Once upon a time a man named Chuck Jones came up with an idea for a new cartoon. The whole dog chasing cat and cat chasing mouse thing had kind of been done to death even in the 1940s. With some inspiration taken from Mark Twain, he came up with the idea of a perpetually hungry coyote chasing a roadrunner. This was not just any roadrunner, mind you, but one that could never be caught -- almost.
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In the book "Roughing It" by Mark Twain a coyote is described as a "long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton" that is "a living, breathing allegory of Want. He is always hungry." It is from this description that Jones came up with Wile E. Coyote, a rather raunchy looking canine creature. The Coyote was really brought to life by writer and storyboard artist, Michael Maltese.
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Every such villain needs a good foil to create the necessary drama. Therefore Jones created the Road Runner to thwart the Coyote at every turn. The pair went on to wreak havoc throughout the American Southwest. As of September 17, 2019 they will have been doing it repeatedly for 70 years. Generations of kids (and adults) have been entranced by the Coyote's futile attempts to eat that one bird.
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"Just as I decided later that there would be no dialogue in the Coyote-Road Runner series because it seemed like a good rule, or indeed it would be a good rule if it was consistent; all comedians obey rules consistent with their own view of comedy. In my opinion, Jackie Gleason got more mileage out of threatening to hit somebody than the Three Stooges ever did by doing so . . . " - Chuck Jones
The one bit of "dialogue" that made it into the cartoons was the Road Runner's cheerful "beep, beep!" when the Coyote screwed himself over. This, of course, happened many times in every episode. The Coyote tended to purchase a wide variety of strange products from the Acme Corporation. These contraptions, some of them resembling something by Rube Goldberg, rarely worked properly -- either from the inherent stupidity of the product or from the inherent stupidity of the Coyote. He always became the victim of his own attempts to catch the Road Runner.
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The Acme Corporation is a fictional company, or conglomerate of companies, that seems to have been the Sears catalog of stuff for coyotes chasing roadrunners. For example, in one of the cartoons Wile E. Coyote orders the Acme Giant Rubber Band and it is subtitled "For Catching Road Runners." While the Acme name had been on businesses before this time, it has left a lasting legacy with more people naming their companies this after they grew up watching the coyote. Case in point is my brother's speaker company, Acme Bass.
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Wile E. Coyote was not always paired with the Road Runner. In five cartoons he was paired with the ultra-famous Bugs Bunny. In these episodes he was known to speak with an upper class accent voiced by Mel Blanc. His luck with Bugs is no better than it ever was with the Road Runner.
The Coyote-Road Runner cartoons were loaded with running gags. One such gag involved the Coyote running off a cliff, hanging in the air for a moment, and then falling hundreds of feet to splat at the bottom with no permanent injuries. Another involves the Coyote attempting to protect himself from falling objects with a tiny parasol with a look on his face that lets us know that he is aware of the futility of his effort.
In his 1989 autobiography, Chuck Amuck, Jones shared his 9 unbreakable rules of the Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner universe. These laws cover everything from the lack of dialog (except for "beep,beep) to the fact that all outside materials must come from the Acme Corporation. Check out the entire list below:
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Chuck Jones wrote, directed, and produced many other of our favorite animal cartoon characters for Warner Brothers, including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Michigan J. Frog, Pepe LePew, and the highly dysfunctional Three Bears. What would any of our childhood memories be without them being threaded with these delightful anthropomorphic creatures? The first dream I ever remember having starred Bugs Bunny. I was about four years old. It has been a long and happy friendship.