Chuck Jones: Memories of Childhood
As a child of the late 70s and early 80s, before I got around to enjoying fare like The Dukes of Hazzard and The A-Team, I loved me some cartoons. Amongst the cartoon favorites of mine were the Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies cartoon shorts which featured the likes of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, the Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn and many many more. Some of the absolute classics of this series were directed by cartoon great Chuck Jones, whose life and work will be celebrated with the new film, Chuck Jones: Memories of Childhood, which will air on Tuesday, March 24 at 8 PM ET on the Turner Classic Movies network. Right after this new half-hour film, they will air a selection of Jones' classic animated cartoons such as Duck Amuck, Elmer's Candid Camera and, what's considered one of Jones' best pieces, What's Opera, Doc?, a short film that was even selected to be included in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry for preservation. I had the chance to speak with Jones' daughter, Linda Jones Clough, about her father's wonderful work and this new special. Here's what she had to say.

So, I was just curious, what was it like just growing up with Chuck as your father? I mean, every kid loves cartoons and your dad made some of the best.

Linda Jones Clough: Well, first of all, you have to remember, when I grew up, I was born in 1937. So, when I was a little girl, the cartoons were being shown only in theaters, there wasn't any television, and they were for adult entertainment - not how we talk about it now, but they were meant for grown-ups and they were meant for grown-up entertainment. Although, later on in the late 40s, they discovered they could take the old prints of the cartoons and put them all together, the ones that were falling apart, and charge a dime for kids to come see them on Saturday afternoon. That was kind of a bonus because these cartoons weren't made for children, they were made for grown-ups. The only reason they weren't more adult-flavored was because of the censorship, which forced them to be more circumspect about how they found their humor, which is part of what made them great. They had to work really hard with all this scatological stuff. In a way, it was wonderful. Growing up, I was an only child, so I got all the attention, which I wanted, I always liked that (Laughs). He was a wonderful father. When you see Memories of Childhood, you'll see that he was pretty badly treated by his father, and he vowed that he would never treat his child or children that way. He was a very loving and kind and wonderful man. He was a brilliant man and read enormous numbers of books and kept everything. I think he had one of those memories that everyone wants. He was a perfect father, as far as I'm concerned.

So with this new flim, Memories of Childhood, you said his father didn't treat him so well, so how do you think that related to his work?

Linda Jones Clough: One of the things that he explored in this film, which was made in '98 or '99, it was one of the last films that was made of him, one of the last interviews that was recorded of him, he pointed out in there that some of the difficulties that he was presented with, from his father, perhaps gave him the opportunity to look at life differently than he might have had his father treated him better. He certainly had a very bizarre, unusual and amusing way of looking at almost everything that went on his life, and he apparently developed that quite young. His sisters and his brother all commented about how he had this ability, They had this same ability too, but not quite to the same extent, but I think it may have had something to do with the experiences of their childhood. Their father was, what they liked to call a "frustrated intellectual" and he had tried many many different businesses and failed at all of them. So he was very frustrated and he had four children to take care of and it was during a very difficult time in the country. He failed at some of his businesses before the crash, so that was even more frustrating, because everyone was succeeding then.

You worked alongside your father in several films in the animation department. What was it like working alongside him and what made you want to take that path?

Linda Jones Clough: Oh, it was terrific. The reason was I had started my business, my animation art business, in the late 70s, selling animation art all over the country. So I had been running that company and I had about 15 employees and we then started a couple of retail galleries and it was a pretty good business and we were doing very well. Then it developed, it came to pass that he had the opportunity to do a small piece for a very unremarkable film called Stay Tuned and he did a little short animated part of it. It was with Pam Dauber, John Ritter and it was... the idea was cute but the picture wasn't very good (Laughs). But during the production of that, I had hired a producer and Chuck had done the direction. During the production of that, we had to find a producer and Chuck said, 'Well, I want a producer I can kiss instead of curse,' which is very typical of him (Laughs). So he said, 'You do it.' And I said, 'Well, I'm running my business, excuse me. I can't just drop everything.' He just said, 'Yeah, you can,' and I said, 'I don't know how to produce films,' and he said, 'It's just like running a business. Don't worry about it.' So I finished that film and I really enjoyed it, but I came back to my other business and he was finished with that and Chris Columbus came to him and said, 'I want an opening segment, an animated opening segment for Mrs. Doubtfire.' He said he wanted a six-minute cartoon that nobody would know is a part of the film, but he wanted it to look like one of the old cartoons and we'll break into it at the end and it will be revealed that it's Robin Williams that's the voice, and stuff. So Chuck got kind of interested in that and he thought it would be fun to work with Robin Williams and so he told Chris Columbus that he already had a producer for this segment and he came to me and said, 'You're going to produce this thing.' I had enjoyed the other one as much as I could so I did that, that was with Fox and then I think, I'm not sure about this, because we have no proof of it, but we think that Warner Brothers suddenly noticed that Chuck was doing cartoons for Paramount and for 20th Century Fox. They said, 'Hey, wait a minute. This is our guy" (Laughs). He's not supposed to be doing cartoons for other people, and so they said, 'We'll let you do some cartoons here, like you used to do, and we'll support the studio." And Chuck said, 'Well, that sounds terrific.' He'd been asking for that for 25 years, maybe 35 years. So he said, 'That's wonderful. I'll do that. I have a producer.' So then he came to me and said, 'You're going to be producing cartoons at Warner Brothers.' I really did enjoy it. We did six cartoons, he didn't direct them all but he helped some of the younger fellows who did some wonderful stuff. We just barely got off the ground in an animation cartoon studio that took years to establish. They couldn't figure out what to do with the cartoons, so they closed the studio.

TCM will be showing some of Chuck's more classic films along with the new film. So I was watching some of them last night and it was kind of amazing. I hadn't seen them in a long time, so I was wondering if you had a favorite?

Linda Jones Clough: My favorite cartoon is Robin Hood Daffy. I'm really a fan of Daffy's anyway. I guess I kind of relate with Daffy in certain ways... greedy and self-centered (Laughs). But he just knocks me out. I just love Daffy. What's great about this is they're showing The Phantom Tollbooth, the feature, at the end. The film is absolutely wonderful and it was made just before MGM was purchased, so they didn't release it. It was shown in schools and libraries and things like that. It has never been widely released in theaters and I think it's quite a remarkable film. I think people are going to enjoy seeing it very much.

So did Chuck ever mention a favorite that he had over the years?

Linda Jones Clough: No. The film that he always opened all of his talks with was Bully for Bugs, because the audience reacts so wonderfully to it. His answer to, 'What was your favorite cartoon?' or 'What was your favorite character?' was always the characters came from inside him so he no more a favorite character than he would've had a favorite child, if he had more than one child. He said, 'If I asked someone who had more than one child or 10 children, who is your favorite child, they'd be a poor parent indeed if they picked one.' He said he would reach down inside himself and find a characteristic and find a way to express that through the character. As far as the cartoons are concerned, each one was a challenge. He used to say that starting a new cartoon or starting a new piece of writing - I'm sure you've been in this situation - there's a blank paper and you sit and stare at it until blood comes out of your forehead (Laughs). When you get past that, you grapple with it until it's pretty much finished and he said there's no way to end a piece of artwork or a piece of writing or a film. He said the way you do it is you abandon it. You have to go onto the next one. He could always see things that he wished he'd done differently, so each one had it's triumphs and each one had its disappointments. He felt some were better than others and I think the ones that were chosen, most of them are ones he was pretty pleased with.

Chuck passed in 2002, which was right when Pixar started to really gain prominence. Do you know if he had ever mentioned this new wave of animation or his thoughts on it?

Linda Jones Clough: Yeah. Chuck and John Lasseter were very good friends. He was very much an inspiration to John Lasseter and all the others at Pixar. They have stuff from Chuck all over the studio and they have done homage's to some of his cartoons in almost every single film they've done, that are pretty obvious to anyone who was familiar with Chuck's cartoons. Chuck was thrilled with what Pixar has done and with some of the other cartoon studios as well, because it isn't the tools that matter. It doesn't make any difference if it's pencil or they use a computer. That isn't the point. It's whether the character is developed and if the depiction of the character is believable. That was essential to Chuck's philosophy. Realism isn't important. Believability is. Pixar's films are completely believable.

So, finally, with this new film on March 24 alongside your father's many classic films, is there anything you'd like to say to maybe the younger generation who maybe isn't familiar with Chuck's work, to get them to tune in when it airs?

Linda Jones Clough: Well, there are some wonderful DVD's out with all of his work and all of the rest of Warner Brothers work and any young people who are not familiar with the Warner Brothers cartoons, should certainly go out and find those DVD's and enjoy them. Just because they're not as much on television anymore, doesn't mean they're not as worthy of enjoyment.

Excellent. Well that's about all I have for you. Thanks so much for your time today, Linda.

Linda Jones Clough: Thank you, Brian. Bye.

You can enjoy this new film, Chuck Jones: Memories of Childhood and a slew of Chuck's wonderful cartoons on Tuesday, March 24. with the half-hour film starting at 8 PM ET, a selection of 11 of his wonderful short films starting at 8:30 PM ET and the feature presentation of The Phantom Tollbooth starting at 11 PM ET only on the Turner Classic Movies network.