Yosemite Sam is an American animated cartoon character in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of cartoons produced by Warner Bros. Animation. The name is somewhat alliterative and is inspired by Yosemite National Park. Along with Elmer Fudd, he is the de facto archenemy of Bugs Bunny. He is commonly depicted as an extremely grouchy gunslinging prospector, outlaw, pirate, or cowboy with a hair-trigger temper and an intense hatred of rabbits, Bugs particularly.
In cartoons with non-Western themes, he uses various aliases, including "Chilkoot Sam" (named for the Chilkoot Trail; Sam pronounces it "Chilli-koot") in 14 Carrot Rabbit (although in the same cartoon, when he tries to gain Bugs Bunny's trust, he cleverly invents alias "Square-deal Sam"), "Riff Raff Sam" in Sahara Hare, "Sam Schulz" in Big House Bunny, "Seagoin' Sam" in Buccaneer Bunny, "Shanghai Sam" in Mutiny on the Bunny, and "Sam Von Schamm the Hessian" in Bunker Hill Bunny and many others. During the Golden Age of American animation, Yosemite Sam appeared in 33 shorts.
Animator Friz Freleng introduced the character in the 1945 cartoon Hare Trigger. With his fiery, irascible temper, short stature (in two early gags in Hare Trigger, a train he is attempting to rob passes right over top of him and he has to use a set of portable stairs to get on his horse; in Bugs Bunny Rides Again, he rides a miniature horse), and fiery red hair, Sam was in some ways an alter-ego of Freleng. The animator often denied any intentional resemblance. However, in the Looney Tunes Golden Collection, surviving members of his production crew assert, and the late director's daughter acknowledges, that Sam definitely was inspired by Freleng.
Other influences were the Red Skelton character Sheriff Deadeye and the Tex Avery cartoon "Dangerous Dan McFoo". When he does a "slow burn" and cries "Oooooh!" he borrows a bit from such comedic character actors as Jimmy Finlayson (a frequent foil to Laurel and Hardy) and Frank Nelson (one of Mel Blanc's costars on The Jack Benny Program). Freleng also cited the Terrible-Tempered Mr. Bang, a character in the Toonerville Trolley comic strip, as an influence. In his memoir Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist, Chuck Jones says that a great-uncle who occasionally visited his family was a retired Texas Ranger who was short, had red hair, a large mustache, and a hair-trigger temper. Mike Maltese originally considered calling the character Texas Tiny, Wyoming Willie, or Denver Dan, but then settled on the final name.
A running gag in the show is that sometimes Yosemite Sam tells Bugs "Open up this door open it up now!" and Bugs opens it when Yosemite Sam is in its' way of opening and then closes it leaving a raging Yosemite Sam flattened.
Other characters with Sam-like features appear in several Looney Tunes shorts. The Bugs Bunny entry Super-Rabbit (1943) features the cowboy character "Cottontail Smith", who sounds a lot like Sam. Stage Door Cartoon (1944), another Bugs Bunny offering, features a southern sheriff character that sounds very much like Sam, except for a more defined southern stereotype to his voice. In a Daffy Duck cartoon called Along Came Daffy (1947), Daffy has to contend with two Yosemite Sams, one with Sam's red hair and one with black hair. Finally, Pancho's Hideaway (1964) features a Mexican villain who is designed much like Sam but has a different accent. In addition, in the 1949, Chuck Jones-directed cartoon Mississippi Hare, Bugs Bunny battles with an old, pistol-toting gambler called Colonel Shuffle, one whose role could have easily been portrayed by Sam. (The Colonel reappears in "Dog Gone South", this time pitted against Charlie Dog, and accompanied by a bulldog named Belvedere, who resembles Hector the Bulldog).
Freleng created Yosemite Sam to be a more worthy adversary for Bugs Bunny. Until then, Bugs' major foe had been Elmer Fudd, a man so mild-mannered and dim-witted that Freleng thought Bugs actually came off as a bully by duping him. Sam, on the other hand, was extremely violent and belligerent, not at all a pushover like Fudd. Freleng compacted into a tiny body and 11-gallon hat the largest voice and the largest ego "north, south, east, aaaaand west of the Pecos".
For over 19 years, except for one cartoon (Hare-Abian Nights in 1959) Freleng's unit had exclusive usage of Sam at the Warner studio. Though officially a cowboy, Freleng put Sam in a different costume in almost every film: a knight, a Roman legionary, a pirate, a royal cook, a prison guard, a duke (Duke of Yosemite, no less), a Confederate soldier, a mountain climber (climbing the 'Shmadderhorn' mountain in Switzerland), a hen-pecked househusband and even a space alien. The humor of the cartoons inevitably springs from the odd miscasting of the hot-tempered cowboy. However, some countries seem to prefer his pirate incarnation, as "Sam the pirate" is his official name in France and a frequent alternative name in Italy. While Sam's basic character is that of a cowboy, he wears a black mask (or actually, just a wide black outline on the outer sides of his eyes) to show that he's an outlaw. This is so associated with his persona that he wears the mask even when dressed as a duke, a riff, a pirate, or a Viking.
Sam is significantly tougher and more aggressive than Elmer Fudd when challenging Bugs Bunny. He is also quicker to learn from his mistakes, and never falls for the same ploy twice. But despite Sam's bluster, he doesn't prove much brighter than Elmer in his encounters with Bugs. His noise contrasts to the calmly cocky rabbit. Sam's own cockiness gets the best of him; Bugs can see he is incapable of turning down a challenge. Every time Bugs dares Sam to "step across that line", he can't help but do so, even if he steps off into empty space or down a mine shaft. In Wild and Woolly Hare Sam and Bugs play "Chicken" in two locomotives going toward one another-Sam doesn't crash into Bugs but still ends up losing. In the classic Knighty Knight Bugs Sam is a black knight with a fire breathing dragon.
While unscrupulous and ornery himself, Sam consistently displays an odd respect for religious conventions. Whenever he is preparing to shoot Bugs, he tells the "varmint," "Now say your prayers!", allowing Bugs enough time to foil his intentions.
He appears in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit". There, when Eddie Valiant is going to Marvin Acme's factory to investigate his murder, he walks past Sam, whose behind caught fire.
In the spinoff series "Tiny Toon Adventues", he is the mentor and idol to the evil millionaire Max Montana who acts as the main antagonist of the show.
In "Space Jam", he is part of the Tune Squad team.
In "Looney Tunes: Back in Action", he acts as an agent of Mr. Chairman, the CEO of ACME. He tries to get D.J. Drake, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Kate Houghton, but fails when a lit stick of dynamite blows him and his car up.
In “Duck Dodgers” the television series he is K'Chutha Sa'am, leader of the Klunkins that first appeared in a plot to take over Earth, only to be thwarted by Cadet.
The Looney Tunes Show
In “The Looney Tunes Show” Yosemite Sam is both short and short-tempered. He is an arrogant man with a western accent who is shown as an antagonist to Bugs and Daffy alike due to his mooching and all around snobby attitude. Yosemite Sam lives in a broken down house next door to Bugs and Daffy.
Although he is an antagonist to Bugs and Daffy he isn’t as antagonistic as he was in the shorts. He often asks Bugs for help on his extreme activities or with other problems to which Bugs is usually open to help. It is revealed in the episode “Mr. Weiner” when Sam needed Bugs’ help to jump over a row of motorcycles with a school bus that Sam regards Bugs as his best friend.
Yosemite Sam is one of Bugs' toughest antagonists. Yosemite Sam is a character more violent than Bugs' most famous antagonist Elmer Fudd given that Sam has a tougher accent, a higher fierce voice, and a more violent spirit. Yosemite Sam has had several occupations in his life that Bugs has gotten in the way of. Among his occupations are:
Police Officer/Prison Guard: In Big House Bunny Yosemite Sam arrests and imprisons Bugs for a false accusation (escaping prison) and gives him 99 years in jail. However he gets infuriated and lets Bugs out of prison after Bugs annoys him including briefly getting Sam beaten up and locked up in jail himself. However when letting Bugs out he is arrested and jailed by the Warden for Bugs' doings and for letting a prisoner (Bugs) escape.
Pirate: In Captain Hareblower Yosemite Sam is a pirate captain who is able to intimidate and scare sailors and other pirates. Captain Sam encounters a trading ship led by Bugs Bunny and decides to take it for himself. With all of Bugs' fellow sailors too cowardly to face Sam and drowned in the ocean; Bugs challenges Sam to a fight. Captain Sam and Bugs Bunny battle each other's ships with Bugs on the verge of winning. The battle ends up with Sam being forced to abandon ship to escape an inevitable explosion on his own pirate ship. Captain Yosemite Sam then triumphs over Bugs by lighting Bugs' gunpowder room into exploding and escaping by himself; but not before giving a warning for Bugs to leave; an order Bugs Bunny does not follow.
Riff-Raffer/Cowboy: In Sahara Hare, Yosemite Sam is a proud intimidating African version of a cowboy; a Riff-Raffer who owns the Sahara desert. When Bugs ends up in the desert when trying to find the beach, he sees Bugs trespassing and chases Bugs into a deserted castle. Yosemite Sam sees Bugs using the castle for protection and tries several unsuccessful attempts at breaking into the castle; eventually ending with Bugs escaping after causing a booby trap that Sam falls for; an armed bomb coated door that will explode if Sam opens the door to the castle.
Indian Chief: In Horse Hare, Yosemite Sam is the chief of an Indian tribe during the Indian-American wars in 1866. One day Yosemite Sam sees a USA fort and decides to steal it for his tribe. He sees that Sergeant Bugs Bunny is guarding the fort and challenges him to war. Chief Sam has his men attack through various means such as launching himself into the fort, firing guns, etcetera but Sam is put on probation when he is accused of firing at one of his soldiers (It was actually Bugs). Eventually the USA cavalry return and help Bugs defeat Sam and his army of Indians. Legendary Mountain Climber: A legendary mountain climber, in Piker's Peak Sam hears of a contest where whoever hikes up and reaches the deadly highest mountain in the world, will receive money equaled to trillions of dollars in today's money; 50,000 Cronkites (Named after legendary TV host Walter Cronkite). Yosemite Sam takes the contest and decides to climb up the mountain which is based on Pike's Peak. However when he reaches base-camp at thousands of feet, he encounters Bugs Bunny who hears about the contest. With both of them wanting the prize, Yosemite Sam then must race and defeat Bugs along the way up to Piker's Peak to get the money.
Cowboy: In Wild and Woolly Hare, Yosemite Sam is a legendary cowboy gangster who dominates much of the wild west through intimidation. One day he comes to take over a cafe in an old western town and is insulted by Bugs Bunny. Angered by the insult, Yosemite Sam challenges Bugs Bunny to a fight to the death. With Bugs on the verge of winning through trickery and deception, Yosemite Sam decides to try one last time to intimidate the town; to rob a train. But Bugs Bunny hijacks the train to save it. Yosemite Sam tries to follow it by horse and orders Bugs to get off by the time he counts to a specific number. However just before he reaches his final number he always runs into something such as a telephone pole, a tunnel wall and falling off a bridge. A frustrated Yosemite Sam tries to get on another train and force Bugs to surrender by preparing to ram head-on into Bugs' train. However Bugs foils him by switching the railroad tracks causing Sam's train engine to crash hundreds of feet, into a gorge's river.
Alien/Astronaut: In Lighter Than Hare Yosemite Sam of Outer Space is an alien from a foreign planet. Inside a flying saucer spaceship, Yosemite Sam reveals his mission to find an earth creature to take back to his planet for uses such as slaves, producing on their planet etcetera. Yosemite Sam detects Bugs Bunny and has his armies of robots to attack Bugs' hideout. After a long struggle Yosemite Sam's armies of robots are blown to pieces. Finally an exasperated Yosemite Sam uses an incinerating laser cannon to threaten Bugs into surrendering and boarding his space ship. Yosemite Sam then flies out of earth to his planet, unaware that he has actually captured a decoy of Bugs filled with bombs. When Yosemite Sam presents the dummy to his leader, the bombs explode.
Sailor: In Rabbitson Crusoe Yosemite Sam is a sailor whose boat has sank in a thunderstorm in the Pacific Ocean. Yosemite Sam jumps across rocks to a deserted island and spends there for many years but being targeted for a meal by a shark named Dopey Dick. After some time, Yosemite Sam grows tired of eating coconuts and finds Bugs Bunny. He decides to cook up Bugs for dinner. After a long battle, eventually the island is reclaimed by the seas and Yosemite Sam ends up being chased by Dopey Dick. Yosemite Sam is then forced to make a deal with Bugs where Bugs will not let Dopey Dick eat Sam; and take Yosemite in his boat (the cooking pot) back to civilization but only if Yosemite Sam is the one that does all the work in paddling 2,736 miles to San Francisco California USA.
Chef: In Shishkabugs Yosemite Sam has one of his rare performances where his goal is not for evil purposes and where he is not the aggressor. In this episode, Sam is a very kind, generous chef for a very rude spoiled king who has Sam enslaved through blackmail. One day Sam makes the king a usual buffet only for the King to rudely kick it away and demand something new. That something new is Hasenpfeffer whose base is cooked rabbit. Sam captures Bugs and puts Bugs in the meal but Bugs outsmarts Sam twice and the King blames it all on Sam. Eventually the King loses his patience, has guards arrest Sam and installs Bugs as his new chef. The King claims to have set up Sam's death but since Sam is seen alive in more episodes it is presumed that either he was found not guilty by the kingdom court, the citizens demanded Sam's release, or Sam escaped.
Sam has, on several accounts, attempted to rid himself of his arch nemesis, Bugs Bunny, but he has never succeeded, due to the brilliant cleverness and cunning of Bugs. No matter how many times he tries, Sam always seems to experience some form of pain or humiliation when he challenges Bugs.
Yosemite Sam is a small fellow with a big mouth. He is bad-tempered, often drawing his guns on anyone who dares to defy him. He is much like a character from a Western movie, wearing a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. He is reckling, very stubborn, and hates it when he's wrong and hates it so much, in fact, that he shoots bullets at random targets, but never hits anyone. He possesses a mean and somewhat vindictive streak.
However, he has taken the roles of several other positions, such as a knight and mayor, but the miniature bandit is best known for his Western cartoons, even though his non-Western Knighty Knight Bugs cartoon won an Academy Award.
The role of Yosemite Sam was originated by the Warners' principal voiceman, Mel Blanc. In his autobiography, Blanc said he had a difficult time coming up with the voice. He tried giving Sam a small voice, but didn't feel that it worked. One day, he decided to simply yell at the top of his voice, which was inspired by a fit of road rage he had that day. It fit perfectly with the blustery character, but also took a toll on Mel. He always made it a point to record Sam's lines at the end of a recording session so he wouldn't have to play other characters with a hoarse voice.
In his final years, it was simply too much, and he passed along the role of Sam to Joe Alaskey in Who Framed Roger Rabbit while Blanc did most of the other Looney Tunes roles in that movie. This makes Sam one of the few voices created by Blanc to be voiced by someone else during his lifetime. Blanc used a voice similar to Yosemite Sam's for Mr. Spacely on The Jetsons. Sam's other portrayers iclude:
- Joe Alaskey (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Tiny Toon Adventures)
- Jeff Bergman (Blooper Bunny, Invasion of the Bunny Snatchers, Tiny Toon Adventures)
- Charlie Adler (1 episode of Tiny Toon Adventures)
- Maurice LaMarche (Tiny Toon Adventures, Taz-Mania, Carrotblanca, Looney Tunes: Reality Check, Looney Tunes: Stranger than Fiction, Duck Dodgers, Bah Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas, The Looney Tunes Show, various video games)
- Greg Burson (1 episode of Animaniacs)
- Jim Cummings (Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries, Animaniacs, Tweety's High-Flying Adventure)
- Bill Farmer (Space Jam)
- Frank Gorshin (From Hare to Eternity)
- Jeff Bennett (Looney Tunes Back In Action, Hare and Loathing in Las Vegas)
- Fred Tatasciore (Space Jam: A New Legacy)
In popular culture
Yosemite Sam appears in the Drawn Together episode "Charlotte's Web of Lies". He is seen in Ling-Ling's Anger Management group with Hulk, Marvin the Martian, and Skeletor.
In an episode of How I Met Your Mother to make fun of the news anchor Sandy, Ted and Marshall make him "Yosemite Sandy" by putting a hat and mustache on the TV screen during the news.
On an episode of Night Court, Dan (John Larroquette) is forced into impersonating Yosemite Sam by a mentally disturbed woman he's dating.
On an episode of Two and a Half Men, Charlie remembers his mother having sex with a man that resembled Yosemite Sam, since then, when he sees Yosemite Sam on TV, he gets nauseated. At the end of the episode, we see Jake watching Yosemite Sam on TV, much to Charlie's dismay.
He was one of Joey Gladstone's favorite impressions in the show Full House.
In the Family Guy episode titled "Tales of a Third Grade Nothing", Yosemite Sam (voiced by John Kassir) is seen complaining about his "penis-compressingest, sperm-killingest, testicle-grippingest" jeans.
In SuperNews!, Yosamite Sam is an employee of the Blackwater mercenary company and work as a drill sergeant to John Rambo, another employee of Blackwater company.
Yosemite Sam may likely have been the inspiration for the Sesame Street Muppet character, "Sinister Sam”.
Yosemite Sam is mentioned by name in the following songs:
- "Lady Cab Driver", performed by Prince on his 1982 album, 1999.
- "The Coalition To Ban Coalitions" by Hank Williams Jr.
- "Egg Man" by the Beastie Boys on their album Paul's Boutique.
- "Rooting For The Bad Guy" by The Wildhearts on their 2007 self-titled album.
- "Dirt Off Your Shoulder Freestyle" by Cassidy.
- "I Hear Voices" by Kasabian on their album Velociraptor!.
- "Complex" by "Merkules & Prada West".
- "Can You Take It?" by Devo on their album Hardcore Devo, Vol. 2
- "Uh Oh" by King Kong on their album Funny Farm
Yosemite Sam appears on the logo of the KIJHL hockey team, the Castlegar Rebels.
Yosemite Sam was the cartoon icon of the similarly-mustachioed Pittsburgh Pirates player Phil Garner in the late 1970s.
The image of Yosemite Sam has been printed on mudflaps with the words, "Back off!".
The band Matt Bunsen and the Burners recorded a song entitled "I'm Yosemite Sam" which deploys the first paragraph, and the 'Voice' section of this Wikipedia entry as lyrics for the verses of the song.