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JONES, in his own words
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Over the course of his 89 years, Chuck Jones has seen animation grow from its beginnings through the heyday of the 1930s, ’40s and ‘50s, past its depths in the 1970s, and onto the renaissance in the 1990s. During that time, Jones has worked in nearly every capacity in the art form, leaving behind a body of work as a director of animation that boasts the only two Warner Bros. shorts included in the National Film Registry.
I first met Chuck Jones in 1996. Later that year and on November 8th, 1999, I took the opportunity to interview him. Our conversations revolved around history and on the art and philosophy of animation.
Condensed from these two interviews and reworked by Chuck Jones and myself,
"CHUCK JONES, in his own words," was molded to reveal the reflections and insight of animation director and eight time Academy Award® nominee - Chuck Jones.
CHUCK JONES, in his own words
the director and the art conservator's cut
© 1996, 1999 / revised 2015 Ron Barbagallo
Hi Chuck, How are you doing this morning?
Fine. I am probably in the actuary tables.
According to them, I should be dead. [Jones laughs]
Oh, I don’t think so. For instance, I bet you’re working on something. What are you working on this morning?
Oh, the older I get, I find myself sketching. I don’t call it work. You do it because you have to. I mean, because I’ve been doing it for so long. Right now, I happen to be sketching a drawing of Daffy Duck as, Uriah Heep [a clerk who continually talks about his humbleness from Charles Dickens’s novel David Copperfield], which is a pretty good role for him.
Maybe it’s the role he was born to play?
Well, perhaps, though it’s kind of hard to think of Daffy ever calling himself humble.
Chuck, I wanted to start off with some questions about your youth. You were born in 1912 in Spokane, Washington, and relocated to California. Where in California did your family relocate?
My father moved down here from Spokane when I was about six months old. So, I was only there a very short time. We moved here to southern California. My brother was born in Washington, my two sisters were born in the Panama Canal Zone.
There are many things about my childhood, I don’t remember, of course. I have faint memories, like falling off things. I remember I was once attacked by a rooster when I didn’t have my pants on. That sticks in my memory, but I don’t know where it happened.
Memories of life were more vivid when I was about six. I can remember things happening then because that’s when we moved to our home on Sunset Boulevard, right across from Hollywood High School. My father owned a very nice home there on the first block going west on Highland Avenue. We had an orange and lemon grove; we had that whole block.
Was there was an orange and lemon grove on Highland Avenue and Sunset Boulevard?
Yes, there weren’t any buildings on that whole block, as I remember it. But I remember that I could walk out and sit on my front porch and watch Mary Pickford ride by, on a white horse as the Honorary Colonel of the 360th Infantry of the Rainbow Division of the United States Army.
I remember going a few different places, including down to Newport Beach, in the summer time.
My brother is still alive and lives in Colorado. He is a very unusual creature, he was a combat photographer during World War II, but he worked in my unit before he went overseas. When he came back, he went into photography and teaching. He’s retired now from a career with UNICEF and a person who can’t get away from the mountains. And I’m a person who can’t get away from the sea.
I read when you were young you were constantly sketching and drawing. Who or what was your inspiration?
I just wanted to draw. The difference between our family and many others and - teachers, too - was that my mother didn’t judge our work, good or bad. She didn’t criticize what we did, nor did she overpraise it. And, that’s the key isn’t it?
Constant praise is as bad as constant criticism to anybody who wants to draw. If every time I had brought a picture to my mother and she said “That’s wonderful,” and stuck it up on the refrigerator or wall, I’m sure I would have very soon lost respect, both for her and my drawings. After all, I knew, as all children know, that every drawing isn’t wonderful. The result of overpraise, or over-criticism, seems to be that children fail to develop a sense of their own judgment.
People who continue to draw are those who either have the guts to ignore praise and criticism, or are guided by wise parents and teachers.
When you were young, what type of images did you draw? In some way, I want to hear you felt compelled to draw coyotes and roadrunners...
Well, no. I didn’t draw coyotes and roadrunners. - But, I discovered coyotes, in Mark Twain’s book, Roughing It.
From the time I was very young, I have always read a lot. One of the great fortunes of my youth was that I always had books around me. My father always made it a criteria for every house we rented, that it be furnished and have lots of books. One of the greatest houses was on Mount Washington Drive, in Highland Park, California, where we rented a house owned by Harry Carr, the book editor for The Los Angeles Times.
The house was crammed with prepublication books Carr had accumulated and never thrown away. Books were behind the piano and the basement. Every place in the house, it seemed, was filled with books. My father and mother were both avid readers, but my sisters, brother and I had never seen such a plethora of books, outside a public library before. That’s where I found Mark Twain.
the Lost and FOUND series:
Photographs of Chuck Jones © Ron Barbagallo