Isadore "Friz" Freleng (August 21, 1906 – May 26, 1995) was an animator, cartoonist, director, and producer best known for his work on the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of cartoons from Warner Bros.
He introduced and/or developed several of the studio's biggest stars, including Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the cat, Yosemite Sam (to whom he was said to bear more than a passing resemblance) and Speedy Gonzales.
The senior director at Warners' Termite Terrace studio, Freleng is also the most honored of the Warner directors, having won four Academy Awards. After Warners shut down the animation studio in 1963, Freleng and business partner David DePatie founded DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, which produced cartoons (notably The Pink Panther Show), feature film title sequences, and Saturday morning cartoons through the early 1980s.
Freleng was born in Kansas City, Missouri, where he began his career in animation at United Film Ad Service. There, he made the acquaintance of fellow animators Hugh Harman and Ub Iwerks. In 1923, Iwerks' friend Walt Disney moved to Hollywood, put out a call for his Kansas City colleagues to join him. Freleng, however, held out until 1927, when he finally moved to California and join the Disney studio. He worked alongside other former Kansas City animators, including Iwerks, Harman, Carmen Maxwell, and Rudolph Ising. While at Disney's Freleng worked on the Alice Comedies and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons for producers Margaret Winkler and Charles Mintz.
Freleng soon teamed up with Harman and Ising to try to create their own studio. The trio produced a pilot film starring a new Mickey Mouse-like character named Bosko. Looking at unemployment if the cartoon failed to generate interest, Freleng moved to New York City to work on Mintz' Krazy Kat cartoons, all the while still trying to sell the Harman-Ising Bosko picture. The cartoon finally sold to Leon Schlesinger, who soon secured Harman and Ising to star Bosko in the Looney Tunes series he was producing for Warner Bros. Freleng soon moved back to California to work with Harman and Ising once again.
Freleng as director - Early Schlesinger cartoons
Harman and Ising left Schlesinger's studio over disputes about budgets in 1933. Schlesinger was left with no experienced directors, and therefore lured Freleng away from Harman-Ising to successfully fix cartoons directed by Tom Palmer which Warner Bros rejected. The young animator became Schlesinger's top director, and he introduced the studio's first true post-Bosko star, Porky Pig, in the 1935 film I Haven't Got a Hat. The film is notable for being one of the earliest examples of characterization in a cartoon. Porky was a distinctive character, unlike Bosko or his replacement, Buddy.
In 1937, Freleng left Schlesinger's after accepting an increase in salary to direct for the new Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cartoon studio headed by Fred Quimby. To Freleng's chagrin, he found he would be working on The Captain and the Kids, adapted from the popular comic strip The Katzenjammer Kids. The series failed to achieve much success, much as Freleng had predicted—though skillfully animated, the characters could not compete with the "funny animals" that prevailed at the time.
Back with Schlesinger and Warner Bros.
Freleng happily returned to Warner Bros. when his contract ended in 1940. One of the first Looney Tunes directed by Freleng during his second tenure at the studio was You Ought to Be in Pictures , a short which blended animation with live-action footage of the Warner Bros. studio (and of Schlesinger veterans such as story man Michael Maltese and even "Leon" himself). The plot, which centers around Porky Pig being tricked by Daffy Duck into terminating his contract with Schlesinger to attempt a career in features, echoes Freleng's experience in moving to MGM.
Schlesinger's hands-off attitude toward his animators allowed Freleng and his fellow directors almost complete creative control and room to experiment with cartoon comedy styles, which allowed the studio to keep pace with the Disney studio's technical superiority. Freleng's style quickly matured, and he became a master of comic timing. He also introduced or redesigned a number of famous Warner characters, including Yosemite Sam in 1945, the cat-and-bird duo, Sylvester and Tweety in 1947, and Speedy Gonzales in 1955.
Freleng and Chuck Jones would dominate the Warner Bros. studio in the years after World War II, Freleng largely concentrating on the above mentioned characters and Bugs Bunny. Nearly all of the Bugs Bunny cartoons pitting the rabbit against Yosemite Sam in various historical time periods were directed by Freleng, plus some of Bugs' cartoons with Elmer Fudd and/or Daffy Duck or with gangsters Rocky and Mugsy. Freleng also directed cartoons with the Goofy Gophers (most notably those with the polite rodents trying to retrieve their natural property in a processing factory), cartoons with Sylvester being pursued by a pair of dogs, Spike and Chester, several of the cartoons involving a drunken stork, a number of cartoons in which insects act in military unison to battle a human character, cartoons with characters Daffy Duck or Yosemite Sam marrying for money, and three cartoons, with Bugs Bunny, Sylvester, Tweety, that spoof "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde".
Freleng also continued to produce modernized versions of the musical comedies he animated in his early career, such as The Three Little Bops (1957) and Pizzacato Pussycat (1955). Freleng won four Oscars during his time at Warner Bros., for the films Tweetie Pie (1947), Speedy Gonzales (1955), Knighty Knight Bugs (1958) and Birds Anonymous (1957). And other Freleng cartoons such as Sandy Claws (1955), Mexicali Shmoes (1959), Mouse and Garden (1960), and The Pied Piper of Guadalupe (1961) were Oscar nominees.
After the Warner studio closed in 1963, Freleng rented the space to create cartoons with producer Dave DePatie, forming DePatie-Freleng Enterprises. When Warner Bros decided to reopen their cartoon studio in 1964, they did so in name only; DePatie-Freleng produced the cartoons into 1966.
While much of Freleng's post-Warner work is considered of lesser quality than his earlier achievements, the DePatie-Freleng studio's signature achievement was The Pink Panther. DePatie-Freleng was commissioned to create the opening titles for the 1963 film The Pink Panther, for which Freleng created a suave, cool cat character. The Pink Panther cartoon character became so popular that United Artists, distributors of The Pink Panther, had Freleng produce a short cartoon starring the character, The Pink Phink (1964).
After The Pink Phink won the 1965 Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons), Freleng and DePatie responded by producing a whole series of Pink Panther cartoons. Other original cartoon series, among them The Inspector, The Ant and the Aardvark, and Hoot Kloot, soon followed. In 1969, The Pink Panther Show, a Saturday morning anthology program featuring DePatie-Freleng cartoons, debuted on NBC. The Pink Panther and the other original DePatie-Freleng series would remain in production through 1980, with new cartoons produced for simultaneous Saturday morning broadcast and United Artists theatrical release.
By 1967 DePatie and Freleng had moved their operations to the San Fernando Valley. One of their projects featured Bing Crosby and his family called, Goldilocks and had songs by the Sherman Brothers. At their new facilities they continued to produce new cartoons until 1980, when they sold DePatie-Freleng to Marvel Entertainment, who renamed it Marvel Productions.
Freleng later served as an executive producer on three 1980s Looney Tunes compilation features, which linked together several of the classic shorts with new animated sequences. The Freleng-produced compilation features were The Looney Looney Looney Bugs Bunny Movie (1981), Bugs Bunny's 3rd Movie: 1001 Rabbit Tales (1982), and Daffy Duck's Movie: Fantastic Island (1983).
Friz Freleng died of natural causes in 1995 at age 89. He was interred in the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.