Sylvester the Cat

Sylvester the Cat
Sylvester J. Pussycat Senior is an animated cat who appears in several Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, often chasing Tweety Bird, Speedy Gonzales, or Hippety Hopper. The name "Sylvester" is a play on silvestris, the scientific name for the cat species. The character's prototype appeared in Bob Clampett's 1941 cartoon The Hep Cat who had no name, but resembled Sylvester (although without the lisp). The character got his permanent look in the 1945 short film Life With Feathers. In the 1947 cartoon Tweetie Pie (which was the both the first pairing of Tweety with Sylvester as well as the first Warner Bros. cartoon to win an Academy Award), Sylvester was called Thomas.
Sylvester's trademark was his sloppy, stridulating lisp (which, like Daffy Duck's, was based on producer Leon Schlesinger's). His sloppy voice was provided by voice acting legend Mel Blanc. Blanc reveals in his autobiography that Sylvester's voice and Daffy's were identical, but Daffy's was sped up in post-production. Sylvester's trademark exclamation is "Sufferin' succotash!", which is a minced oath/euphemism of "Suffering Savior".

Sylvester is an adorable tuxedo cat who shows much pride in himself, and never gives up. Despite (or perhaps because of) his pride and persistence, Sylvester was definitely on the "loser" side of the Looney Tunes winner/loser hierarchy. His character was basically that of Wile E. Coyote while he was chasing mice or birds. He shows a different character when paired with Porky Pig in explorations of spooky places, in which he doesn't speak as a scaredy cat. (In these cartoons, he basically plays the terrified Costello to Porky's oblivious Abbott). Sylvester's most developed role is as hapless mouse-catching instructor to his dubious son, Sylvester Junior, in which the "mouse" is a powerful baby kangaroo. His alternately confident and bewildered episodes bring his son to shame, while Sylvester himself is reduced to nervous breakdowns.

According to his son Noel Blanc, out of the hundreds of characters Mel Blanc had voiced, Sylvester was the closest to his natural voice. Just without the lisp.

Sylvester the cat was created by Friz Freleng for the 1945 cartoon "Life With Feathers", in which a henpecked lovebird tries to commit suicide by having Sylvester eat him. The cat's very first words were "Thufferin' Thuccotash", uttered again and again throughout the cat's career. Sylvester was designed to look like a clown, explaining the big red nose and low crotch, designed to look like a clown nose and baggy pants. The voice was that of Mel Blanc as Daffy Duck, only not sped up. In 1947, Sylvester was paired with an infamous character created by Bob Clampett, named Tweety Bird. In the first pairing, a cartoon called "Tweetie Pie", once again directed by Freleng, Sylvester is a jealous housecat, trying to eat Tweety, a concept which would continue for countless cartoons.

The short won WB animation its first Academy Award, and instantly the characters were a perfect team. Later the series would introduce audiences to Granny, Tweety's owner, and Hector, Tweety's bulldog bodyguard. Producer of the studio at the time, Edward Selzer, had suggested that Friz Frelelng not use Tweety but instead start using the little woodpecker from the earlier Sylvester solo cartoon "Peck Up You Troubles" (1945) as Sylvester's chief nemesis. Selzer was notorious for having no sense of humor or funny ideas, so Freleng decided that Tweety had to be the right character. However, aside from the tweety series, Sylvester was one of the most versatile characters in Warner Bros. cartoons, starring in many other cartoons without Tweety.

Sylvester remained one of the studio's most useful characters, with a filmography rivaling that of Bugs Bunny and a costar list to match. The cat was paired with Tweety most often, but had other encounters with characters such as Speedy Gonzales, Spike and Chester, Porky Pig, Hippety Hopper, Foghorn Leghorn, Elmer Fudd, and Wile E. Coyote. Sylvester was used not only by his creator, Freleng, but also by Bob Clampett in "Kitty Kornered", Arthur Davis, for the cartoons "Doggone Cats" and "A Hick, A Slick, and a Chick", Chuck Jones in "Scaredy Cat", "Claws for Alarm" and others, and Robert McKimson, who created Hippety Hopper and Sylvester Junior and directed many Speedy Gonzales cartoons starring the lisping cat.

Here is a Looney Tunes character that has become forgotten in recent years. Sylvester's annoying little son, Sylvester Junior, is often seen in the classic shorts hunting mice with his father, only to be embarrassed and forced to put a paper bag over his head, with the line "Oh, the shame of it all!"

Junior was created by Robert McKimson, for the cartoon "Pop 'Im, Pop!" . This cartoon was one in a long-running series of cartoons featuring the kangaroo Hippety Hopper, whom Sylvester always mistakes for a giant mouse. Sylvester would often meet Hippety solo, without Junior, however the chemistry always worked better when Junior was added. In several cartoons, such as "Birds of a Father" and "Goldimouse and the Three Cats", (the latter of which was the only Junior cartoon directed by Friz Freleng) the father/son team were without Hippety. These are overlooked masterpieces, and thought by LT fans to be far superior to the Hippety Hopper series.

When McKimson created Junior, he looked at the designs of Sylvester used by his unit, and decided that Junior should not look like a child, but be a scaled-down version of his father, identical except for size. The personality was a parody of radio, movie and later TV comedies involving fathers and sons, (mainly "Father Knows Best") most all of which were extremely wordy, sappy and corny.. Usually, the father was idolized by the son, as in the cartoons. Sylvester seemed to fit perfectly into that picture, creating the perfect dysfunctional father-and-son team.

Chuck Jones directed Sylvester in four cartoons in the classic era. All but one focused on the concept of Sylvester as Porky Pig's pet cat, and noticing dangerous situations which Porky Pig is completely oblivious to. In "Scaredy Cat" (1948), Porky rents an abandoned mansion, which turns out to be infested with Hubie and Bertie (Chuck Jones' mouse team usually seen with Claude Cat) and other mice, all trying to murder the cat and pig. Jones directed Sylvester as the evil Duke in "The Scarlet Pumpernickle" (1950), a parody of "The Scarlet Pimpernel" starring Daffy Duck. The "murderous mice" plot continued in 1954, in "Claws For Alarm". In this cartoon, Porky decides to stay in the "Dry Gulch Hotel", not realizing that it is a condemned inn in a middle-of-nowhere ghost town. The next year, Jones directed one final Porky and Sylvester cartoon, 1955's "Jumpin' Jupiter", in which a birdlike Martian from Marvin Martian's army lands in Porky's campground.

Sylvester also was Speedy Gonzales' chief nemesis.. Before the Warner Animation department's closing in 1964, Friz Freleng and Robert McKimson directed the entire Speedy Gonzales series, and both directors employed Sylvester very often. The cat's cunning evil streak and sneaky tendencies would serve him well in this series, but Speedy Gonzales always stayed one step ahead of him..

Sylvester's final appearance alongside Tweety was 1964's "Hawaiian Aye Aye", the only Sylvester and Tweety teamup to be directed by Gerry Chiniquy. All previous cartoons in the series had been directed by Friz Freleng. After this cartoon, Tweety was never used again in a theatrical cartoon. The Warner Brothers cartoon department closed and reopened as DePatie/Freleng Enterprises in late 1964, and the studio was best known for the series of "Pink Panther" movie titles and cartoon series. Sylvester was used for a while in a series of limited-animation shorts, all involving Speedy Gonzales.

Sylvester's final appearance in a theatrical cartoon was McKimson's "A Taste Of Catnip" (1966), in which Daffy Duck, living near a catnip factory, suddenly gets the urge to chase Speedy Gonzales. When he decides to eliminate the problem by blowing up the factory, Sylvester and other cats attack him. This was one of many Daffy and Speedy teamups, each one with a different reason for a duck to chase a mouse. Sylvester was then never used again until the 1969 closing of the studio, presumably due to the limited theatrical market, with the favorite characters of that market being Daffy Duck and Speedy Gonzales.

Sylvester later starred in "The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries", a half-hour series on the WB network from 1996 to 1999. This series was, unfortunately, not very funny, but featured cameos by countless lesser-known Looney Tunes characters, and very creative background designs patterned after the late 1950's shorts with UPA-influenced, abstract scenery. Joe Alaskey replaced the late Mel Blanc as the voice of Tweety and Sylvester, and June Foray returned as the original voice of Granny.

Also in 1996, Sylvester, Tweety, and Hippety Hopper appeared in the movie "Space Jam", a live action and animation basketball adventure starring Michael Jordan. Sylvester also became a regular in commercials after this time, appearing in a series of Space-Jam themed ads with Jordan "keeping in touch" with his cartoon pals. Sylvester's role in a Miracle Whip mayonainse commercial even got him nominated for an animation award in 2000.

Most of the Sylvester and Tweety classic shorts have been airing on Television since the 1960's, and since the 1980's have made up the majority of the content of ABC's "The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show." Sylvester cartoons have aired on many networks and cable channels, including CBS, ABC, TNT, TBS, Nickelodeon, the WB, and Cartoon Network.

However, in fall 2000 ABC gave up the rights to air the "Bugs and Tweety" show, which is the last non-cable package of Warner Brothers cartoons on US television. By 2001, all Warner Brothers classic animation became the exclusive property of the Cartoon Network, Sylvester included. Viewers who get CN and did not receive the "Bugs and Tweety Show" (It was often carried at ridiculous hours or pre-empted by Disney or football programming) can rejoice, as an entirely new selection of cartoons, many of them starring Sylvester, Tweety, and Sylvester Jr., will become available for viewing. Cartoon TV packages and series die, but the Looney Tunes cartoons have proven again and again that enduring characters like Sylvester (and Bugs and Tweety and Elmer and Daffy and Wile E.,and Foghorn Leghorn and many others) don't. Sylvester is possibly the most diverse cartoon character ever created.

  • On 24th of March 1945, Isadore "Friz" Freleng (21.8.1905-26.5.1995), an animator-director in Termite Terrace animation studios, gives birth to a "puddy tat" called Sylvester.

  • Sylvester was formally designed to resemble a clown - that's the reason of his red nose and low crutch. These strong characteristics were reduced soon afterwards, to make animation of Sylvester more comfortable.

  • Sylvester's first lispy words "Thufferin Thuccotash!" dubbed by the talented voice actor Mel Blanc became his trademark almost immediately. Sylvester's voice was essentially a voice of Daffy Duck, without the pitch effect.

  • Sylvester J. Pussycat debuts in "Life with Feathers" with a suicidal parrot, and receives his first Oscar-nomination.

  • In 1948, Sylvester meets Hippety Hopper, a baby kangaroo whom he mistook for a giant mouse. The same year, Sylvester appeared in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies comic book. Sylvester Junior was introduced in "Pop im Pop" in 1950.

  • In 1955, Sylvester plays against Speedy Gonzales, the fastest mouse of Mexico.

  • And of course, from 1947 to 1964, his best-know role against Tweety bird (also known as Tweety Pie) with two Oscars and a third nomination.

  • Sylvester keeps his star status also in modern cartoons. Since 1995 he played in "Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries", as well as several major Warner Brothers movies (Space Jam, Looney Tunes Back in Action).

  • In 1998, Sylvester and Tweety appeared together on a U.S. postage stamp.

  • Sylvester's cartoons have been seen by generation after generation and will probably continue to be seen for a long time to come.