THE BOOTLEG FILES: “BUGS BUNNY BOND RALLY”

Unlike the current cabal of pathological liars, profiteering miscreants and constipated imbeciles who occupy the White House, the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt was far more sophisticated and successful in uniting America during wartime. Whereas the Bush league attempts to sell its military message with the charmless messengers Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, FDR tapped a better spokesman to get people in step with the war mission: Bugs Bunny.

One of the first combined efforts between Hollywood and the federal government was a 1942 cartoon designed to encourage the purchase of war bonds and war stamps, which were to be used to finance the fight against Germany and Japan. (Yes, in those days people realized that someone had to pay for a war – cutting taxes while waging a war was a more recent development.) The cartoon itself, strangely, did not have an official name. The title card read “Leon Schlesinger Presents Bugs Bunny,” but today it is mostly known as “Bugs Bunny Bond Rally” (although the IMDB calls it “Any Bonds Today?”).

The fact that Bugs Bunny was being called on to sell war bonds and war stamps is a testament to the extraordinary appeal of that Warner Bros. creation. After all, Bugs Bunny himself was only freshly stamped two years earlier with 1940’s “A Wild Hare.” Other popular cartoon characters, such as Mickey Mouse or Popeye, had been around since the 1920s. Yet Bugs, a relative newcomer to the animation world, was tapped for the prime job.

“Bugs Bunny Bond Rally” works around a novelty song written by Irving Berlin called “Any Bonds Today?” (hence the IMDB listing). The song was penned right after America’s entry into World War II, and Berlin was clearly the right man for the job – after all, he also created “God Bless America,” which many people thought was deserving of becoming the national anthem. While several recording artists tried their hand at “Any Bonds Today?”, the Department of the Treasury decided to go the cartoon route for a public service announcement that would be shown in movie theaters.

“Bugs Bunny Bond Rally” begins with the celebrated rabbit emerging on a stage where a famous painting of the Revolutionary War heroes marching off to war covers the backdrop. Bugs then recites the lyrics of Berlin’s tune: “The tall man with the high hat and the whiskers on his chin / Will soon be knocking at your door and you ought to be in.” Suddenly, Bugs dances about in a quasi-military manner and he starts singing: “The tall man with the high hat will be coming down your way / Get your savings out when you hear him shout ‘Any bonds today?’”

Bugs dons Uncle Sam’s red-white-and-blue top hat and long white whiskers and cake walks across the stage, singing as Uncle Sam: “Any bonds today?/ Bonds of freedom, that’s what I’m selling /
Any bonds today? / Scrape up the most you can / Here comes the freedom man / Asking you to buy a share of freedom today.”

So far, everything seems benign. Then, in what would later doom the cartoon to obscurity, Bugs does a quick turn and emerges in a minstrel show display of blackface. Getting down on his knees, Bugs starts doing a terrible Al Jolson imitation while warbling: “Any stamps today? / We’ll be blest if we all invest /
In the U.S.A.” If that’s not enough, Bugs parodies Jolson’s trademark “Mammy” by changing the words to: “Sammy! My Uncle Sammy!”

Bugs gets up and wipes off the blackface. Suddenly, Porky Pig wearing a sailor’s suit and Elmer Fudd in a soldier’s uniform flank Bugs. These characters are jitterbugging in place, waving an extended index finger in the air. Elmer chimes in with “Here comes the freedom man” (which comes out like “Here comes da fweedom man”) while Porky stutters “C-c-c-can’t make tomorrow’s plan” – then all three characters dance about and sing: “Not unless you buy a share of freedom today!” A sign urging people to buy war bonds and war stamps is flashed. And that, in one minute and 33 seconds, is “Bugs Bunny Bond Rally.”

From a cartoon history perspective, “Bugs Bunny Bond Rally” is unique on several levels. It is perhaps the shortest cartoon produced and released by Warner Bros. It is also the only time Porky and Elmer appeared in the same cartoon produced during the golden age of Warner Bros. animation. And it marks one of only five appearances of the fat Elmer Fudd. In 1941, it was decided that Elmer Fudd would be more amusing if he was overweight. After five cartoons (including this one), it was then decided that Elmer Fudd was not amusing overweight, and thus he returned to his original slim proportions. While the sight of a bumbling fat man jitterbugging in a soldier’s uniform (not to mention a chubby pig dressed as a sailor) may not have been the best representation of the American fighting forces preparing to slay the Axis hegemony, no one suggested redrawing Elmer.

Incredibly, no one seemed to mind Bugs Bunny in blackface. Why it was decided to parody Al Jolson is not clear, since by 1942 Jolson was considered something of a has-been. But Warner Bros. (not unlike the other Hollywood animation outlets of the era) saw no problems in using racially insensitive sight gags in lieu of comedy. The concept of fighting fascism with derogatory stereotypes was logical for its time.

“Bugs Bunny Bond Rally” was supervised by Robert Clampett, with animation by Rod Scribner, Robert McKimson and Virgil Ross. Mel Blanc did the voices of Bugs and Porky while Arthur Q. Bryan provided Elmer’s voice. None of these men, nor Irving Berlin, received on-screen credit for their work. The entire cartoon took less than three months to create.

“Bugs Bunny Bond Rally” played in cinemas during World War II and was responsible for encouraging huge sales for war bonds and war stamps. The film was withdrawn from circulation after the war concluded in 1945. Since it was created for the federal government, it was not copyright protected by Warner Bros. and was not included in the subsequent syndication of the studio’s cartoons to television. The film, like many public domain titles, has been duped repeatedly over the years and has turned up on a variety of videos from different labels and in some TV presentations that recycled old PD footage (I first saw this on a PBS show called “Matinee at the Bijou” in the mid-1980s and I can still recall the shock of discovering it).

So why isn’t this cartoon better known? Well, the use of blackface created major problems with contemporary screenings and presentations. “Bugs Bunny Bond Rally” was included on an official Warner Bros. DVD, but the cartoon was edited to remove the Jolson parody. In 2001, Cartoon Network refused to show “Bugs Bunny Bond Rally” (along with 11 other cartoons) as part of its Bugs Bunny marathon, citing the unflattering racial elements of the cartoon

What most people don’t know, however, is the missing stanza from “Any Bonds Today?” that was not included in the cartoon. Imagine what mischief Bugs could have pulled with these unsung lyrics:

First came the Czechs and then came the Poles, ^ And then the Norwegians with three million souls. ^ Then came the Dutch, the Belgians and France, ^ Then all of the Balkans with hardly a chance. ^ It’s all in the Book if only you look, ^ It’s there if you read the text! ^ They fell ev’ry one at the point of a gun – ^ America mustn’t be next!

Can you imagine Bugs, Porky and Elmer dramatizing that? Perhaps we should be glad “Bugs Bunny Bond Rally” was a hit-and-run offering. And, truth be told, Bugs Bunny pretending to be Jolson and the portly Porky and obese Elmer stuffed into uniforms are far less offensive than the propaganda push for today’s Iraqi war. I’ll take a politically incorrect cartoon over a politically obscene White House any day!

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IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.

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Posted on December 2, 2005 in Features by
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