- Year created: 1945
- Favorite meal: Tweety Birds
- Favorite saying: “Sufferin’ succotash!”
Sylvester J. Pussycat, Sr., Sylvester the Cat or simply Sylvester, or Puddy Tat, is a fictional character, a three-time Academy Award-winning anthropomorphic Tuxedo cat in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies repertory, often chasing Tweety Bird, Speedy Gonzales, or Hippety Hopper. The name “Sylvester” is a play on Felis silvestris, the scientific name for the wild cat species (domestic cats like Sylvester, though, are actually Felis catus). The character debuted in Friz Freleng’s Life With Feathers (1945). Freleng’s 1947 cartoon Tweetie Pie was the first pairing of Tweety with the Sylvester cat, and the Bob Clampett-directed Kitty Kornered (1946) was Sylvester’s first pairing with Porky Pig. Sylvester appeared in 103 cartoons in the golden age. Sylvester was #33 on TV Guide’s list of top 50 best cartoon characters, together with Tweety.
Sylvester Cat Development
According to John Kricfalusi, creator of The Ren & Stimpy Show, Bob Clampett created Sylvester and Tom McKimson, his layout artist, designed him. Kricfalusi states in one of his comments of his blog post, “Both Clampett and McKimson told me on separate occasions that they created him as a foil for Tweety and Clampett’s unit storyboarded the first collaboration of the 2 characters. Freleng inherited both characters and the storyboard when Clampett left the WB studio in 1946. Then Friz proceeded to take the life out of them. He actually admitted this and more to me.” Although the character was named Sylvester in later cartoon shorts (beginning with 1948’s Scaredy Cat), he was called “Thomas” in his first appearance with Tweety Bird in Tweetie Pie, most likely as a reference to Tom from Tom and Jerry.
A Sloppy Lisp
The Sylvester cat’s trademark is his sloppy and yet stridulating lisp. In his autobiography, That’s Not All Folks!, voice actor Mel Blanc stated that the Sylvester cat’s voice is based on that of Daffy Duck, plus the even more slobbery lisp, and minus the post-production speed-up that was done with Daffy’s. Conventional wisdom is that Daffy’s lisp, and hence also Sylvester’s, were based on the lisp of producer Leon Schlesinger. However, Blanc made no such claim. He said that Daffy’s lisp was based on him having a long beak, and that he borrowed the voice for Sylvester. He also pointed out that, minus the lisp, Sylvester’s voice was fairly close to his own (a claim that his son Noel Blanc has confirmed).
A Noble Cat Indeed
To emphasize the lisp, as with Daffy’s catchphrase “You’re desthpicable”, Sylvester’s trademark exclamation is “Sufferin’ succotash!”, which is said to be a minced oath of “Suffering Savior”. (Daffy also says “Sufferin’ succotash!” from time to time in 4 cartoons like “Ain’t That Ducky”, “Baby Bottleneck”, “The Great Piggy Bank Robbery” and “Daffy Dilly”.) Before Sylvester’s appearance in the cartoons, Blanc voiced a character named Sylvester on The Judy Canova Show using the voice that would eventually become associated with the cat. the Sylvester cat shows a lot of pride in himself, and never gives up. Despite (or perhaps because of) his pride and persistence, Sylvester is, with rare exceptions, placed squarely on the “loser” side of the Looney Tunes winner/loser hierarchy. He shows a different character when paired with Porky Pig in explorations of spooky places, in which he does not speak, behaves as a scaredy cat, and always seem to see the scary things Porky doesn’t see, and gets scolded by him for it every time. He also appears in a handful of cartoons with Elmer Fudd, most notably in a series of cartoons underwritten by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation extolling the American economic system.
Some of this article uses modified material from the Wikipedia article on the Sylvester cat “Sylvester_(Looney_Tunes)“, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.