Bugs Bunny made his first appearance in the Merrie Melodies cartoon A Wild Hare.
A wisecracking rabbit voiced by Mel Blanc had first appeared in 1938’s Porky’s Hare Hunt. However, it wasn’t until two years later that director Tex Avery asked the animator Bob Givens to redesign the character as the bold tormentor of the hunter, Elmer Fudd.
In the cartoon A Wild Hare Fudd tries numerous times to shoot Bugs Bunny with his double-barrelled shotgun. In one sequence where Elmer tries to dig out the rabbit from his hole, Bugs emerges from another exit to deliver his catchphrase for the first time. Tex Avery later explained that the phrase ‘What’s up, Doc?’ was a common expression where he grew up in Texas, but audiences around the country found the rabbit’s delivery of it hilarious and this guaranteed its inclusion in all subsequent Bugs Bunny cartoons.
A Wild Hare was an immediate hit with the public when it was released in cinemas on 27 July 1940, and later received an Academy Award nomination for Best Cartoon Short Subject. Within two years Bugs Bunny had become the biggest star of the Merrie Melodies series of cartoons, and was used during the Second World War in propaganda against the Axis as a well as to advertise War Bonds.
His regular appearances during the war saw Bugs Bunny become a military mascot. He was even made an honorary master sergeant in the United States Marine Corps after appearing in the dress blue uniform of the Marines in 1943’s Super-Rabbit.
By the time Bugs Bunny was retired from regular releases in 1964 he had appeared in more than 160 short films and won an Academy Award for Knighty Knight Bugs in 1958. He only began to appear again in animated specials and films from the late 1970s.