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Pop Culture References From Old Cartoons That Are Lost to Time

September 3, 2015

When we were kids, we watched those Bugs Bunny cartoons and knew they were referencing something, but we weren’t sure what. Here’s a quick guide.

A Corny Concerto

It Happened One Night

Bugs Bunny is most notable for two characteristics: cracking wise and munching carrots. Despite the fact that rabbits really do eat carrots, both behaviors, along with some vocal tics and mannerisms, are all inspired by Clark Gable’s performance of reporter Peter Warner in the 1934 film It Happened One Night.

The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn Esquire and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom

The names of cat and mouse duo Tom and Jerry were picked because they were common, generic male names, right? Not really. In the 19th century, British writer Pierce Egan wrote a book about the misadventures of two guys in London called The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn Esquire and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom. It was a huge success, and made the combination of the names Tom and Jerry a common way to refer to any male duo, and became the name of the Christmas cocktail, the Tom and Jerry. Those names were still in the public consciousness when picked for the cartoon duo in the 1940s.

Bing Crosby

Before the dawn of rock n’ roll, Bing Crosby was the most popular entertainers in the country—he won an Oscar for acting and racked up 40 number-one hits. He was hugely popular and famous, so even a casual reference in a cartoon to his personal life would be understood. Crosby was a big fan of both horses and betting – he raised horses and started a racing club, pouring a fortune into those hobbies. But none of his horses ever won a big race, something that became a running joke in the press. That’s why in old cartoons you’ll often see a friendly horse nuzzling a guy in a sweater and a hat – that’s Bing Crosby.

The Liberace Show

With his fabulous costumes and chatty stage persona, Liberace was a natural fit for TV. In fact, he was one of the first TV stars with The Liberace Show, which aired from 1952 to 1955. His brother, George, played violin in his backing band, but was often absent from show tapings for concerts or session work. Whenever he was, Liberace would quip, “I wish my brother George was here.” Whenever the action in a cartoon would require Bugs Bunny to sit down at a piano, he’d turn to the camera and utter the same line.

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M Brennan
M Brennan
September 3, 2015 8:10 pm

I often show old cartoons from WWII in my American History classes to show how every aspect of American culture was pulled into the effort. These 2 are just the tip of the iceberg. Wendell Wilkie references, celebrities who were household names, but now obscure trivia. Even when I explain the jokes before they watch it doesn’t help.

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