It’s one of the most recognizable phrases in the world, and it belongs to a cartoon legend named Bugs Bunny.
Bugs Bunny was first seen in 1938 in a cartoon short film called Porky’s Hare Hunt. The character drawn was the prototype for Bugs Bunny, and he looked a little different than he does now. He was mostly white, had smaller teeth, and a black button nose. There have been disputes over which artist first drew the bunny, but it is generally known that Bugs Hardaway was responsible for the development of the character. People started calling the rabbit “Bugs’ Bunny,” and the name stuck, although the apostrophe was later removed.
One of Bugs Bunny’s first lines was “Of course, you know this means war!” – a famous line from Groucho Marx. Bugs also held his carrot the way someone would hold a cigar, which also referred to Marx, an influence on Bugs Bunny’s personality.
Bugs Bunny’s first official appearance as a fully developed character was in 1940’s A Wild Hare. It is here that he uttered his trademark line, “Eh, What’s Up Doc?” as he stepped out of his hole to meet his hunter, Elmer Fudd. It was also in this cartoon short that we were introduced to Bugs’ characteristic accent. It is said to be a Flatbush accent, a mixture of the Bronx and Brooklyn dialects.
Watch Bugs’ first appearance (as a prototype) in Porky’s Hare Hunt:
Watch his first official appearance in A Wild Hare:
Bugs Bunny’s personality continued to develop with each cartoon short. He played it cool, never worrying about his enemies. Bugs knew he could outwit them, and outwit them he did. He had a smarmy attitude and would tease his antagonists and make them angry using tricks and pranks.
In the early 1940s, Bugs Bunny starred in many shorts, and by 1942 he had become the star of the Merrie Melodies series. During World War II, Bugs Bunny was very popular with the crowds. Following Disney’s and Famous Studios’ lead, Warner Bros capitalized the popular character by pitting him up against the enemies of the world. Bugs starred in short films opposite Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goering, and the Japanese, bringing humor to a terrible time in the world. As a result, his popularity greatly increased.
Film critics liked Bugs, too. He was nominated for an Oscar with 1942’s Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt, and won the Academy Award for Best Short Subject: Cartoons of 1958. The 1957 cartoon short entitled What’s Opera, Doc?, starring Bugs and Elmer Fudd, was labeled “culturally significant” by the United States Chamber of Commerce, and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Bugs Bunny also made numerous appearances on television. In 1960, The Bugs Bunny Show premiered on ABC. It aired for two years during primetime until it was moved to Saturday mornings, where it remained for 40 years. There were also animated specials, which mostly featured compilations of Bugs’ cartoon shorts. In the 1980s, Bugs Bunny’s Busting Out All Over aired -the first new Bugs Bunny cartoon in 16 years.
In later years, Bugs Bunny appeared in many TV specials. He also appeared in Space Jam and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. In 1990, a new cartoon short, Box Office Bunny, debuted, followed by the 1991 (Blooper) Bunny. Both were created to celebrate Bugs Bunny’s 50th anniversary.
Along with Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (they were the first). And in 1997, his image was used on a US Postage Stamp (also, a first).
Bugs Bunny is still very well known and loved by people all around the world. He is seen on television and in animated movies, and is the main character in a series of video games. He’s also the long-running mascot of Looney Tunes and Warner Bros.