the flirtations of pepe le pew and his nameless girlfriend

BEFORE DON JUAN DE MARCO, there was Pepé Le Pew, the world’s greatest lover. Or so the skunk thunk. Mon­sieur Le Pew was in­tro­duced to movie­goers in 1945, where he was a hit! Warner Brothers signed him to a long-term con­tract that made him a reg­ular member of the casts of Looney Tunes and Merrie MelodiesPepé never looked back! 1

After he achieved fame on the big screen in the ’40s and ’50s, he be­came even better known as a staple of The Bugs Bunny Show in the ’60s! Along with the Warner main­stays (Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Elmer, etc.), tele­vising the car­toons also made big stars out of the Speedy Gon­zalez, Foghorn Leghorn and Henry, Tweety Pie and Sylvester, the Tas­manian Devil, Yosemite Sam, Marvin Mar­tina, and es­pe­cially Road Runner and Wiley Coyote.

 

The humor ranges from the zany rea­son­ably subtle double en­ten­dres, which went way over the heads of ado­les­cents watching tele­vi­sion fifty years ago!

 

The French skunk ded­i­cated his life’s ef­forts to the pur­suit of the joys and mys­teries of L’Amour. Alas, poor Le Pew had sev­eral major is­sues that made that pur­suit some­what dif­fi­cult: “his mal­odorous scent, and his re­fusal to take No! for an answer.

He was bliss­fully con­vinced that the girl was flirting with him, even when she re­jected his ad­vances to the point of phys­i­cally as­saulting him.”

His re­fusal to rec­og­nize re­jec­tion seems to have been based on the fact that Pepé is hardly the brightest bulb in any room. And his con­tin­u­ally con­fusing a cat for a skunk could in­di­cate that he has no sense of smell! 2

Our great lover never in­ter­prets the cat’s “le mews” and “le purrs” as in­di­ca­tions that he is wooing the wrong species with his flir­ta­tions! This con­fu­sion is the source of most of the Pepé Le Pew car­toon plots.

 

PepeLePew 400 copy

 As with so many of our beloved car­toon fig­ures, the exact way in which Mon­sieur Le Pew was drawn varied over time. Here his hair is spikier and his feet no­tice­ably longer than they are in the black & white image below.

WB did not have children in mind 

There is also a con­stant play on the lan­guage as the not-particularly-bright Frenchman mis­uses the Eng­lish lan­guage. He refers to the cat as his “little peanut of brittle” and tells her, “You are ze corned beef to me, and I am ze cab­bage to you.”

Warner Brothers car­toons were con­ceived and pro­duced for adult au­di­ences who paid to see Warner Brothers movies in the­aters. There­fore the humor ranges from the zany (movie-goers still en­joyed ‘screw­ball come­dies’ well into the ’60s) to rea­son­ably subtle double en­tendre.

Need­less to say, the latter went way over the heads of ado­les­cents watching tele­vi­sion fifty years ago!

 

PepeLePew cat

Looking at the ex­pres­sion on the cat’s face as our obliv­ious hero woos her makes me wonder if any of the women I wooed over the years found them­selves in a sim­ilar sit­u­a­tion with that exact ex­pres­sion on their faces as an equally de­ter­mined me went about my pur­suit of l’amour.

Accosting Grammas in the Post Office

And why am I ram­bling on about car­toon char­ac­ters of my child­hood? Yes­terday I made a trip to the Post Of­fice and standing in line in front of me was an 8-year old girl with her Gramma. The girl was reading aloud from the greeting cards on sale in the lobby. When she found a Pepé Le Pew card Gramma had to pro­nounce the weasel’s name for the girl and tell her who he was.

I told the woman that there were DVD col­lec­tions of Warner Brothers car­toons at the local li­brary and that many would have Pepé Le Pew. This brought an­other person into the con­ver­sa­tion when the man be­tween us said, “Here’s a bit of trivia—What was Pepé Le Pew’s girl­friend’s name?”

I didn’t know.

Aside from the mews and purrs, I don’t re­member the cat ever ut­tering a word in the car­toons that my brother, sister and I watched fifty years ago. So I cer­tainly didn’t re­call her ever giving her­self a name!

 

PepeLePew_Hammer

Our usu­ally name­less fe­line heroine in­vari­ably finds a way to have a white stripe painted down her black back­side in each car­toon, thereby con­fusing the easily baf­fled Le Pew. Like the lovestruck Krazy Kat and Ig­natz the mouse be­fore them, every re­buff by the cat (in­cluding vi­o­lence) is in­ter­preted by Pepé as encouragement.

For years she was simply the black cat

My cu­riosity was piqued and I as­sured the man—who in­tro­duced him­self to me as Paul—that I would hurry home and write some­thing about the topic on my web­site. Hope­fully, I would find the an­swer. And I did:

“For many years, Pene­lope re­mained a name­less char­acter, simply re­ferred to as the black cat. She was even­tu­ally given a name in 1954 (The Cat’s Bah), where her mis­tress re­ferred to her as Penelope.

The name was later con­tra­dicted in 1955 (Two Scent’s Worth), where she was iden­ti­fied as Fifi. In 1959 (Re­ally Scent), she was re­ferred to as Fab­rette. In a model sheet from the early 1990s, she was re­ferred to simply as Le Cat.

She re­mained without an of­fi­cial name for many years, until the 1995 re­lease of Car­rot­blanca, where her name was then can­on­ized as Pene­lope Pussycat. Many ad­ver­tise­ments for the short cred­ited her as ‘Pene­lope Pussycat in her first speaking role.’ ”

The poor puddy tat who was doggedly pur­sued by the blissed-out skunk is Pene­lope. I don’t know about the rest of my fellow baby-boomers, but I have no in­terest in the Warner car­toons since the orig­inal crew moved on.

If there’s no Tex AveryRobert Clam­pettFriz Fre­lengChuck Jones, Robert McKimsonFrank Tashlin, or—sufferin’ suc­co­tash!, no Mel Blanc—then there’s no reason for me to tune in! So I haven’t seen more than a few frames of the car­toons, fea­ture movies, and spe­cials that have been made in the past forty years.

And I had for­gotten the shorts where the cat was named, so this is news to me that the cat was named Penelope.

Now I know, so th-th-th-that’s all, folks!

 

PepeLePew4

FEATURED IMAGE: I wanted a color image from one of the classic car­toons from the 1940s or ’50s that I re­member so fondly from The Bugs Bunny Show. (“Over­ture! Cur­tains! Lights! This is it, the night of nights!”) But none of them were par­tic­u­larly sharp and cre­ated a fuzzy, un­at­trac­tive header image. So I found this beauty, which is as sharp as I could ask for. I as­sume it’s from a fea­ture film, but I don’t know which one.

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   The 1994 movie Don Juan De Marco stars Johnny Depp in a con­sum­mate per­for­mance as the con­sum­mate lover of women—all women, as all women are beau­tiful to our hero! The movie costars Marlon Brando and Faye Dun­away in their finest roles in years. De­spite the title and the trailer, the story ad­dresses what are ‘true’ iden­ti­ties and what is ‘real’ re­ality. One of our fav­er­avest movies ever!

2   I could argue that the skunk has no sense at all, but that seems un­kind to someone ded­i­cated to love, oui?

3   By to­day’s stan­dards, Pepé Le Pew would join a host of fa­mous screen-lovers (Cary Grant leading the pack) that would be con­sid­ered guilty of end­less sexual ha­rass­ment. Hell’s Belles, some of them would be con­sid­ered stalkers! Per­haps I should be writing about “sex­u­ally hos­tile en­vi­ron­ments” as de­fined by Amer­ican women—but then I would have to dis­cuss the whole damn wide world and that’s a wee bit be­yond my scope …

 

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loved this story neal. i was pepe le pew ex­cept i smelled better.

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