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If you like Chuck Jones's story, you might also like:
Michael Eisner,
George Lucas,
James Rosenquist,
Fritz Scholder,
Julie Taymor,
Wayne Thiebaud
and Robert Zemeckis

Chuck Jones's recommended reading: Roughing It

Chuck Jones also appears in the video:
Passion, Creativity and the Arts: Writing for Motion Pictures

Related Links:
Chuck Jones
Chuck Jones Center
Looney Tunes

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Chuck Jones
Chuck Jones
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Chuck Jones Interview (page: 3 / 5)

Animation Pioneer

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  Chuck Jones

Who gave you your first break in the field of cartoons?

Chuck Jones Interview Photo
Chuck Jones: I came out of art school in 1931, right in the worst of the Depression, two years before Franklin Roosevelt came in. The whole United States was flat. To expect to get a job when three out of every ten people were unemployed was ridiculous, particularly for a kid without any experience in anything. I had worked my way through art school by being a janitor, but I never worked full time as a janitor, and I wasn't sure I was capable. I was certainly willing.

When I came out, one of my friends who had been at Chouinard with me had gone to work with Walt Disney's ex-partner, a man by the name of Ub Iwerks. He was the one who animated most of the Disney stuff. Disney was not a good animator, he didn't draw well at all, but he was always a great idea man, and a good writer. Iwerks was a great artist and a great animator. Somebody convinced him that he was the brains and the talent in the outfit, so he left and started his own studio,

He was hiring people and he hired this friend of mine named, Fred Kopietz. Fred called me up and asked me if I wanted to go to work, to my extreme astonishment, which has held for 63 years.

I'm still astonished that somebody would offer me a job and pay me to do what I wanted to do. And to this day, that's been the astonishment of my life, and delight of my life, and the wonder of my life, and the puzzlement that anybody would be so stupid as to be willing to do that. I hear all these success stories of people, these captains of industry, these forgers of the world, and empire builders and so on. And they talk about all the money they've made and become presidents and all that, and I thought, jeez, but look at me. When I was offered a chance to be head of studios I wouldn't take it. I like to work with the tools of my trade. The tools of my trade is a lot of paper and a pencil, and that's all it is.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

Tell us what your first job was.

Chuck Jones Interview Photo
Chuck Jones: I started out as what they call a cell washer. The cells are the paintings that go into the camera in animated cartoons. The ink lines are on one side and the color is on the other. In those days these were black and white, but they were made the same way. In those days, those cells cost seven cents a piece. You used three or 4,000 drawings in those simple days in a seven or eight minute cartoon. So after you finished a picture, you washed them off and used them again.

One of those black and white Mickey Mouse cells recently sold at auction in New York for $175,000. They were washing them off, too. Nobody thought to save them. Why should they? They weren't worth anything. So that was my first job, washing them off. Then I moved up to become a painter in black and white, some color. Then I went on to take animator's drawings and traced them on to the celluloid. Then I became what they call an in-betweener, which is the guy that does the drawing between the drawings the animator makes.

You bounced around a good deal in the early years, from one place to another.

Chuck Jones: Yeah, for about a year. I worked for Charles Mintz Studio, and then I worked for Walt Lantz who later on did Woody Woodpecker.

Tell us about how you came to work for Leon Schlesinger and Warner Brothers, what that was like.

Chuck Jones Interview Photo
Chuck Jones: In 1933 I went to work for Leon Schlesinger and that's where I stayed for 38 years. Leon had formed a company called, Pacific Art and Title. To this day that company exists, it does a lot of the title work for various studios, and independent producers.

Unfortunately, he was very lazy. All he knew was, he made pictures that Warner Brothers bought. I think he was married to one of Warner's sisters, or something. There was a familial relationship of some kind there. He made pictures and sold them to Warner Brothers. And he didn't care, as long as they bought them, that was fine. Warner Brothers didn't care what they were, as long as we provided the product. You had to have a feature picture and you had to have two or three short subjects, which were aggregated into a two hour program. So you needed a bunch of short subjects.

Tell us a little bit about how Leon Schlesinger became one of the prime inspirations for Daffy Duck.

Chuck Jones: Well, Leon Schlesinger was very lazy, and that stood to our advantage, because he didn't hang over us or anything. He spent as little time in the studio as he could. He'd come back and ask us what we were working on, and we knew he wasn't going to listen, no matter what we said. So we would say something like, well, "I'm working on this picture with Daffy Duck, and it turns out that Daffy isn't a duck at all, he's a transvestite chicken." And he would say, "That'th it boyth. Put in lot'th of joketh." He had a little lisp. He'd say, "I'm off to the rathes." So he'd go charging out. If you don't know what a race is, it's a place where 'horthes' run. So, one day, when he went out, Tex was directing and I was animating at that time, Bob Clampet was animating, too. Cal Howard, one of our writers, said to Tex, "You know that voice of Leon's would make a good voice for Daffy Duck." So he called in Mel Blanc and said, "Can you do Leon Schlesinger's voice?" And Mel said, "Sure, it's very thimple." O.K. So they recorded the whole voices and everything. The one thing we forgot though before the picture was half way into work was that Leon was going to have to see that picture, and what's worse, he was going to hear it and hear his own voice coming out of that duck.

Chuck Jones Interview Photo

Did you think you'd be fired?

Chuck Jones: Oh, yes. I expected to be fired. In fact, we all wrote our resignations, all of us that worked on the film. We figured the director and the animators would be canned. We figured we'd resign before we got fired. Fortunately, we didn't send them in. Leon came crashing in that day, as he usually did, and we assembled all the troops to watch the picture. And, he came in and went running down the aisle, or plowing down the aisle like a plaid battleship and climbed up on this throne that he'd established at one end of this projection room. It was a gold throne that he'd sit on and every time he got up there'd be gold flakes sticking to his pants. We sat on old pews. Pews that he'd stolen from some Warner Bros. picture. Every time we got up we got up there was splinters in our bum. So we all got something out of the showing. Leon jumped up on his platform and in order to make us feel good he said, "Roll the garbage." That's what he always said. It made you feel like he really cared. So they rolled the garbage, and of course everyone in the studio knew the drama of the situation, so nobody laughed, of course. He didn't care, he didn't pay attention to what anybody else did anyway, or heard. It was only his opinion that counted. So at the end of the picture there was this deathly silence and you could hear crickets, or a horse neying like they do in westerns, and way off in the distance a dog would be wailing our death, but old Leon jumped up and looked around and glared around, and we thought, "Here comes the old ax." And he said, "Jesus Christ, that's a funny voice, where'd you get that voice?" So, that was what it was, and he went to his unjust desserts, doubtless taking his money with him, went to Nineveh and Tyre, but the voice lives on. As long as Daffy Duck is alive, Leon Schlesinger is there, in his corner of heaven.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

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This page last revised on Sep 23, 2010 14:36 EST
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