Saturday, August 13, 2005

Goes by the name of Rocky. Alias: Bob Steele?

Considering this is my first official post, I figured I'd address a theory I've had for several years concerning this fella:


You probably recognize him as the Looney Tunes character named Rocky. He was a gangster character that first appeared in the Friz Freling cartoon Golden Yeggs (1950), and was a semi-frequent foil for both Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny.


I'm a big fan of the Howard Hawks film The Big Sleep, and after a few viewings I noticed that the character of the hitman, Canino, bore a similarity to Rocky. Canino was played by Warner Brothers character actor Bob Steele, as seen in the picture below.



Dangling cigarette. Check. Fedora. Check. Long coat. Check.
He kind of looks like Rocky, but it is a pretty standard depiction of a gangster.

I figured the similarities were just a coincidence, until I watched the John Wayne movie Rio Bravo (Also directed by Howard Hawks, some 15 years later.), and lo-and-behold, who shows up in a small role, but Bob Steele!



Then I saw this shot:

Look at the guy! Bob Steele was a really small man. According to the IMDB, 5-foot, 5-inches.

Both The Big Sleep and Rio Bravo were made at Warner Brothers, and I think it's very plausable that Rocky's creators saw Steele's memorable hit-man performance, had first-hand knowledge of Steele's real life stature, and saw the comedic potential in the idea of a diminuitive tough-guy as a foil for their star characters.

I've bounced this idea off of cartoon historian Jerry Beck (via his cartoon history forum), but unfortunately, the inspiration for Rocky never came up in any of his interviews with Friz Freling. Freling died ten years ago, and any interviews with him now would be pretty one-sided.

Bob Steele had a very long and varied career. He started out as a child star in silent movies, and eventually became a pretty popular B-western hero in the 30's. In his later life he mainly got work as a character actor and was a regular on the 1960's Warner Brothers TV show, F Troop, in which he had a regular role as Trooper Duffy.


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