Comic books and cartoons have produced some of the greatest rivalries the world has ever seen. Among the best are Batman and the Joker, Superman and Lex Luther, and Tweety Bird and Sylvester the Cat. But, did you know that the object of Sylvester’s motivation was around before he was?
The notorious Tweety Bird is a two-time Academy Award winning fictional Warner Bros. character. Created by Bob Clampett, he made his first appearance in A Tale of Two Kitties released in November 1942 directed by Clampett. In the story he was pitted against Hollywood caricatures of Abbott and Costello called Babbit and Catstello. Though his name was not mentioned, he did use his signature line, “I tawt I taw a puddy tat,” and his child-like demeanor while fighting his antagonists.
Tweety has changed drastically from his beginnings. In his first short, he was not a domestic canary, rather a generic looking baby bird in an outdoors nest, much more aggressive, and pink without any feathers. According to Clampett’s commentary in the Bugs Bunny: Superstar documentary he drew Tweety based on his own baby picture.
Along with a different appearance and demeanor, he also had a different name. When Clampett first designed the little bird, he gave him the name Orson. It was not, however, mentioned, and was changed for his second short Birdy and the Beast. His name became a combination of “sweetie” and “tweet” a typical onomatopoeia for the sound birds make.
In 1945 Clampett worked on a short that faced Tweety against a then unknown lisping black and white cat. He left the project before it was completed, turning it over to Sylvester’s creator Friz Freleng. Tweety then became the cuter less feisty version with big blue eyes and yellow feathers.
The first short to feature both bird and cat was Tweetie Pie in 1947, which won Warner Bros. their first Oscar for Best Short Subject. They became one of the best pairings in animation history, following a formula of Sylvester planning to eat the bird, Tweety uttering his signature line “I tawt I taw a puddy tat,” then Sylvester spending the film devising more and more elaborate schemes to catch the bird while being thwarted by Granny, Hector the Bulldog, and many other follies.