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Sylvester (Sylvester J. Pussycat, Sr. aka Puddy Tat) (Comic Book Character)

  • Sylvester aka Sylvester J. Pussycat, Sr. aka Puddy Tat

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Sylvester J. Pussycat, Sr., or simply, Sylvester the Cat, or Sylvester, or Puddy Tat (as in I tawt I taw a puddy tat, a sentence oft repeated by his arch-nemesis Tweety Bird.) or gringo pussy-gato (a sobriquet attached by another antagonist, Speedy Gonzales), is a fictional character, a three-time Academy Award-winning anthropomorphic tuxedo cat who appears in more than 90 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons made from 1945 to 1966, 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 Sylvester, and the Bob Clampett-directed Kitty Kornered (1946) was Sylvester's first pairing with Porky Pig. Sylvester appeared in only 96 cartoons in the golden age.

Sylvester was #33 on TV Guide's list of top 50 best cartoon characters, together with Tweety.

Sylvester's trademark is his sloppy, stridulating lisp. In his autobiography, That's Not All Folks!, voice actor Mel Blanc stated that Sylvester'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 producer Leon Schlesinger's. 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). In addition, director Bob Clampett, in a 1970 Funnyworld interview, agreed with Blanc's account concerning Schlesinger.

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/euphemism of "Suffering Savior". (Daffy also says "Sufferin' succotash!" from time to time.)

Prior to 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.

Sylvester 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. His character is basically that of Wile E. Coyote while chasing mice or birds. (One cartoon episode The Wild Chase paired Sylvester and Wile E. Coyote against the Road Runner and Speedy Gonzales. In the end both Sylvester and Wile E. fail as usual.) He shows a different character when paired with Porky Pig in explorations of spooky places, in which he doesn't speak as a scaredy cat. (In these cartoons, he basically plays the terrified Costello to Porky's oblivious Abbott.) 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.

Perhaps Sylvester's most developed role is in a series of Robert McKimson-directed shorts, in which the character is a hapless mouse-catching instructor to his dubious son, Sylvester Junior, with the "mouse" being a powerful baby kangaroo which he constantly mistakes for a "king-size mouse". His alternately confident and bewildered episodes bring his son to shame, while Sylvester himself is reduced to nervous breakdowns.

Sylvester also had atypical roles in a few cartoons:

Kitty Kornered (1946), a Bob Clampett cartoon in which a black-nosed, yellow-eyed Sylvester was teamed with three other cats to oust homeowner Porky Pig.
Back Alley Oproar (194Cool, a Friz Freleng cartoon (actually a remake of the 1941 short Notes To You) wherein Sylvester pesters the sleep-deprived Elmer Fudd by performing several amazing musical numbers in the alley (and even a sweet lullaby ("go to sleep...go to sleep...close your big bloodshot eyes...") to temporarily ease Elmer back to the dream world ... very temporarily.
The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950), a Chuck Jones cartoon in which Sylvester plays the Basil Rathbone-like villain to Daffy Duck's Errol Flynn-esque hero.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Sylvester appeared in various Warner Bros. television specials, and remaining in the 1980s, he appeared in the feature-film compilations.

In the television series Tiny Toon Adventures, Sylvester appeared as the mentor of Furrball. The character also starred in The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries. In the series, he plays the narrator in the beginning of episodes.

In Loonatics Unleashed Sylvester's descendent is Sylth Vester, a hitman hired by the villain, Queen Granicus to kill the Royal Tweetums so she won't have to lose her throne. Despite his best efforts he's beaten by the Loonatics. Later on the series, it is shown that he's not entirely a bad guy, for he helped the Loonatics finding the Royal Tweetums (who was hidden) and fighting against Optimatus and Deuce's, and their plan to take over the Universe. Just like his ancestor, Sylth Vester tries to kill Tweety's descendant, using all kinds of tricks.

In 1985, Sylvester could be heard in an episode of the game show Press Your Luck. Host Peter Tomarken had earlier incorrectly credited his catchphrase "Suffering Succotash!" to Daffy Duck. Even though all three contestants had correctly answered "Sylvester," they were ruled incorrect. In a segment produced later and edited into the broadcast, Sylvester phoned Tomarken and told him, "Daffy Duck steals from me all the time." All three participants returned to compete in future episodes.

Sylvester has "died" the most of any Looney Tunes characters, having "died" in "I Taw a Putty Tat", "Back Alley Oproar", "Peck Up Your Troubles", "Satan's Waitin'", "Mouse Mazurka", Tweety's Circus, "Tweet and Lovely", and The Rebel Without Claws.

Western Publications produced a comic book about Tweety and Sylvester entitled Tweety and Sylvester first in Dell Comics Four Color series #406, 489, and 524, then in their own title from Dell Comics (#4-37, 1954-62), then later from Gold Key Comics (#1-102, 1963-72). In a Garfield cartoon, he made a cameo by sending Rosalina (Garfield) a love letter.

Other Media
In the movie Kitten with a whip, there was a scene where a Sylvester cartoon "Canned Feud" was played on the television.

Sylvester appears in the Robot Chicken episode "Werewolf VS Unicorn" voiced by Frank Welker. During Arnold Schwarzenegger announcement of illegal aliens from Mexico, Sylvester demonstrates a wired fence that will keep the aliens out only for it to be penetrated by Speedy Gonzales.

Sylvester makes a cameo appearance in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, where he provides the punchline for a double-entendre joke regarding Judge Doom's identity.

Sylvester appears as part of the TuneSquad team in Space Jam, bearing the number 9 on his shirt.

He also has a cameo appearance in Looney Tunes: Back in Action, but this "Sylvester" is really Mr. Smith in disguise.

In an episode of Family Guy Peter makes a new Speedy Gonzales cartoon to hide the fact that he's a foreigner Sylvester makes a cameo attempting to catch him, he was voiced by Jeff Bergman in this appearance.

In Australia's Funniest Home Video Show The Cat Said "Suffering Succotash! Time for A Tweety Like Granny"

Until the mid 1960's many books called the house cat Felis sylvestris catus and asserted that it is a sub-species of the European Wildcat. But in the mid 1960's studies emerged correcting the lineage, so now the domestic cat is identified as a species by itself, being a descendent of Felis lybica - which in its own turn has recently been recognized as a species apart from Felis sylvestris.

In fact the picture is even more complex, since the classic distinction between species and sub-species used to depend on whether cross-breeding of animals of the two types produced fertile offspring. If it did, the animals were said to belong to sub-species within the same species. If not, they were recognized as being of separate species. If the distinction is made according to this test, then domestic cats and African Wildcats are both sub-species of the European Wildcat as all three can interbreed successfully and produce fertile offspring (cross breeding with feral domesticated cats is the greatest threat to the extant populations of several species of wild cats, including Felis sylvestris, Felis lybica and Felis chaus). In the last five decades genetic studies forced zoologists to abandon the classic distinction and adopt new tests based on gene analysis. According to these new test methods Felis sylvestris, Felis lybica and Felis catus (i.e. the European Wildcat, the African Wildcat and the Domestic Cat) belong to different, though very closely linked, species.

Sylvester the Cat was created in 1945, and the scientific knowledge prevalent at the time fully justified the claim made by his creators that he is named after the domestic cat's scientific name, Felis sylvestris. Over the years public relations outlets used by the studios made this claim regarding the naming of Sylvester common knowledge, immortalizing it despite the change in scientific taxonomy.

Incidentally, 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. He was most likely called Thomas as a reference to rival MGM's Tom and Jerry where Tom's unseen (from the head-up) owner Mammy Two-Shoes would always call him Thomas as well; thus, the name had to be changed. Like Mammy Two-Shoes, the woman who owned Thomas could not be seen from the head-up. Coincidentally, WB now owns the Tom & Jerry cartoons as well (through Turner Entertainment).

Other appearances
Sylvester (as well as Speedy Gonzales and Porky Pig) appeared in a skit seen at the end of an episode of the game show Press Your Luck. Earlier in the episode, Daffy Duck was incorrectly listed as the correct answer to the question "Which well-known cartoon character is famous for uttering the immortal words 'Sufferin' Succotash!'?" At the end of the episode, Mel Blanc called the show in his Sylvester voice to correct host Peter Tomarken on the gaffe. Tomarken assured "Sylvester" that future "Looney Tunes"-related questions would be run by Sylvester's office and that the three contestants in the episode would be given a second chance, as any spins that were to be awarded for the correct answer would have affected the course of the episode's gameplay.
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