It's funny how cartoons have become such a part of our culture. It's very easy to close our eyes and picture Bugs Bunny emerging from a hole, chomping on a carrot, smacking his lips and saying: "Ah... What's up, Doc?" Or Porky Pig mumbling his way through an encounter with Bugs. Or Elmer Fudd (who was voiced not by Mel Blanc but by Arthur Q. Bryan) setting out to "Kiill the Waaaabit!" If you really listen in your mind's ear you can hear the theme from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," sung by the great Thurl Ravenscroft (Tony the Tiger). The combination of carefully crafted cartoon voices superimposed on some of the most memorable images of our childhood is etched indelibly in our psyche. As much as we may talk about the voices and the sound of those cartoons, it was indeed the artwork, the plots, the script, the concept that MADE them so magical and memorable. And, for decades, the man behind the ink was Oscar-winning Chuck Jones. His fertile imagination took us through myriad Warner Bros. cartoons. He gave us the cartoon version of the Grinch. He wrote, produced and directed that Christmastime chestnut. Had it not been for the TV special would anyone have gone to see the movie? He was a supreme animator, but more than that, he was a genius at using the foibles of life in the formation of some of the world's most vibrant images. His work with Bugs and Daffy and Elmer and the others is as fresh today as when he did his first cartoon six decades ago. Along the way he also brought the world The Roadrunner, Wile E. Coyote, Pepe le Pew and Marvin Martian. He sense of the bizarre, his timing, his use of color, his love of slapstick, his talent for pathos, his ability to put a soul into the pen-and-ink-and paint creations of his illustrative mind brought us all to a different plane. It was Chuck Jones who elevated the cartoon to a new art form. He created seven-minute moments of laughter that are part of the American culture. Jones and his gang cranked out their creations in a creaky animation building nicknamed Termite Terrace. He had a buzzer installed at the receptionist's desk so he and his staff could be alerted when visitors were headed for the drawing room ... not so they could look busy, but so they could pretend to be sleeping. It was not long before all of Hollywood wondered how his group produced so much stuff when all it did was nap. One pundit noted that after the death of Walt Disney, Jones was the driving force in American animation. And, he brought to those cartoons classical music, exposing it to a wider audience that often heard it nowhere else. Honored by many, praised by fellow animators, loved by generations who often never knew his name -- for who really reads the credits? A funny, outspoken, lovable, talented man. In many ways he never grew up. And because of that, Chuck Jones helped us all stay children. Children capable of laughter during times when laughter was indeed good medicine. Chuck Jones was, indeed, one of the great creative geniuses of the 20th century. He was 89.
FOUR SPACE HEROES REUNITED FOR ANNIVERSARY
The four surviving members of the original corps of seven Mercury astronauts went back to the Cape over the weekend to observe the 40th anniversary of the first orbital flight. While Alan Shepherd and Gus Grissom (the country's first and second men in space) only went up and down to test takeoff and re-entry, Sen. John Glenn was the first American to go into space, orbit and return. ("God speed, John Glenn.") That was on 2/20/62. Glenn met with Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra and Gordon Cooper to remember the flight. Addressing the crowd, Glenn (now 80) remarked that his flight seemed more like 40 days ago than 40 years in the past. Published reports indicate that the four spoke on an outdoor platform with American rockets in the background, one an unused Mercury Atlas, the kind that took them into orbit. By the way, Glenn took no credit for that first flight and said that any of his colleagues could have been the first. The timing was just in his favor.
TV SHOWS GIVES INSIGHT INTO PARKS' DRIVE
Over the weekend, CBS presented a made-for-TV biopic about the woman considered to be the "mother of the civil rights movement," Rosa Parks. In the program, starring Angela Bassett, some of the popular misconceptions about the former Alabama seamstress were dispelled. The notion that she was a timid woman whose first action was refusing to give up her seat to a white man was debunked with the facts: Parks had been quietly working behind the scenes in a push for better conditions for blacks. She was more than just a woman with tired feet who wanted to sit where she wanted to sit, tradition be damned. Gail Pennington, writing in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, says that whatever her motives, her act of civil disobedience "galvanized other black riders to boycott the transit system." Only 42 at the time (Parks is now nearly 90), her much-publicized action on a late afternoon in 1955 was realistically dramatized. One of the more telling scenes involves a white man who drinks from a "whites only" water fountain, then let his dog drink from the "colored" fountain.
CHICAGO FIREMEN HONOR NYC BROTHERS
It was quite a sight over the weekend in Chicago ... more than 350 firefighters, men and women in full, heavy regalia, climbing the steps of the city's John Hancock Center, running to the 100th floor. The event was more than just a tribute to their fallen comrades of the 9/11 attacks; they did so as part of the American Lung Association's annual fun run in the tower. One of the firemen told a reporter that many people burst into tears at the sight of the show of solidarity. Firefighters from nearby Indiana and Wisconsin and other parts of Illinois also took part.
HARTNETT ACTS LIKE A REAL STAR
It's hard to impress Big Apple entertainment and gossip reports. But, to hear columnist Cindy Adams talk, 23-year-old actor Josh Hartnett is not only a heartthrob, he's a real gentleman. He's an actor in the old sense ... a modern-day Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart, at least in the way he behaves. Adams reports that on a recent press junket to New York City Hartnett, surrounded by producers and film crew and publicists, appeared in a conservative black crewneck sweater. None of the "herky-jerky aggregated movements of most young stars, none of the sunglasses/kicky clothing/scruffy beard/bad hair/vulgar language of many of his counterparts. Hartnett does not seem to be full of himself, only his craft, his art and the movies he's made lately. When asked about his stardom and the attendant increase in salaries, he quipped that he's now able to pay room service charges of $60 for hotel breakfasts. His latest movie, "40 Days and 40 Nights" opens later this week.
PRE-GRAMMY HOOPLA BEGINS
CBS has begun running glitzy spots promoting this year's Grammy awards show. Scheduled for Wednesday night, some of the biggest names in music will be there. It will be broadcast live (gosh, hope the kids aren't tuning in, considering the recent penchant for trying to get in profanities before the censors can beep them ... will Madonna be given a microphone?). Among the latest added to the lineup are country's Trisha Yearwood. She will be a presenter at the ceremonies. Helping her will be her partner in her latest duet, Don Henley. The pair is nominated for best country collaboration with vocals for an effort called "Inside Out." The Grammys show is the music academy's 44th annual.
UPI DAILY SURVEY QUESTION NO. 276
The most wonderful thing happened over the weekend here in Las Vegas. No, it wasn't the arrival of the World Wresting All-Stars in all their glory. Spring seems to have arrived. So, today we're asking you to play weather reporter. "Where are you geographically and what is the weather like this week? Additionally, how was your winter (or, for those in the Southern Hemisphere, "how was your summer?") Put WEATHER in the subject line and send to firstname.lastname@example.org via the Internet.
RESULTS OF QUESTION NO. 271 (SCANNER)
Last week I mentioned that more and more stores are installing those automated checkout stands where customers basically do their own thing ... even weighing produce. You can complete the transaction with no one helping. The new one at my local Wal-Mart even talks you through everything. So, we asked what experiences you've had with the new machines. Here is a sampling of the replies: Peggy says that she also spends a lot of time at her Wal-Mart. It's only two miles from her house. She says it's really the only game in town for her, at least in her neighborhood. She reports that there are none of the automated machines, yet, in her area. She's not alone. Half of the respondents don't have them either. The few who did found little flaws in them. In most cases, they report they do speed things up, at least after you become facile with them. Hank said I didn't have apologize about shopping at a Wal-Mart. Hank, I didn't want to give that impression. No regrets here. By the way, Hank, did you mean you thought I lived in Boulder, Colo., or Boulder City, Nevada? I'm a 'Vegas-ite, at least for the time being. TOMORROW: A lot at the surprising number of pills we all take and, later in the week, your thoughts on car repairs. GBA.