual gestation period for a rabbit is a month. But Bugs Bunny, the iconic cartoon character who turns 75 on Monday, took a lot longer to come to life.
Scroll down to read that story–but not before watching a clip from his first official appearance, in the 1940 Tex Avery cartoon A Wild Hare. The Oscar-nominated cartoon has all the classic Bugs favorites: outwitting Elmer Fudd, the signature ears and tail, the “What’s up, Doc?”
(Looney Tunes characters, names, and all related indicia are TM & © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. You can watch the whole thing here.)
Here’s how the world’s favorite cartoon rabbit came to be. Animator Chuck Jones gave credit to Tex Avery for the character, but Warner Bros. had made several rabbit cartoons in the studio’s earlier years. There were cutesy rabbits and wacky rabbits, but those rabbits aren’t Bugs. (One distinction, Jones explained, was that Bugs’ craziness always serves a purpose–in contrast to the unhinged Daffy Duck.)
The Wild Hare bunny is uncredited, though that changed before the year was up. Bugs was an instant star. By 1954, TIME noted that he was more popular than Mickey Mouse. (Mel Blanc, who voiced the character, later claimed that the name was his idea, saying that they were going to call the character Happy Rabbit, but that Blanc suggested naming him after animator Ben “Bugs” Hardaway. Alternatively, the name is sometimes traced to a sketch that designer Charles Thorson did on Hardaways’ request, with the caption “Bugs’ bunny”—as in, it was the bunny that Bugs had asked him to draw.)
Though Virgil Ross was the animator on A Wild Hare, Chuck Jones became one of the more famous hands behind the Bugs Bunny magic. In 1979, when The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie came out, TIME critic Richard Schickel noted that “it is possible that some day Animator Chuck Jones may come to be regarded as the American Bunuel” for the fact that Jones and the groundbreaking surrealist filmmaker so well understood the psychological underpinnings of comedy.
As these images from the late artist’s archives show, Bugs Bunny may have taken a long time to be born—but he sure has aged well.
Read TIME’s take on Warner cartoons’ 50th birthday, in 1985, here in the TIME Vault: For Heaven’s Sake! Grown Men!
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