Chuck Jones, 89, a legendary animator who won four Oscars while creating such Warner Bros. characters as the Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote and Pepe Le Pew and for major contributions to such other stars as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig, died of congestive heart failure Feb. 22 at his home in Corona del Mar, Calif.
Mr. Jones, in a career of more than 60 years, produced, directed or wrote more than 300 cartoons. He will be best remembered for his work at Warner Bros. and its Leon Schlesinger Studio from 1933 until Warner closed its cartoon operations in 1962.
After that, he created "Tom and Jerry" episodes at MGM and produced, directed and wrote the 1966 animated children's classic feature "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and the 1969 feature "The Phantom Tollbooth." He also created more than a dozen animated specials and even returned to Warner's briefly for some work.
Along the way, he gained a popular and critical following for both his art and his storytelling. Artwork based on his cartoons has been exhibited in museums around the world and sells for the proverbial pretty penny.
His fans range from a sizable percentage of the children in the free world to such Hollywood giants as George Lucas, Peter Bogdanovich and Steven Spielberg, who once said that "Chuck Jones's originality, his humor and his pacing still have no peer today."
Some fans and critics hail him for such technical points as his insistence that his cartoon characters move their entire bodies rather than just their mouths or hands, the better to convey realism and character development.
Many others simply knew they loved the art and the stories, the fruit of cartooning's golden age.
In addition to Mr. Jones, the Warner cartooning cast for "Looney Tunes" and "Merrie Melodies" included such masters as Fred "Tex" Avery, Friz Freleng, Mike Maltese and Robert Clampett, along with the voices of Mel Blanc.
Perhaps the Warner characters showed "second place" in their very character. Pepe Le Pew, the odoriferously amorous skunk, never seemed to get his girl -- which nearly always seemed to be a cat, anyway. Daffy Duck was simply manic. Bugs Bunny was sly and witty, but despite the ability to use everything from blazing speed to a Groucho-like gait, could never escape Elmer Fudd, the tenaciously inept Great White Hunter. Fudd could never bag either Bugs or Daffy, just as the Coyote could never capture the Road Runner, a character forever on the run whose entire vocabulary consisted of the now-classic, "Beep-beep."
And another of Mr. Jones's creations, Marvin Martian, never conquers Earth or defeats Bugs or Daffy in mortal combat.
Mr. Jones perhaps best summed this up with the thought: "Humor is based on failure. We all know little of triumph."
In 1996, Mr. Jones was awarded a special lifetime achievement Oscar for "the creation of classic cartoons and cartoon characters whose animated lives have brought joy to our real ones for more than half a century."
Upon learning of the award, the animator said: "I deeply appreciate receiving it, not only for myself, but for the five directors who were the original unit on the Warner Bros. lot. I'm the only one left, and I will proudly accept the award for all of us. We did more than 1,500 cartoons during those 30 years, and it was truly an all-for-one, one-for-all situation."
Those animator-types stuck together, but they did not really get along with management, especially with boss Leon Schlesinger.
Stories abound concerning the animators' low status on the Warner lot. Hollywood may have meant glamour for the stars, but for the animators, it was a less-than-impressive back-lot shack they dubbed "Termite Terrace."
One story concerns Daffy Duck's stuttering voice. It seems that during a particularly low point in relations between Schlesinger and the animators, Mr. Jones and others decided to use Schlesinger's "voice" as Daffy's. Previewing Daffy for the brass, they waited for the explosion. It never came. Schlesinger found the voice hilarious and failed to recognize it as his own.
Another story concerns the evolution of the character of Elmer Fudd, who also stutters. Fudd's voice and lack of intellectual ability were both said to be modeled on Schlesinger, who, again, never got it.
The third story concerns Schlesinger's rage at having to give a major raise to Mel Blanc, the man of a thousand voices. Schlesinger felt that unlike the animators, who he thought could be easily replaced, Blanc had him over a barrel. His revenge was to order his animators to do everything in their power to increase Blanc's workload on each cartoon.
This led "Fast and Furry-ous," which was the 1949 debut of Mr. Jones's great Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. They were great satires on "great chases" that featured about zero dialogue. Some believe Schlesinger did get that joke. The trouble was, the Road Runner was a major hit.
Mr. Jones, who was born in Spokane, Wash., grew up in Hollywood, where he found work as a child actor in Mack Sennett comedies. He dropped out of high school and graduated from art school before entering the cartoon world. He worked for pioneering animators Ubbe Iwerks (who had worked for Walt Disney) and Walt Lantz (the "father" of Woody Woodpecker).
Mr. Jones directed his first feature for Schlesinger in 1938, "The Night Watchman," and later took over his own direction unit.
He ended up doing about half the Bugs Bunny films, evolving the waskily wabbit from a kind of earthbound Woody Woodpecker to the intelligent carrot-lover we came to know and respect.
In 1992, one of Mr. Jones's most popular Bugs-Elmer epics, "What's Opera, Doc?" was inducted into the National Film Registry. The 1957 film was cited as "among the most culturally, historically and aesthetically significant films of our time."
The film was typical Jones: Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung starred a semi-dashing Elmer Fudd as Siegfried and a surprisingly fetching Bugs Bunny as Brunhilde, and was lightly edited from a running time of 14 hours to six minutes.
It was edited to six minutes because, as Mr. Jones explained, Warner and the theaters wanted cartoons that were at least six minutes long, Schlesinger ordered that no cartoon run longer than six minutes, so all cartoons ran exactly six minutes.
In addition to his Oscars, three of which were for producing, he directed two other films that won Oscars. He was named to the Animation Hall of Fame and received an honorary life membership from the Directors Guild of America.
But he may have been more proud of a remark a small child once made to him: "You don't draw Bugs Bunny, you draw pictures of Bugs Bunny."
Mr. Jones said: "That's a very profound observation, because it means that he thinks the characters are alive, which, as far as I am concerned, is true."
But Mr. Jones might have been above all the awards, all the commercial success, for as he once confided: "These cartoons were never made for children, nor were they made for adults. They were made for me."