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 Melodies. Pepé 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.
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!
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!
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 Avery, Robert Clampett, Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, Robert McKimson, Frank 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!
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.
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 . . .