Sometimes I think the main value of my education was giving me the chance to catch up on all the World War II vintage pop-culture references in the Bugs Bunny cartoons I watched as a kid. I didn’t know from Wendell Wilkie, A-cards or “4-F” draft classification when I was a wee bairn, but I laughed whenever they cropped up in Warner Brothers cartoons because the master gag writers at Termite Terrace were such genuises at pacing and delivery that even the more obscure jokes in their cartoons arrived just as you were primed for a laugh. Only much later in life did I learn that Wendell Wilkie played a role in society beyond that of generating yucks for Warner Brothers — though I still find him far more plausible in the context of Merrie Melodies than politics — or that “Was this trip really necessary?” had a wartime provenance.
Falling Hare is one of my all-time Bugs Bunny faves, in large part because it is one of the few cartoons — maybe even the only cartoon — in which Bugs is somebody else’s patsy. It was also my introduction to the gremlin, that creature invented by RAF pilots in the early 1920s and introduced to the wider public by Roald Dahl, who made them the subject of his first children’s book. They were gleefully appropriated by the Termite Terrace crew, who after hitting a career best with Falling Hare created a Slavic strain of gremlin for Russian Rhapsody (1944) to take on Adolf Hitler himself:
Russian Rhapsody is a particular fave with Termite Terrace scholars because many of the gremlins are caricatures of Warner Brothers staffers, including Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng and Michael Sasanoff. A couple of decades later, gremlin lore inspired “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” one of the better episodes from the original Twilight Zone series, which became the redeeming episode of Twilight Zone: The Movie, and a showcase for one of John Lithgow’s best bits on film:
Oh yeah, there were a couple of films titled Gremlins of which the less said the better. Not only were they cruddy movies, but the whole concept of the gremlin as an aviation trickster was discarded.