Chuck Jones and Bugs Bunny had deep ties to the world of competitive square dancing
The cartoon legend emceed dancing events and drew covers for square dancing magazines.
In "Hillbilly Hare," Bugs Bunny heads to the Ozarks where he meets Curt and Punkinhead Martin. With their long beards and bare feet, the two hillbillies mistake Bugs for a member of a rival clan. The two go to all lengths to get that wascally wabbit, who foils them at every move. In a particularly memorable scene, Bugs picks up a fiddle and leads the Martin boys in a particularly painful session of square dancing.
Robert McKimson directed this 1950 classic, which is surprising because Chuck Jones was the true square-dancing fanatic at Warner Bros.
But, in fact, Jones' obsession with Western square dancing rubbed off on his fellow Looney Tunes animators, inspiring this particular cartoon. Jones loved to do-si-do so much that he organized lunchtime square-dancing sessions at work, corraling his coworkers into participating. "McKimson and Friz Freleng, as well as producer Eddie Selzer, became fascinated with the dance as well," wrote Amid Amidi in a Cartoon Brew article.
Jones' love for square dancing spread beyond the world of Looney Tunes. He became a key contributor to Sets in Order, "The Magazine of Square Dancing," which covered the craze in the 1950s. Jones drew wonderful illustrations, including some rare sketches of Looney Tunes favorites, for Sets in Order. Thanks to the University of Denver Digital Archive, these rare drawings survive.
Up top, you can see a cover from March 1951, featuring Bugs Bunny duded out in fringe with a massive cowboy hat and carrot holster. Five years later, Bugs returned with some of his friends for some delightful cover art, seen here from Vol. 8, Issue 6, June 1956:
Sets in Order was proud to call the Warner Bros. animators converts. "It's interesting to note that all three directors at Warner's Cartoons are square dancers," the magazine wrote in its March 1951 "On the Cover…" column. "McKimson, Fritz [sic] Freleng, and of course our own cover artist, Chuck Jones."
You can see more lovely illustration by Chuck Jones, showing his range of skilling, on other covers like August 1952 — which almost has a Degas look — and January 1955, faeturing Baby New Year. Further Bugs covers can be seen here and here, just to point out a couple.
Bob Osgood began publishing his Sets in Order magazine and 1948 and it continued to run through 1985, eventually changing names to simply Square Dancing.
Jones lent more than his pen-and-pencil skills to the world of square dancing. He also toured as an emcee and celebrity commentator to square dancing events around the country. The July 3, 1959, edition of the Davis County Clipper, a newspaper in Bountiful, Utah, detailed the journey of two locals who made the journey to the 8th Annual National Square Dance Convention in Denver, Colorado.
"A style show was held on Saturday," the reporter wrote, "during which many lovely ladies modeled the latest square dance dresses to the witty commentary of Chuck 'Bugs Bunny' Jones." So, in his spare time, he was doing color commentary to fashion walks.
Two years prior, the Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, California, covered the "Big Weekend Stomp in Oakland Auditorium." That write-up noted: "Chuck Jones (of Bugs Bunny fame) [will] emcee." He got around, often accompanied by his wife, Dorothy, or "Dottie," his partner in both life and square dancing.
In 1952, Jones doodled a special piece of artwork for two young kids, Denny (10) and Rene (4) Miller, the kids of a prominent square-dancing instructor. Newspapers at the time covered Jones' journies to places as far as Detroit to emcee tournaments. The man was super into square dancing. Oddly, he never mentioned it in his autobiographies. But the artistic evidence remains, thankfully.
The next time you watch "Hillbilly Hare," know that there were true passion and expertise put into those dance moves.
Cover images included here were drawn by Chuck Jones for Sets in Order which is copyright Bob Osgood. Top image: Sets in Order American Square Dance Society, (1951 March) Sets in Order, vol. 3, issue 3, 1951 March. Retrieved from Digital Collections @ DU