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If you like Chuck Jones's story, you might also like:
Michael Eisner,
George Lucas,
James Rosenquist,
Fritz Scholder,
Julie Taymor,
Wayne Thiebaud
and Robert Zemeckis

Chuck Jones's recommended reading: Roughing It

Chuck Jones also appears in the video:
Passion, Creativity and the Arts: Writing for Motion Pictures

Related Links:
Chuck Jones
Chuck Jones Center
Looney Tunes

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Chuck Jones
Chuck Jones
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Chuck Jones Interview

Animation Pioneer

June 25, 1993
Glacier Park, Montana

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  Chuck Jones

We've been asking people that we interview "What person inspired you the most?" But in your case, I believe there was a cat.

Chuck Jones: Well, there was a cat by the unlikely name of Johnson, the only cat I've ever known who had a last name for a first name. I don't know whether it was his first name or last name. We were living in Newport Beach, California in a house. This was around 1918, I was 6 years old. My brother and I saw this cat came to visit us, or take up residence, rather as cats do. It was early in the morning and he came strolling over the sand dunes. He was a cat that walked like a prize-fighter. He had scar tissue on his chest, and one ear was slightly bent. He had a piece of string tied around his neck, an old wooden tongue depressor, and in crude lettering, in lavender ink, it said, "Johnson." We didn't know whether that was his blood type, or his name, or his former owner's name, or anything, so we called him Johnson. He answered to that as well as anything else. Like most cats he doesn't answer to anything. He answered to food, that's what he answered to.

This story established once and for all in my mind that every cat is different than other cats. Our ex-President, Ronald Reagan said, "If you've seen one Redwood tree, you've seen them all." A lot of people, I do believe, that don't have the knowledge of cats, tend to think that all cats are pretty much the same. Like, they say 'meow.' Of course they don't say 'meow.'

He came to live with us, and he turned out to be a rather spectacularly different cat. The first morning when we had breakfast, he came in and he spoke. The word he spoke was later identified in James Joyce's, Ulysses and the cat came in to Stephen Dedalus. He came in and spelled what he said, M-G-K-N-A-O-W. You can't pronounce it any other way. I never met a cat yet, that if he wants something, he'll come up and say, "mgknaow." That's what old Johnson did.

He came up to my mother while she was finishing breakfast and she figured he wanted something to eat. So she offered him a piece of bacon, and piece of egg white, and a piece of toast, all of which he spurned. He obviously had nothing like that in mind. Finally, in a little spurt of whimsy, which was typical of my mother, she gave him a half a grapefruit, and it electrified him. It was like he had taken a hypodermic. Suddenly, there was this flash of tortoise shell cat whirling around with this thing. Then he came sliding out of it and the thing slowly came to a stop. The whole thing was completely cleaned out and we looked at him in astonishment. He loved grapefruit more than anything else in the whole world. That lead to the four kids who lived in that place, my brother and two sisters, we realized we had something there that we could really enjoy. So each morning for a while we gave him half a grapefruit, and that was nothing to him. Then, we decided we'd have some fun with him, so we gave him a whole grapefruit, big ones. It was like a man trying to bite a watermelon. It was so big, he couldn't get a grip on it. He became sort of a basketball player, he'd dribble this thing all over the room trying to find some place that he could nail it down. Finally he'd get it into a corner then he'd take one of his sharp, eye teeth and he'd rip it. But, he couldn't do it while it was moving, so he was dribbling it all over the house. Once he got that, then he went to work. He'd eat it until all the inside was gone. Sometimes he'd eat it in such a way that he ended up wearing a little space helmet, which is really the whole grapefruit, with a flap hanging down on one side like a batter's helmet. He was quite a cat. But when he had it on, he seemed to like it. And that was long before anybody had ever head of space helmets. Sometimes he'd walk out on the beach with this thing on his head, until it really bothered him, then he'd kick it off.

Chuck Jones Interview Photo

He liked to be with people, particularly young people. He was very fond of children. We'd all learned to swim early and one day we were swimming and we looked around and here was Johnson out there swimming with us. When we went swimming in those simple days, women wore complete outfits that came below their knee. Ours were like mini-blouses, came over your shoulder and came down to here.

One day we were swimming and we looked around and here was Johnson out there swimming with us. I don't know if you've ever seen a cat swim or not. They can swim very well, but most of them don't seem to like it. He really did, but only his eyes would show above the water. He looked like a pug-nosed alligator with hair. For some reason they grimace like this, and his teeth were hanging down, and most of him was under water, all the oil comes off the fur and trails behind them, along with a few sea gull feathers and other stuff. When he got tired out there, he would come and put his arms up on our shoulders and sort of hang there for a while. It was all right as long as it was only people in the family. But unfortunately, it wasn't always, because if he couldn't find one of us, he'd approach a stranger. People would come out of the surf looking pretty disturbed, and you knew they'd had a social encounter with old Johnson. They always looked pretty disturbed. So here's a cat that eats grapefruit and swims in the ocean. He was a very, very splendid cat because you couldn't ignore him, you couldn't take anything for granted about him like you can with many cats and all dogs. You know what a dog's 'gonna do because a dog's 'gonna do what you want him to do. As I say, all dogs are professionals. They do what's expected of them. As Mark Twain said about them, if you'll tell me what opinions a dog has, I'll tell you where he gets his bones. Those were his opinions.

Chuck Jones Interview Photo
Chuck Jones Interview Photo

At any rate, the great moment for Johnson came one time when he had eaten his grapefruit and it was stuck on his head, and he came out and strolled down the beach. We were up on the porch of our house, a two-story house, looking down at the sand. And he started off toward the pier, and as it happened the Young Women's Christian Association were having a picnic there. Well, not only did he have his helmet on, but somewhere along the line he had found parts of a dead sea gull and it had left a few feathers on his shoulders. So he was quite a sight. He strolled down to where these girls were having a picnic. And they took one look at this thing with the feathers, and the whole business, so they screamed, and jumped up and ran into the ocean. Well, that was a technical mistake, because of course, Johnson, being a gregarious sort, decided that he wanted to join the group, I don't know, maybe he was going to appeal to the Supreme Court that male cats weren't allowed in the Girl Scouts, or whatever it was. So he went in after them and they left in various states of undress -- not undress, I mean their minds were boggled. And I never saw so many girls that were so boggled. And they never came back to Balboa, or Newport Beach.

Chuck Jones Interview Photo
It was important to me, because it established once and for all in my mind that every cat is different than other cats.

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