Friday, October 21, 2011


"I won't go into a room unless it's got Southern Exposure!"
-Senator Claghorn

Warner Brothers cartoons have a lot of famous and familiar characters, and while the top tier ones like Bugs Bunny and Road Runner get all the attention, there are some lesser ones that have become classics everyone enjoys.

Foghorn Leghorn is one of these secondary characters, and the big goofy rooster is one of the most beloved of them all. The thing is, Foghorn is supposed to be a bad guy.

In the ethos of cartoons, you can always tell who the bad guy is. He's the one that drives the story, plotting and attempting various nefarious deeds, while the good guy or hero is reactive in almost every instance. The bad guy is the one that has everything awful happen to him: Wiley E Coyote falling off a cliff, Elmer Fudd's gun exploding, etc. The hero tends to walk through this chaos and destruction unharmed and often unaware of what's going on.

Foghorn Leghorn is that guy. He is the troublemaker who typically is foiled by the little bookish chick (usually a relation) or the local hound dog, although the dog tends to get beat up pretty bad too. Foghorn is based on Senator Beauregard Claghorn, a radio character who was portrayed in a 1947 film entitled Its a Joke, Son! The character of Senator Claghorn was created by Kenny Delmar for the Fred Allen radio show, and he was a blustering, southern-bigoted senator. The movie title card reads:
Senator Beauregard Claghorn is a large body of man entirely surrounded by mint juleps, magnolia blossoms and Southern tradition.

So strong is his faith in the old, old South that he is perhaps the only man in the world who is still buying Confederate Army Victory Bonds.

He knows the South did not lose the Civil War -- it was called off on account of darkness.
He was genially corrupt, comically ignorant, and generally a caricature of the South, something only a New Yorker would invent.

Yet, when you think back on those cartoons and imagine Foghorn Leghorn, does he seem like a bad guy to you? Does he seem like the villain? A bit dim, perhaps, and maybe a bit loose on the side of morality, but the bad guy? Sure, he'd try to woo a hen just so he could live in her house and get someone to cook and clean, but he's not a villain.

If you're like me you really like Foghorn and his bombastic approach. And he's not like Yosemite Sam where you like him and find him funny but know deep down he's really a bad guy. Foghorn often seems unfairly set upon, and you can't really find yourself liking the little chick that keeps beating him up.

Characters like that fascinate me, because like Archie Bunker who was meant to be the villain people hissed at and despised, they end up being fan favorites and heroes in a sense. The writers were too clever and ended up making them too sympathetic, interesting, and likable, while their foils are too cardboard, one dimensional, and uninteresting. Who didn't want Meathead to get a job?

Cartoons don't stand very close analysis I realize, and obviously the point was to make them funny, not some morality tale, but I simply find that Foghorn's status being so reversed is fascinating. Nobody has little Junior dolls for that annoying spectacled bird. They love Foghorn.

1 comment:

Eric said...

Excellent point. Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka is another character who, as a child, you tend to think of as a heroic figure, but when you consider him as an adult, he's really evil and kind of scary, but endearing just the same (Johnny Depp's Wonka was just creepy all the way around).