A Brief History
On August 9, 1930, the voluptuous Betty Boop made her big screen debut in the animated cartoon, Dizzy Dishes. Featuring a gorilla patron at a restaurant and singing cats, Betty was portrayed as a sort of dog-woman (Poodle) in this cartoon, prior to her “evolution” to purely human form. She went on to become an All-American icon, a character certainly associated with the United States by Americans and others alike. Here we list 10 such characters that are identified as uniquely American. Who would you include? (Apologies to Rocky and Bullwinkle, Woody Woodpecker, Yogi Bear and to Tom and Jerry, et al. Oh, and no single South Park character stands out enough. Sorry.)
10. Yosemite Sam, 1944.
Often portrayed as a nemesis of Bugs Bunny, Sam is the essential self confident American Man of the West. His big old cowboy hat, drooping mustache and twin six guns could be nothing but pure Americana. For some reason he often appears on the mud flaps of trucks, usually with the warning, “Back off!”
9. Scooby Doo, 1969.
The big dog (Great Dane) and his teenage detective pals have been solving mysteries and crimes for decades now, including in 4 films (including 2 live action feature films). Enough of an American icon that there are dog treats and people treats both called Scooby Snacks.
8. Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote, 1949.
Will the hapless Coyote ever catch and eat the speedy Road Runner? We are still waiting, sometimes almost rooting for the poor canine. Somewhere out in the American Southwest there is an age old battle going on between these 2, with the Coyote trying an endless bag of tricks, usually manufactured by the mythical Acme Company. Even a hot rod Plymouth car was named after the Road Runner from 1968 to 1980.
7. Donald Duck and Daffy Duck, 1934, 1937.
Competing for the most famous cartoon duck title, these worthy contenders represent Walt Disney and Looney Tunes respectively. Both are indelibly etched in the minds of any kid that has ever watched cartoons, especially back when Saturday morning was ruled by cartoons. Donald is the inspiration of the University of Oregon Ducks mascot.
6. Peter Griffin, 1998.
The title character of The Family Guy cartoon, the show has aired an incredible run of 1999-2015 and seems to be going strong. Like Fred Flintstone or Homer Simpson, Peter is a deeply flawed American male slugging down beer and getting into hilarious messes of his own making. Creator Seth MacFarlane has been called “The Smartest Man on Television.” The show has been nominated for an Emmy 12 times.
5. Betty Boop, 1930.
Toned down to be less sexy in the censorship crazy mid-1930’s, Betty is still a retro star today, appearing on T-shirts, posters, sheet metal signs and various other memorabilia items. Contrary to popular belief, the character was not based on Clara Bow, but on Helen Kane, a singer. In fact, Kane sued the Betty Boop franchise in 1932 because of the appropriation of Kane’s “Boop-oop-a-doop” character. Betty Boop was considered an adult cartoon in her first few years, showing a garter and cleavage to leering audiences.
4. Fred Flintstone, 1959.
Started as an adult cartoon, The Flintstones were a transparent animated copy of Jackie Gleason’s Honeymooners television show. An angry Gleason was advised not to sue, and the cartoon went on to spawn a couple live action movies as well as spin off cartoons. An everyday average American guy with normal faults and desires, Fred is the typical loud mouth flawed American guy. The Flintstones have generated other products, such as Pebbles cereals and Flintstones Vitamins.
3. Bart Simpson, 1987.
The central character of The Simpsons, a cartoon television series since 1989 (making it the longest running such series in history, and going strong) is actually voiced by a female, Nancy Cartwright. (Cartwright has been paid as much as $400,000 per episode, and is currently making $300,000 per show.) His oft repeated catchphrases, such as “Don’t have a cow, man,” “Eat my shorts,” and “Ay caramba!” have entered the American lexicon in a big way. Trivia: Did you know his whole name is Bartholomew JoJo Simpson? Time magazine named Bart one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century, and he’s a cartoon! Of course, T he Simpsons have their own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The name “Bart” is an anagram of “Brat.”
2. Bugs Bunny, 1938.
Introduced as “That Oscar winning rabbit,” Bugs has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and has appeared in more films than any other cartoon character, in fact, the ninth most portrayed film character overall. Voiced by Mel Blanc until 1989, his voice is as recognizable as his appearance. Due to nationalistic fervor during World War II, Bugs was portrayed as beating up on the Germans, Japanese and Italians, and was made an honorary Master Sergeant in the US Marine Corps! (Now that is iconic!) Oh, and the Oscar? That was 1958. Bugs’ cartoon frenemies, Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck and Yosemite Sam have become icons themselves.
1. Mickey Mouse, 1928.
A marvel of synchronized sound and action when he first appeared in Steamboat Willie, Mickey became the most famous and iconic of the Disney cartoon characters. In 1978, Mickey was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the first cartoon character so honored. His companions, Minnie Mouse (girlfriend) and Pluto (his dog) as well as other characters such as Donald Duck and Goofy from the same cartoon universe have become American icons in their own right. Mickey is the star of over 130 films. The success of Mickey Mouse can be directly credited with the rise of Disney entertainment empire of theme parks, cartoons, and live action films. Walt Disney himself was the voice of Mickey Mouse for most years through 1959.
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