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EH, WHAT'S UP, CHUCK?\Animator and Oscar honoree Jones, at 83, still drawing on inspiration.

Byline: Janet Weeks Daily News Staff Writer

It's clear in talking to legendary animator Chuck Jones that he may have helped create Bugs Bunny, but the two share little in common.

For example, what would Bugs - a cartoon hero of quite healthy ego - say about receiving an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, the award that Jones will pick up at the 68th annual Academy Awards on Monday?

Would Bugs chomp confidently on his carrot and toss off a smug "What's up, Doc?" Maybe. Would he humbly mumble that he didn't earn it, like Jones? Not likely.

"You don't have deserve it in order to enjoy it," the 83-year-old Orange County resident says of his impending award. "It's exciting and fun and undeserved. But I'll accept it."

Of course, most in the film industry would argue with Jones' assessment that the award is undeserved. His career spans 60 years, decades in which he directed more than 250 films for Warner Bros., bringing to life such icons as Bugs, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Tweety Bird and Sylvester.

He also single-handedly created smelly-yet-amorous Pepe Le Pew, Marvin Martian and that endlessly battling couple Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner (meep-meep).

To film historians, he is considered the king of the animated short feature. His art has been exhibited in 150 galleries and museums worldwide, including a one-man film retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

"He has incredible talent as a director," says animator Jules Engel, head of the experimental animation department at California Institute of the Arts' school of film and video. Engels helped create Mr. Magoo.

"He has good stories and impeccable timing. ... Animation is like dancing. Some people have body rhythm and some don't. Chuck has it."

Director and composer George Daugherty, who has collaborated with Jones several times, called him a spellbinding storyteller, both on the screen and off.

"Chuck is like Mark Twain and Will Rogers combined, with a little bit of Socrates thrown in," Daugherty says. "You can sit in Chuck's presence and take it all in for hours."

Monday's Oscar will be the fourth for Jones, who earned previous statuettes for "For Scent-imental Reasons" (a 1950 cartoon starring Pepe LePew), "The Dot and the Line" (a 1965 cartoon) and "So Much for So Little" (a 1950 documentary).

He was also honored recently with the Directors Guild of America's Honorary Life Membership Award.

Yet Jones is far from resting on his laurels. Three years ago, at age 80, he signed a new contract with Warner Bros., where he is currently working on animated shorts for theatrical release. "Chariots of Fur," the first produced by his company, was released in 1994.

He also has a book (his second) due out in the fall ("Chuck Reducks") and is busy promoting the video release of the part-live, part-animated "Peter and the Wolf," which premiered to high ratings and critical acclaim on ABC in December.

Jones says staying active keeps him alive, a condition he much prefers to the alternative.

"I have about 50 projects that I'll either do or die trying," he says. "I have no interest in dying. I have no experience with it. I have no belief in death."

He also retains good health by logging 40 to 50 miles a week on his exercise bicycle.

"I don't feel like an old man," he says, adding with a laugh, "I feel like a young man that has something the matter with him. I have no fears of the future. I only have fears of the past being repeated."

Born in Spokane, Wash., in 1912, Jones moved with his family to California as a young boy. He grew up in Ocean Beach and, later, Hollywood. His family's "farmhouse" on Hollywood Boulevard was near Charlie Chaplin's studio, and Jones remembers watching the comic at work through a fence.

He also spent much of his time at the beach. There, he was often cast as an extra in Mack Sennett comedies.

"We'd be on the beach all the time when they were shooting pictures. So they'd ask us if we wanted a free lunch. It was fun. And we'd get to see a lot of stunts."

He credits Sennett, Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Laurel and Hardy as early influences on his comedy. His mother and father get some credit, too. But he doesn't believe humor is an inherited trait.

"Humor is largely environmental. It's based on observation of the ridiculous, of things that are off-key. Slipping on a banana peel is funny. Unless you do it yourself. Then it's tragedy."

After graduating from Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts) in 1932, Jones landed his first job in Hollywood as a cel washer at Ubbe Iwerks Studio. Four years later, he joined the Leon Schlesinger Studio as an animator. It was eventually sold to Warner Bros. He worked for Warners until its animation division closed in 1962.

In 1966, while heading the animation division at MGM Studios, Jones directed "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," one of the most endearing holiday classics of all time.

Throughout his career, Jones mixed his animation with classical music. "What's Opera, Doc?" (1957), which featured a Wagnerian Elmer Fudd, became the first-ever animated film to be inducted into the National Film Registry.

"Peter and the Wolf," which is based on Sergei Prokofiev's music, came together one day when Jones and Daugherty were having lunch.

"It came up that he had this magic drawer full of projects and characters that he had never done anything with," Daugherty recalls. "He said, 'Why don't you try to do something with these?' And there were all these character designs for 'Peter and the Wolf.' "

The secret to good animation, Jones says, is credible bone structure and the creator's belief that the characters are real.

"They were all believable to us. We thought of them as living creatures," he says.

And like any good parent, he declines to say which creature is his favorite.

"Like it or not, you're going to have a favorite but you'd better not say it in public. Yet, the more I look at Daffy, I realize I'm like him. Bugs is a comic hero. Daffy is the tradition of all great comedians. He's a loser."

Come Monday, Jones will be the winner.

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Photo "It's exciting and fun and undeserved. But I'll accept it," says animator Chuck Jones, who will pick up an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement at the 68th annual Academy Awards on Monday. During his 60-year career, he has directed more than 250 films for Warner Bros. Chart Your Oscar '96 ballot
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 24, 1996
Words:1109
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