Isadore “Friz” Freleng was born on August 21, 1906, and the work he did is still going strong.
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Friz Freleng seems to have known what he wanted to do from the very start. He began his career with United Film Advancement Services at age 17, working as an animator (having had no formal training in it) along with Hugh Harman and Ub Iwerks. In 1923, Iwerks’ friend Walt Disney moved to California and called upon his fellow Kansas City animators (there were several) to join him. Freleng finally made the move in 1927 and joined Disney’s studio, working on the Alice series. Branching out, Freleng worked for Robert Winkler Productions in 1928, and for Screen Gems in 1929.
Hugh Harman, Rudolph Ising (also from Kansas City), and Freleng decided to create their own studio. Their pilot film introduced a character named Bosko the Talk-Ink Kid.
Possibly looking to retain an income whether or not the film sold, Freleng moved to New York to work on Krazy Kat cartoons, working for Charles Mintz, with whom he had worked at Disney. Meanwhile, Leon Schlesinger bought Bosko to produce for Warner Brothers. Though reportedly not happy with living in New York, Freleng had to be convinced to move back to California when Harman and Ising asked him to work on the Bosko series. His sister Jean told him to go.
In 1933 there were budget disputes, and Harman and Ising left Schlesinger’s studio. Schlesinger retained Freleng, who by 1935 had produced the studio’s next big star, Porky Pig, in I Haven’t Got a Hat. He became Schlesinger’s top director, and was known as a serious taskmaster.
In 1937 Freleng left Schlesinger for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, whose cartoon studio was run by Fred Quimby, and worked on an adaptation of the Katzenjammer Kids, only to return to Warner Brothers in 1939. He directed the Looney Tunes cartoon short You Ought To Be In Pictures, blending live-action with animation, and echoing his own life through Porky Pig and Daffy Duck.
Freleng would go on to introduce or redesign Yosemite Sam (or Yo-Semite, as he is sometimes called) in 1945, Sylvester & Tweety in 1947, and Speedy Gonzales in 1955. He and Chuck Jones were the major forces behind the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series. He would win four Oscars while at Warner Brothers. Freleng, by the way, also played violin and composed music, and he tended to time out his cartoons to the musical score.
In November 1962 he left for Hanna-Barbera to story-supervise their first feature, Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear! In 1963, he and David De Patie created the DePatie-Freleng Studio to make short films and tv commercials, conveniently renting the Warner studio space recently closed by Warner.
The team’s signature achievement was the opening titles for the film The Pink Panther in 1963, which led to United Artists asking them to produce a short cartoon, The Pink Phink (1964). It won an Oscar for Best Short Subject (Cartoons), so they produced a whole bunch more including a Saturday-morning tv show.
The studio also produced the I Dream of Jeannie opening sequence, and contributed to special effects in the original Star Wars (including light sabres). In 1980, they sold DePatie-Freleng to Marvel Comics. In 1986, Freleng appeared on tv (as himself) in the Looney Tunes 50th Anniversary and in 1988 in Roger Rabbit and the Secrets of Toon Town. He also wrote a book, Animation: The Art of Friz Freleng (1994).
Isadore “Friz” Freleng passed away on May 26, 1995. It is said that he officially adopted his nickname Friz after being asked to go simply by “I. Freleng” during World War II. We all know why.