BoskoBosko is a cartoon character created by animators Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising. Both men were veterans of Walt Disney Studios, and they created Bosko to capitalize on the new "talkie" craze that was sweeping the motion picture industry. Harman designed the character (consciously modeling him after Felix the Cat) and, in 1929, starred him in a short film called "Bosko, the Talk-Ink Kid" that showcased their ability to animate soundtrack-synchronized speech and dancing. The short, plotless cartoon opens with live-action footage of Ising at a drafting table. After he draws Bosko on the page, the character springs to life, talks, sings, and dances. Ising returns Bosko to the inkwell, and the short ends.
Leon Schlesinger saw the Harman-Ising test film and signed the animators to produce cartoons at their studio for him to sell to Warner Bros. Bosko became the star vehicle for the studio's new Looney Tunes cartoon series. Through these early Looney Tunes, Harman and Ising would turn Bosko into a near duplicate of Walt Disney's creation, Mickey Mouse, who was then the most popular character in cartoons. Bosko himself looked like Mickey, albeit with long pants and a derby hat, and he had a Minnie Mouse flapper girlfriend named Honey. Bosko even had a Pluto substitute named Bruno. He was also sometimes accompanied by an orphan cat named Wilbur.
Although Harman and Ising based Bosko's looks on Felix the Cat, Bosko, like Mickey, got his personality from the blackface characters of the minstrel and vaudeville shows popular in the 1930s. Whereas Disney masked Mickey by making him a mouse, Harman and Ising made Bosko a genuine black boy. Keeping with the stereotypes of the minstrel shows, Bosko is a natural at singing, dancing, and playing any instrument he encounters. In fact, Bosko has the ability to play virtually anything as an instrument, be it a wooden bridge-turned-xylophone or a dachsund-turned-accordion. In early cartoons, Bosko (performed by Carmen Maxwell) even speaks in an exaggerated version of black dialect (later cartoons would make him sound more Mickey-like). Despite the parallels between Bosko, Mickey, and the blackface performers, Ising in later years would deny that the character was ever supposed to be a black caricature.
From his first Looney Tunes outing, "Sinkin' in the Bathtub," Bosko would star in 39 musical films. His cartoons are notable for their flimsy to non-existant plots and their abundance of music, singing, and dancing (though there were exceptions, such as "Bosko the Doughboy" in 1931). These were the early days of sound cartoons, and audiences were enthralled simply to see characters talking and moving in step with the music. Vaudeville was the major entertainment of the time, and the cartoons of the era are better understood when compared to it rather than to animation of later decades. Though they seem boring and rudimentary by today's standards, Bosko's films are on-par with Disney's shorts of the same period (though smaller budgets forced Harman and Ising to recycle footage much more often). Harman and Ising wanted little else.
In 1933, Harman and Ising broke with Warner Bros. over budget disputes with Schlesinger. Having learned from Walt Disney's experiences with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, they had carefully kept all rights to the Bosko character, and they took him with them. The two found work with MGM where they redesigned Bosko into an identifiable black boy. Bosko only starred in a handful of cartoons before Harman and Ising discontinued the character.
Bosko's cartoons were largely forgotten until the advent of television. Since the films could be shown cheaply, programmers put them into constant rotation. Bosko's shorts were on the air until relatively recently, when Nickelodeon vowed to stop showing them. Today, the majority of the cartoons are available on VHS and DVD as Uncensored Bosko from Bosko Video.
Bosko made a surprise cameo in a 1990 episode of the television series Tiny Toon Adventures in which Babs Bunny is led by a mysterious voice to build a theater that shows nothing but cartoons of Bosko's girlfriend, Honey. Babs does so, and the resulting audience laughter rejuvenates the ailing Honey and reveals the voice to be none other than Bosko himself. Curiously, the cartoon depicts Bosko and Honey as doglike creatures reminiscent of the lead characters of the later TV show Animaniacs, presumably so as not to offend viewers with the original blackface characters. In an even briefer cameo, Bosko is seen in a portrait in the 1996 movie Space Jam, this time in his original form.
- "Ain't that cute!"
- "That's all, folks!" (Bosko regularly ended his cartoons with this line long before Porky Pig ever did)