15 Pieces of Classical Music That Showed Up in 'Looney Tunes'

Bugs Bunny: smart aleck, dynamite enthusiast … Chopin fan? Sit the kids down for a Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies marathon, and they’ll be humming classical refrains before you can say “Th-th-that’s all, folks!” The shorts incorporated everything from light opera to German symphonies. And this wasn’t all idle background noise. Warner Brothers, who produced both Looney Tunes and its equally influential (and far less famous) sibling Merrie Melodies, actively relied on music to help pull off some of the funniest gags in cartoon history. So, kick back, pass the carrots, & let’s enjoy a few comedy classics.

1. Tales from the Vienna Woods, Op. 325 by Johann Strauss II (1868)

As Heard In: A Corny Concerto (1943)

On occasion, director Bob Clampett had some fun at Disney’s expense. "A Corny Concerto" riffs Fantasia (1940) and doesn’t miss a joke. At “Corny-gie Hall,” Elmer Fudd introduces segment number one, emphasizing the "wythm of the woodwinds.” Cut to Porky Pig and his faithful pointer dog in hot pursuit of Bugs, accompanied all the way by the Waltz King’s playful hit. 

2. The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II (1866)

As Heard In: A Corny Concerto (1943)

Act II sees a mother swan leading her cygnets in a birdsong-based cover of this concert hall staple. When young Daffy Duck paddles over with his off-key honking, she’s none too thrilled—until he saves the day, that is. It’s a hilarious take on Strauss’ best-known offering, though '90s kids will probably still prefer The Simpsonslow-gravity rendition.

3. Dance of the Comedians from The Bartered Bride by Bedrich Smetana (1866)

As Heard In: Zoom and Bored (1957)

As always, Wile E. Coyote matches wits with his hated Road Runner nemesis. This time around, the climax is set to what’s quite possibly the most beloved Czech opera ever written.

4. Minute Waltz in D-Flat by Frédéric Chopin (1847)

As Heard In: Hyde and Hare (1955)

Bugs spots a piano inside Dr. Jekyll’s house and, being the cultured lagomorph that he is, starts playing away like a pro. Too bad Mr. Hyde shows up to ruin everything.

5. Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna by Franz von Suppé (1844)

As Heard In: Baton Bunny (1959)

Apparently taking a break from his typical antics, Bugs does an impressive job of conducting Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna. Like most composers, von Suppé himself was also a conductor—however, unlike a certain buck-toothed character, he wasn’t noted for tearing after obnoxious flies mid-performance.

6. The Barber of Seville Overture by Gioachino Rossini (1816)

As Heard In: The Rabbit of Seville (1950)

Elmer chases Bugs across some local stage when, suddenly, the curtain rises on a production of Rossini’s operatic masterpiece. Without missing a beat (or breaking tempo), that wascaly wabbit assumes the title role and humiliates Fudd in one fell swoop.

7. Beethoven’s 7th by Ludwig van Beethoven (1811-12)

As Heard In: A Ham in a Role (1949)

A well-spoken dog yearns for Shakespearean theatre, but, alas, the two Goofy Gophers spoil his plans via mean pranks. At 1:26 in this clip, one of them dons a skeleton costume as our oblivious pooch—who’s been reciting non-stop—reaches an eerie ghost scene in Hamlet. Listen closely, and you’ll hear a snippet from the symphony that was strange enough to make 19th-century critics wonder if Beethoven had gotten drunk while writing it.

8. Träumerei (“Dreaming”) by Robert Schumann (1838)

As Heard In: Hare Ribbin’ (1944)

A quick, 38 seconds’-worth of Schumann’s gentle theme plays while Bugs’ latest tormentor—an oafish canine—mistakes him for dead. The ensuing punchline proved so dark that censors had it removed, forcing a severe edit which was shown during its theatrical release. But even that ending has been deemed too much for modern audiences, and hasn't been shown outside of a 2000 episode of The Bob Clampett Show on Cartoon Network. Now the original pre-multiple-censors release is available on the DVD set.

9. Largo al Factotum from The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini (1816)

As Heard In: The Long-Haired Hare (1949)

In The Long-Haired Hare, big-shot opera star Giovanni Jones rehearses at home with this song (best remembered for its famous “Figaro! Figaro!” lines). Meanwhile, Bugs loudly strums his ole banjo off in the distance. An annoyed Jones proceeds to destroy the bunny’s banjo, then harp, and finally tuba and then strings him up by his long, pointy ears. Three seconds later, Bugs declares war, and we all know that Hell hath no fury like a rabbit scorned.

10. Johannes Brahms’ Hungarian Dances (1869)

As Heard In: Pigs in a Polka (1943)

Brahms wrote 21 separate dances based on Hungarian folk music, finishing the lot in 1869. This slapstick take on the “Three Little Pigs” fable is set to assorted highlights from them.

11. The William Tell Overture by Gioachino Rossini (1829)

As Heard In: Bugs Bunny Rides Again (1948)

Even though Rossini lived to be 76, he stopped writing operas at 37. His last was William Tell, which came with one of the most instantly recognizable overtures ever composed. 119 years later, Warner Brothers used the tune in a horseback chase sequence featuring the anger-prone Yosemite Sam (at 1:55 in this clip).  

12. Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt (1847)

As Heard In: Rhapsody Rabbit (1946)

Now here’s a ditty whose comedic potential sure didn’t go unnoticed. Rhapsody Rabbit finds Bugs playing it before an adoring crowd only to get rudely interrupted when a rodent decides to help by dancing on the keys. At various points in their careers, Mickey Mouse, Woody Woodpecker, and Tom & Jerry all did similar routines with this exact same piece of music. Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 even appears in 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit?—it’s the song Daffy and Donald Duck crank out during their piano face-off.

13. The Overture from The Flying Dutchman by Richard Wagner (1843)

As Heard In: What’s Opera, Doc? (1957)

What’s Opera, Doc? is an undisputed classic. The Library of Congress says as much: in 1992, it became the very first animated short film to be selected for preservation by the National Film Registry. Our story begins with the opening of The Flying Dutchman, which—more than any other work—put Wagner on the map. As his music swells, a diminutive Viking warrior who looks suspiciously like Elmer Fudd conjures up a mighty tempest, evoking Fantasia’s Night on Bald Mountain sequence.    

14. “Pilgrim’s Chorus” from Tannhäuser by Richard Wagner (1845)

As Heard In: What’s Opera, Doc? (1957)

Later on, Elmer shares a duet with the fair maiden Brünnhilde (or rather, Bugs in drag). “Oh, Bwünnhilde,” he swoons, “you’re so wovely!” “Yes, I know it,” quips the Bunny, “I can’t help it!” Their whole exchange takes its music from a highlight from Tannhäuser in which travelers headed for Rome reflect on heavenly forgiveness.

15. Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre by Richard Wagner (1870)

As Heard In: What’s Opera, Doc? (1957)

Die Walküre is the second installment in Wagner’s Ring cycle: a set of four operas which combine to tell an epic, 15-hour fantasy about gods, men, and power. For a prelude, Act III gets “Ride of the Valkyries,” wherein divine immortals let loose their mighty battle cry. In What’s Opera, Doc?, Elmer Fudd adds some brand new lyrics, namely, “Kill da wabbit, Kill Da Wabbit, KILL DA WABBIT!

5 Actors Who Could Play the Next Batman

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by Natalie Zamora

Ben Affleck's casting as the Caped Crusader wasn't exactly met with a lot of excitement. While many DC fans were (and still are) happy with the casting, many definitely weren't, and even took it upon themselves to think of who could replace him. Now, with Affleck's role in Matt Reeves's upcoming The Batman completely unknown, it's worth looking at who has been actually rumored to take his place.

5. JAKE GYLLENHAAL

Jake Gyllenhaal attends the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival - 'The Sisters Brothers' premiere at Princess of Wales Theatre on September 8, 2018
Emma McIntyre, Getty Images

As early as November 2017, Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal has been rumored to be playing the next Batman. Reportedly, Gyllenhaal had a meeting with Matt Reeves, something reporter Rob Keyes tweeted out at the time. When asked about the possibility, the actor shot it down, saying, "Wow, that’s a very difficult question. The answer to that question is no."

4. RYAN GOSLING

Ryan Gosling attends the 'First Man' press conference during 2018 Toronto International Film Festival at TIFF Bell Lightbox on September 11, 2018
Emma McIntyre, Getty Images

Another acclaimed actor, Academy Award nominee Ryan Gosling has also been rumored to take on the role of Bruce Wayne for some time. When recently asked at the Toronto International Film Festival if he would consider, Gosling simply said, "I don't know," before joking that if his First Man and La La Land director Damien Chazelle made it, he'd be in.

3. JOSH BROLIN

Josh Brolin attends the 'Sicario Day Of The Soldado' Photo Call at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on June 14, 2018 in Los Angeles, California
Matt Winkelmeyer, Getty Images

Although Josh Brolin now plays two major Marvel characters, Cable and Thanos, he once confirmed he was in the running for Ben Affleck's role in 2016. Ultimately, Brolin backed out after he had disagreements with Zack Snyder on how the character should be played. Ever since Affleck's departure from directing The Batman, Brolin has been rumored to take the role.

2. MATTHEW GOODE

Actor Matthew Goode attends the 'The Imitation Game' New York Premiere at Ziegfeld Theater in 2014
Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images for The Weinstein Company

Like Brolin, Matthew Goode was also one of the actors in the running to play Batman before Ben Affleck was cast. He was also reportedly considered for the roles of both Superman and Lex Luthor. Clearly, Goode would be welcomed into the DCEU. Now would be the perfect time.

1. JON HAMM

Jon Hamm attends the Premiere Of Warner Bros. Pictures And New Line Cinema's 'Tag' at Regency Village Theatre on June 7, 2018 in Westwood, California
Jerritt Clark, Getty Images

Ever since Jon Hamm played the dark and brooding role of Don Draper on Mad Men, fans have been rallying for him to play Batman. Though rumors have been circulating for years, Hamm just recently revealed that he has never had a conversation about the possibility. However, he did say he would be interested, if the script was good.

13 Secrets of Obituary Writers

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When Chicago Sun-Times obituary writer Maureen O’Donnell sits down to assess the lives of the recently departed, she feels less like a journalist and more like a historian. “I sometimes feel like I’m a frustrated history teacher,” she tells Mental Floss. “I get to teach a lesson every day and share it with readers.”

Unlike death notices, which only recite basic facts about the deceased, or funeral eulogies, which offer impassioned remembrances from loved ones, obituaries are a written memorial of a person’s legacy published for the world to see. Instead of dwelling on death they celebrate life, from the most recognizable celebrity to the quietest neighbor. They prove that almost everyone has a story to tell, and it’s sometimes only after a passing that people realize exactly how a person has left their mark in the world.

O’Donnell recalls a 2010 death notice for a Montana resident named Jim Cole, which mentioned his interest in photographing grizzly bears. Only after excavating details of his life did she realize Cole is the only person in North America to survive two grizzly attacks, 14 years apart. “They called him Grizzly Jim,” she says. “He wore an eyepatch because the second attack left him without an eye.” (Cole died of natural, not wildlife-related, causes at age 60.)

For more on how obituary writers approach the delicate art of human posterity, we asked several of them—including O’Donnell—to tell us about their work. Here’s what they had to say about a life spent covering death.

1. THEY LOOK FOR THE “ROSEBUD” MOMENT.

John Pope, who writes for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and assembled a book of obituaries, Getting Off at Elysian Fields, says that the goal of his work is to discover the “Rosebud” moment of an individual’s life. (That's a reference to the 1941 film Citizen Kane, and the desire of a reporter to define the mysterious dying word uttered by wealthy business magnate Kane.) “I look for ‘Rosebud,’ what makes a person tick,” he says. “When you talk to relatives, they talk about how he loved family, how he loved life, but you need to keep going and dig deeper.”

In 2009, Pope was tasked with profiling William Terral, a beloved pediatrician and gardening hobbyist. While the former was a noble career, Pope found his real jewel in the fact that Terral was once so struck by the bag of plasma separated from his blood during a medical procedure that he took it home, hung it from an IV hook, and pumped the liquid into the ground to see if it would help his garden grow. “His hibiscus flourished,” Pope says. So did his obituary.

2. IT’S ACTUALLY A PRETTY UPLIFTING JOB.

The stereotype of obituary writers toiling under the shadow of death, constantly aware of the fragile nature of life, isn’t exactly accurate. According to Pope, some family members have such fond memories of the deceased that talking to them can provoke a lot of amusement. “With Edward ‘Bud Rip’ Ripoll, a saloonkeeper, I had to ask his daughter to stop because I was laughing so hard and the stories were so good,” he says. (Ripoll was a Budweiser fan, and his urn was inscribed with the dedication, “This Bud’s for you.”)

O’Donnell describes it as “uplifting” work. “You’re frequently writing about people who made a difference in the world, large or small. The end of life is always sorrowful, but with someone like Mary White, who lived to be 93 and started the La Leche League [to normalize public breastfeeding] in her living room that now has tens of millions of members across the globe, that’s inspiring.”

3. THEY SOMETIMES KNOW WHEN DEATH IS IMMINENT.

Yellow flowers sit on top of a coffin
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Obituary writers have all kinds of information channels when it comes to mortality. Funeral homes may call to notify them; death notices in their paper or in another might provide a clue that a lesser-known person’s life is worth investigating further. Or they may simply be tipped off that the end is near. “For Barbara Harris, who was a founding member of Second City, one of my co-workers heard she was ill,” O’Donnell says. “I was able to prepare the obituary in advance, so when the time came, there was something comprehensive for readers available.”

Other times, that information can be a little off. When an editor was sure a prominent celebrity was going to die, Pope was told to prepare a lengthy obituary. “It was Paul Prudhomme, a chef who a line editor was convinced was going to launch to glory at any moment," Pope says. “He died 27 years later.”

4. THEY NEED TO BE READY FOR AN EMOTIONAL DELUGE.

Mike Bodine, who writes for the Sheet in Mammoth Lakes, California, says that an obituary writer will often be the first person a relative of the deceased has spoken to in depth about a loved one’s passing. “They can be really distraught,” he says. “It’s a matter of waiting it out while people just let their heart out. You can’t always use what they’re saying, but just listening and being patient can help open people up. It can feel a little bit like handling the body itself. You don’t want to push people.”

5. THEY CAN GET CAUGHT UP IN FAMILY SQUABBLES.

Phoning family members to collect memories of the recently deceased can be a sobering experience. Bodine says that children of the deceased can sometimes try to use an obituary to vent about personal vendettas. “When someone has passed and a lot of money and kids are involved, it can turn into animosity,” he says. “Someone will say a sibling is screwing them over on money. It’s just distortion you have to wade through.”

6. FAMILIES CAN GET UPSET AT THEM.

While an obituary writer’s job is to celebrate life, that doesn't mean they exclude the less-flattering components. When he was writing about a local politician, Pope discovered that he had once been to prison for misappropriating campaign funds. When he mentioned that in the obituary, the man’s daughter phoned in an uproar. “She asked why we were doing that. I told her it was because it was the truth.”

O’Donnell has had similar experiences. “Unfortunately, in Chicago, a lot of politicians have been investigated and convicted of corruption," she says. "It gets reported at the time it happened and readers would have known about it. It would be a disingenuous, fraud obituary if you didn’t include it.”

7. OTHER TIMES, PEOPLE LIE.

Family members may also omit certain facts. Because obituaries are perceived as the last word on many people, relatives and friends sometimes lean into the idea it should be a hagiography. “With [socialite] Mickey Easterling, no one was going to tell me her age,” Pope says. “I had to cite public records, which I’ve never had to do before.” On another occasion, the deceased’s loved ones refused to inform Pope that a suicide had occurred. He found out the truth months later, after listing the cause of death as “undetermined” in the obituary.

8. IT’S BETTER TO DIE ON CERTAIN DAYS THAN OTHERS.

A death certificate sits on top of a table
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If you want a well-read obituary, try to die on a Friday. According to Pope, people who expire that day of the week are more likely to be targeted for inclusion in the Sunday edition of the paper, which affords more space and more time for the obituary writer to do a thorough job. “Dying on a Friday will get you more play on a Sunday,” he says. Holidays are also ill-advised times to make an exit, as reporters with dedicated beats (politics, movies, sports) aren’t usually around to assist in reporting notable deaths in those fields, and readership is down.

While you'd think the dying and their associates would have more pressing issues, sometimes they prioritize that recognition: In 1936, King George V's physician injected the monarch with enough morphine and cocaine to hasten his death in time for the next morning's papers, rather than the less-desirable evening editions.

9. PEOPLE CAN BE A LITTLE NERVOUS AROUND THEM.

When an obituary writer becomes well-known in the community, their very presence can portend bad news. If Pope needs to phone someone for any reason other than someone’s passing, he’ll sometimes begin the call by saying, “It’s Pope. No one died.”

That slight unease can work both ways. Once, Pope walked into a social gathering where three people whose obituaries he had already written and banked for future use were standing. “I just kind of stopped,” he says.

10. THEY GET INVITED TO FUNERALS.

Obituaries are often treasured by families who appreciate how a writer has summarized and memorialized the deceased. Sometimes, that gratitude can extend to invitations to come to the funeral. “That happens with some frequency,” O’Donnell says. “I went to the services for a rock concert roadie, who I didn’t know, but he worked a lot of rock concerts I went to the in 1970s. I met a lot of people there who went to the same concerts.”

Other times, they’ll be dispatched to cover the funeral for the purposes of writing a piece. “I went to Al Copeland’s funeral, the founder of Popeyes Chicken,” Pope says. “There were 24 white Bentleys, a horse-drawn hearse, and a band playing ‘My Way.’” The solemn music continued until the procession reached the grave, at which point they broke into “Love That Chicken From Popeyes.”

11. CERTAIN PHRASES CAN ANNOY THEM.

Work the death beat long enough and certain recurring phrases begin to wear on a writer’s patience. Pope dislikes using the term the late to precede a decedent’s name. “What’s the point?” he says. “Can we get over that?” He also dislikes funeral service because “it’s redundant,” and avoids using “natural causes” as the reason for a death whenever possible, because it's non-specific. "Always get the cause of death," he says.

12. SOME PEOPLE USE OBITS TO TAKE REVENGE.

A highlighter is run over the word 'revenge'
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O’Donnell says she's struck by the more contemporary practice of “revenge” obituaries, which are penned by family members and tend to criticize their departed relative for allegations relating to abuse or other personal reasons that have prompted a vendetta. Pope recalls a time when a widow sent in a death notice to his paper claiming her late husband’s law firm had sent him to an early grave. “We spent a day with lawyers de-fanging it,” he says.

13. THEY HAVE THEIR OWN AWARDS SHOW CALLED “THE GRIMMYS.”

Acting as a kind of unofficial trade organization, the Society of Professional Obituary Writers invites devotees of the dead to exchange information on their work and attend functions like ObitCon. Each year, awards—known as the Grimmys—are awarded for best long- and short-form obituaries, as well as for lifetime achievement. The trophy resembles a tombstone. “I was nominated last year,” Pope says.

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