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The Origins of Daffy Duck

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Audiences were first introduced to Daffy’s signature attitude and lisp in 1937's animated short film “Porky’s Duck Hunt.” Created by Tex Avery and Leon Schlesinger’s animation studio, Daffy was so wild and different than anything that had come before that he quickly became a beloved off-the wall Warner Bros. mascot. Few other characters have since approached his ability to put the "looney" in Looney Tunes. Join as we explore the origins of Daffy Duck.

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The Origins of Daffy Duck

He is both the screwball friend and maniacal arch rival of Bugs Bunny. Welcome to and today we’ll be taking a look at the origins of Daffy Duck.

Audiences were first greeted by Daffy’s signature attitude and lisp on April 17th, 1937 in the cartoon “Porky’s Duck Hunt.” The character himself was created by Tex Avery, and produced by Leon Schlesinger’s animation studio, and eventually became an enduring Looney Tunes and Warner Bros. mascot.

At first, Daffy Duck was introduced as a secondary character for Porky Pig to hunt. However, Daffy helped perfect the hunter-and-prey scenario Looney Tunes became famous for, and set up many of their recurring gags.

Even early on, Daffy’s personality was established as crazy: he was an off-the-wall character who was both aggressive and uncontrollable. He also exhibited some unusual habits: for example, it was customary for Daffy to break the fourth wall and address the audience. In addition, other characters would often suddenly find him around every turn. The novelty of this character and his wild antics helped Looney Tunes steal focus from Disney and their similar short film series “Silly Symphonies.”

Originally, Daffy was a little black duck with a white ring around his neck, who loved to shout, laugh wildly and bounce around. The character’s design evolved to resemble a real duck less and less, and a human more and more. Fans best recognized the character’s distinctive speech impediment, which was based on the voice of producer Leon Schlesinger and portrayed by Mel Blanc for several decades.

With each new Warner Bros. director, Daffy’s personality underwent an overhaul: this resulted in a noticeable shift back and forth in the character’s temperament between wise-guy lunatic and opportunist.

Daffy was finally given his due after 1940’s “You Ought to Be in Pictures.” In that short, the character storms into Schlesinger’s live-action office in an attempt to steal Porky’s job. Daffy then received much more attention, and starred in over forty films alongside Porky, Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam. Fortunately for him, he also progressed from a simple lunatic to one with brains.

It was around this time Daffy appeared in several wartime film shorts, in which he attempted to dodge conscription, battled a Nazi goat, and hit Adolf Hitler. That move proved so popular, the character actually became the mascot of the army’s 600th Bombardment Squadron.

Later, the character of Daffy Duck was expanded to include some of Bugs Bunny’s savvy, intelligence and lust for riches.

He also travelled to space by starring in the 1953 Merrie Melodies cartoon “Duck Dodgers in the 24 ½th Century.” There, he portrayed a space adventurer who attempted to battle Marvin the Martian, with assistance from Porky Pig. Daffy was likewise the star of several parodies of popular movies, including 1958’s “Robin Hood Daffy.”

Thanks to his regular presence on television, Daffy’s popularity peaked in the 1950s and ‘60s. During that time, director Chuck Jones recast him as a more sympathetic character with an insane jealousy towards Bugs Bunny on the compilation series “The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show.”

As Looney Tunes faded from the limelight towards the end of the 1960s, Daffy Duck earned a new nemesis in Speedy Gonzales. What followed was a two-decade-long absence for the character, before he finally returned to the big screen for a cameo in the 1988 Disney film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” where he can be seen dueling against Donald Duck on the piano.

Daffy later appeared in many projects, including random compilations, 1997’s “Space Jam,” 2003’s rebooted “Duck Dodgers” series, “Baby Looney Tunes,” and 2011’s animated sitcom “The Looney Tunes Show.” These more modern interpretations proved this duck had staying power.

Daffy Duck has the honor of being one of the few cartoon characters that help popularize the medium. He continues to battle for audience attention, and amuses us with his outrageous personality and charm.

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