On April 30, 1938, a cartoon hunter for the first time preyed on a cartoon rabbit. However, you'd be forgiven if you'd thought it was the other way around:
The rabbit himself had gone through some changes by the time Blanc signed that contract:
Prest-O Change-O (1939) Directed by Chuck Jones. The rabbit gives a dog, rather than a hunter, a hard time in this one.
Hare-um Scare-um (1939) Ben Hardaway, who had directed (or "supervised") the rabbit the first time, came back for this one. The rabbit torments a hunter, but not Porky (who was much too busy getting tormented by Daffy Duck in a series of similar cartoons.)
Elmer's Candid Camera (1940) Chuck Jones gets ano--HEY, I SAID ELMER, NOT ALLEN!
That's better. Elmer's Candid Camera (1940) Chuck Jones gets another crack at the character. Yes, this Elmer's last name is Fudd (and not Funt!), but he's not a hunter, just a hapless photographer.
The rabbit went unnamed on screen, but around the Schlesinger studio, he informally referred to as "Bug's Bunny". Bugs was the nickname of Hardaway, the rabbit's first director. Since this character seemed to have staying power, it was decided he needed an official onscreen name, something catchy and alliterative, and so the apostrophe was simply removed, and instead of a bunny that belonged to Bugs, Bugs became the bunny! Ironically, Hardaway would never again direct the rabbit. He was demoted to story man after Friz Freling rejoined Schlesinger's crew. So Hardaway went to work for Lantz. He was a story man there, too, but had an additional duty.
It seems Hardaway had a talent for voices as well. Well, at least one particular voice.
That's right. He replaced Blanc for the rest of the 1940s (Lantz' own wife Grace eventually replaced him.)
Back at Schlesinger's, it fell upon Tex Avery, the first among directorial equals at the studio, to craft a new Bugs Bunny.
Visually, at least, Tex's take on the rabbit was no more definitive then the directors who came before him. It was Bug's personality, however, where he left his lasting mark. Bugs up that point had really just been, as Freling once referred to him, "Daffy Duck in a bunny outfit." Under Tex, Bugs went from being hyperactive to sly. He didn't wear out his opponent through sheer exhaustion, but outwitted him. Brains over brawn. Or, in the case of some many opponents starting with Elmer, brains over bumbling.
On July 27, 1940, A Wild Hare premiered, today considered the first "official" Bugs Bunny cartoon, but, as I tried to show you, the rabbit was actually a work in progress, one that started a few years earlier. That's all right, though, he was worth the wait. Just don't cross his path. In whatever form, he's a little stinker.