Egyptian Theatre gets Looney with ‘Chuck Jones 101'
Linda Jones considered herself “incredibly lucky” to have had a father like Chuck Jones, the Oscar-winning animation director of Warner Bros. Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies fame.
“He was probably the best father anybody could have,” said Linda Jones, an only child. “His father had a difficult time being a father, and he vowed he would never impose that kind of difficulty and challenge on a child.”
Her dad, she said, “was pretty much a 9 to 5 guy. He didn’t bring his work home with him.”
That is until after he would finish one of the riotously funny 300 films he directed in his 60-plus year career starring such animated superstars as Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Pepe Le Pew, Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner.
“When they had finished a picture and it was on its way to ink and paint, he would bring the story home and act it out for me,” said Jones. “He would get up on the dresser and fall onto the bed.”
Jones will be reminiscing about her influential father, who died at age 89 in 2002, at the “Chuck Jones 101: A Birthday Celebration” Saturday evening at the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. His 101st birthday party will feature such classic Jones cartoons as 1953’s “Bully for Bugs”; 1957’s “Ali Baba Bunny”; 1949’s “Fast and Furry-ous”; 1952’s “Feed the Kitty”; and 1950’s “Rabbit of Seville.”
The benefit for the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity is also a family affair. Besides Jones, the program will feature his widow, Marian Jones, his grandchildren Todd, Craig and Valerie Kausen, as well as friends and co-workers such as George Daugherty, the creator and conductor of the popular “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony” concerts, which feature the cartoons projected on the big screen with their original scores performed live; David Wong, producer of “Bugs Bunny at the Symphony”; and film critic/historian Leonard Maltin.
There’s also an afternoon tribute to Jones at the Egyptian with a screening of the 1970 live-action/animated feature “The Phantom Tollbooth,” which he directed with Abe Levitow. Voice actress June Foray (Granny, Witch Hazel) will appear in person; the Egyptian will celebrate her 96th birthday after the screening.
“He was one of a kind,” recalled Foray. “He could quote Mark Twain and then go back and talk about Aeschylus. He was a brilliant man.”
Grandson Craig Kausen said Jones “loved what he did. The awards and the accolades were fine, but [he thought], ‘What’s next? What am I going to do now?’ He was always playing with ideas.”
Maltin, who had a long friendship with Jones, actually met him as “a fan” in the 1970s. “I was still living in New York and he came to a tribute at the Museum of Modern Art which I was involved in,” said Maltin. “I had heard at the time he was happy to make drawings for fans at the drop of a hat. I didn’t know how to muster the nerve to ask for one.”
But Maltin finally mustered the courage after the screening and Q&A with Jones. “I said, ‘Would it to be too cheeky to ask you for a drawing?’ He said, ‘No, not at all.’ He whipped out an 8 by 10 drawing pad, which had his name imprinted on the upper corner, and said, ‘What would you like?’ I said, ‘Bugs Bunny holding his carrot case?’ He said great and immediately produced a wonderful drawing, which, of course, is framed and on my wall. How can you not be swept up in the aura of a man who spread cheer like that?”
Daugherty was also swept up in Jones’ aura. He first met the animator back in 1990 at the opening night in New York of “Bugs Bunny on Broadway.”
“Here we were opening night on Broadway, which was an incredibly nerve-racking experience for me. And then someone told me like 20 minutes before the performance that Chuck Jones is in the wings and wants to meet you! So I go over and meet Chuck Jones and it’s like love at first sight. We became close friends.”
Jones, said Daugherty, “loved the fact that his cartoons were being performed with their original musical scores. Sometimes at the Hollywood Bowl, he would sit on stage with us. We would put a chair out there and he would sit next to the concert master. It was like having Mozart or Charlie Chaplin out there with us while their scores were being done.”
“Chuck Jones 101: A Birthday Celebration”
American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.
“The Phantom Tollbooth,” Saturday at 1 p.m., $11; Chuck Jones’ birthday celebration, Saturday at 8 p.m., $7-$50. www.americancinematheque.com
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