Sylvester, Sylvester, Jr. and Granny

Poor Sylvester. All the cat food he can eat, and still he insists on following his instincts by pursuing that most elusive (and painful!) of meals-Tweety. Sylvester, however, has been the slave of instinct ever since the earliest moments of his long career.

Sylvester delivered his slobbery trademark "Sufferin' succotash!" in Friz Freleng's Life with Feathers, and has been uttering it ever since. The phrase succinctly appraises the sentiments of the frustrated, paranoid and, ultimately, disgusted house cat. Freleng designed Sylvester to look like a clown, with a big red nose and a baggy crotch (which was trimmed up later to allow for more flexible animation), and his sloppy lisp, provided by Mel Blanc, made him even more clownish. Freleng tried several versions of the cat-chases-bird formula, starting with a twist-in Life With Feathers, it is a suicidal lovesick lovebird who is intent on forcing his way into Sylvester's mouth, while in another appearance (Peck Up Your Troubles) he unsuccessfully hunts a wily woodpecker.

But his career really picked up when Sylvester was cast with a tiny canary possessing savage instincts for self-preservation. Their first outing together, Tweetie Pie, earned the Warner Bros. cartoon department its first Academy Award. Tweetie Pie (in which Sylvester was called "Thomas") established Tweety and Sylvester as a team, and they would appear together in more than 40 cartoons over the next decades, winning another Academy Award for Freleng's Birds Anonymous.

The duo also appeared in A Bird In A Guilty Cage in which Sylvester hunts Tweety in a department store, and Room And Bird in which Sylvester chases Tweety through a hotel that doesn't even allow pets. In Canary Row, the plot thickened with the casting of Granny, an old lady with a pinched voice and glasses, who acts as Tweety's owner and protector-as if Tweety needed any protection.

Granny became a popular character-a lovable, well-off old spinster who loved her little birdy, heaven help the creature who would even think of doing him harm. Granny also ratcheted up the dynamics between Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam in a cartoon in which the two of them battled for her attention (Sam for her money). When she wasn't protecting Tweety from Sylvester's plundering claws in shorts like Room And Bird, Gift Wrapped and Tweet And Sour, Granny -- armed with her trusty umbrella, wire-rimmed spectacles and a very tight white bun of hair - was also a Sylvester @ Tweety Mysteries regular.

Sylvester also frequently appeared in cartoons with another meal-to-go, Speedy Gonzales. In shorts such as Road To Andalay, Mexican Cat Dance, and Cats and Bruises, in which Sylvester tries to capture Speedy during the Cinco de Mayo festival, the supersonic rodent-the fastest mouse in all Mexico, in fact-simply wears out the relentless cat. And the more Speedy sped, the more out-of-whack Sylvester got -- in It's Nice To Have A Mouse Around The House, Granny hires Daffy Duck to exterminate Speedy, who has driven Sylvester to have a nervous breakdown.

Sylvester also played the submissive kitty to Porky Pig in Claws For Alarm as Sylvester loses his lid over a pack of murderous mice that inhabit a ghost town motel (no doubt they're Speedy admirers).

No one is more embarrassed by Sylvester's failed chases and dramatic panic attacks than his son, Sylvester Jr. Cartoons like Pop 'Im Pop, Freudy Cat, and Who's Kitten Who?, show Sylvester vainly attempting to make Jr. proud, only to find the little cat wearing a paper bag over his head to protect his identity. In Cat's Paw Sylvester attempts to help Jr. earn a scout merit badge, and in Fish and Slips, Sylvester's fishing braggadaccio is deflated when he takes Sylvester Jr. out on an actual boat. The series also introduced audiences to the powerful but always happy boxing baby kangaroo Hippety Hopper, which Sylvester mistakes-to his regret-for a giant mouse.

Whether he's attempting to catch Tweety or Speedy Gonzales, protect Porky, impress his own son, or stage an impromptu singing recital in Elmer Fudd's backyard at midnight, Sylvester is a class act.

 
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