Encyclopedia of Cartoon Superstars
by John Cawley & Jim Korkis
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Pink Panther

Superstar Summary
THE STAR: The Pink Panther
STUDIO OF DEBUT: United Artists
SIGNATURE: Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum-da-dum-da-dum (theme music)

KEY CREW BEHIND THE STAR: David DePatie and Friz Freleng (producers), Hawley Pratt (designer and key director), John Dunn, Jim Ryan (main writers), Henry Mancini (theme)

CAREER HIGH: THE PINK PHINK (1964) - Less than a year after his debut as a movie title, the Panther stars in his own short and wins an Oscar!

The Pink Panther is a most unique character. Born from a movie title sequence, and featuring no voice, he is perhaps the only cartoon character based on elegance and "style." Like Roger Rabbit, he is one of the few theatrical cartoon superstars to be created since the end of the Fifties. His popularity continues on much to the surprise of those who created him over 25 years ago.

As he is so named, this adult panther is pink. His eyes are often large and yellow so they can be more expressive although most people remember them as always being white. He is tall and lean and has a long, snake-like tail. In his early outings, he has a cigarette holder to reinforce the sophisticated image. He also generally walks in time to his music.

The music, "The Pink Panther Theme," by Henry Mancini is one of the most famous cartoon compositions. Not since Laurel & Hardy's "March of the Cuckoos" has a theme brought such instant recognition of a character. Its deceptively simple rhthym and beat are an audio recreation of the Panther's grace, style and wit. Mancini actually appeared with the Panther in PINK, PLUNK, PLINK (1966) where a live action Mancini applauds the Panther's performance at the Hollywood Bowl.

He officially never speaks, however in two shorts a voice was tested. In SINK PINK (1965), while working on an "Ark," he talks briefly in a Rex Harrison-type voice. PINK ICE (1965), in which he handles diamonds, also has him speaking in the same manner. Reportedly impressionist Rich Little supplied the voice. These experiments were unsuccessful with audiences so the Panther remained silent the rest of his screen career.

Actually, though he never speaks, he does make sounds. For example, THE HAND IS PINKER THAN THE EYE (1967) has him scream in pain. In SUPER PINK (1966) he makes "judo" sounds as he approaches some villains.

Not since the early Felix the Cat has a character been so concerned with pantomime. His jaunty, bouncing walk also harkens back to the famous black cat who paced his way to fame. However, he is more elegant and less catlike than Felix.

He lives in all worlds. As a movie title, he is able to change his shape and costume at a moment's notice. He is given a magical ability to appear and disappear as needed. In these adventures, he is often found doing a battle of wits with an animated inspector who is trying to track him down.

As a full-fledged cartoon character, he also has a great deal of freedom. He is almost always himself, silent, dignified and attempting to remain cool. A bit of a vagabond, his early adventures seem to be about him trying to experience life among the human species. No humans ever seem perplexed at this Panther who is the only intelligent anthropormophic animal in his cartoon universe. (Other animals, like dogs, behave like dogs.)

He wanders the world joining in whatever activity fits him. In one adventure he joins the Army (G.I. PINK, 1968). He flies and becomes a kite in SKY BLUE PINK (1967). PREFABRICATED PINK (1967) has him try his hand as a construction worker. In these shorts not only does he accomplish his work, sometimes at the expense of others, but he shows quite a bit of cleverness and resolve. It's only in his later years that he begins to lose this cleverness.

He can appear at any time. EXTINCT PINK (1969) shows him in prehistoric times as he battles dinosaurs and cavemen over a bone. Medieval times are his home in THE PINK PIPER (1975). However, he seems most at home in present time.

The Panther also has the distinction of being one of the few cartoon characters to be multiple-owned. Those who have a piece of the Panther include DePatie-Freleng (the studio that first animated him), Blake Edwards (producer of the first feature), Mirisch Productions (production company of the first feature) and MGM (due to the fact that they acquired United Artists, who first distributed the picture). Any of these parties can do something with the Panther as long as all the other parties agree. (Because of this arrangement, DePatie and Freleng continue to earn money on the character.)

The Pink Panther is one of the few key cartoon characters created since the end of the "golden days" of animation in the late Fifties. The fact that he has been able to hold his own shows that this silent cat has more than nine lives.


In 1964, two forces were moving towards each other. The first was the studio of DePatie-Freleng. Both men had been at Warner Brothers when the shorts department closed down. They were now in the business of doing commercials. Blake Edwards, a TV and Feature producer was completing his comic farce, THE PINK PANTHER.

The film's story was about a smooth thief, known as the Phantom (David Niven), attempting to steal the most valuable jewel in the world, "The Pink Panther." The jewel has been so named because of a flaw in it that looks "like a tiny pink panther." Making life difficult for the thief is the fact that the famous, bumbling Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) is on his heels. Unbeknownst to the Inspector, his wife is a lover of the thief. It was a delightful "caper" film with strong elements of farce and slapstick.

DePatie, who was an associate of Edwards received a call one day from the producer-director. He stated his latest film, THE PINK PANTHER was "screaming" for an animated title sequence. Freleng had his crew draw up around 80 different designs for a "pink panther." They showed them to Edwards who immediately pointed to one and claimed that "was it." The design chosen was one from the group by Hawley Pratt.

Pratt had been one of the key layout artists in the classic days of Warners. In fact, in the early Sixties Freleng and Chuck Jones had begun giving Pratt co-directing credit on many shorts. Pratt was considered one of the better draftsmen at Warners and even did a large number of childrens and Little Golden Books throughout the Fifties and Sixties.

The studio went to work and created the opening titles. In them, the animated Panther appears out of the flaw in the gem. He is sitting on his haunches (some scenes in the first title make him much more pantherlike than human), holding a cigarette in the holder. He turns to the audience and smiles, scampering through the credits in an unprecedented manner. At the film's end, he reappears to hold up a "the end" sign.

The title got almost as much praise and applause as the film. Supposedly some audiences remained in the theater after the film just to see the opening credits again. At that time, it was fairly unusual for a live action film to have an animated title sequence. (A handful of earlier films had featured animated title sequences including 1948's ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN.) The publicity impressed United Artists and they decided to take a chance and ordered DePatie-Freleng to make a couple of theatrical shorts based on the character.

The studio went to work on THE PINK PHINK (1964). This short established all the key elements for the series. First, the Panther remained silent. However, this meant that no one else could talk in the short either. (The producers felt that if any of the characters talked, it would appear as if the Panther were mute.) Second, the character is very image conscious. In the short he continually tries to paint a house pink, while the owner, a short squat man, attempts to paint it blue. Finally, the Panther demonstrates some magical ability, especially the ability to appear from almost anyplace. (This magical ability comes and goes as dictated by the shorts' stories.)

THE PINK PHINK debuted on December 18th and was fairly successful. Most of the critics found it an amusing entry and commented on its origin as a film title. More impressed was the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences who awarded the film the Oscar for Best Animated Short. The Panther and DePatie- Freleng were on their way.

They began producing shorts in quick succession, around eight to twelve per year. The peak year was 1968 with 17 released that year alone! The first several years of shorts showed a great deal of imagination and styling. This can be credited to a number of key personnel. Hawley Pratt, who had designed the Panther was the director of the shorts for the first few years. He maintained a crisp tempo to the shorts. It wasn't the fluid speed of Warners, nor the static look of TV. The original Panther shorts projected a fresh look for the time. They were reminiscent of the groundbreaking UPA cartoons, yet distinctly individual on its own. Pratt's world included a society of short, large nosed humans and squat, stubby dogs. It's a look that is still attractive. Starting with the shorts in 1967, several new directors were added including Gerry Chiniquy, Art Davis and even Freleng, himself.

Also of key importance was the main writer, John W. Dunn. A former Disney storyman, Dunn joined Warners in the early Sixties. (He basically replaced Warners top storymen Warren Foster and Michael Maltese who had gone over to Hanna-Barbera.) Dunn scripted some of the best late entry Warners shorts for such directors as Freleng and Jones. In fact, of the six Warners shorts nominated for Oscars in the Sixties, he wrote three of them.

Dunn's Panther was almost always an innocent character who was trying to help. This made him almost Chaplinesque. In SUPER PINK (1966), the Panther is inspired by Super Guy Comics to become a costumed hero. However, with no real powers, he causes a little old lady to be run over by a car, hit by falling piano (he holds an umbrella over her for protection) and crushed by a rock. Finally after accidentally pushing her car into the path of a train, she goes into a phone booth and comes out in a superhero costume and begins chasing the Panther!

Another Dunn classic is SLINK PINK (1969), directed by Freleng. This features the recurring idea that the Panther is a homeless character. Here the Panther is seen sleeping on a park bench in the snow. When he walks and finds a warm house, he sneaks in and manages to avoid the master. However, he's continually seen by the dog. No matter how the dog tries to prove there is a Panther in the house, it always backfires with the dog getting punished.

The series other regular writer, Jim Ryan, tended to find the bizarre side of the Panther. PSYCHEDLIC PINK (1967) has the Panther discover the Bizarre Book Shop where he meets a strange fellow, falls through holes that aren't there and accidentally changes perspective. The Panther has a strange day at the beach in COME ON IN THE WATER'S PINK (1968). He has beach bag with a never ending supply of inflatable toys and attractions that makes him the hit of the beach, much to the irritation of a muscle- bound bully. After the bully tries several schemes to get rid of the popular Panther, the muscular man gets pricked and deflates. The Panther picks up the deflated figure, puts it in his beach bag and leaves!

One of the key artists behind the Panther was Art Leonardi. During productions of the shorts, he was considered the top Panther artist. He even contributed scripts to the series. His PINK OUTS (1966) is a string of clever, surreal and sometimes hilarious blackouts. Leonardi was often brought back in later years to work on the titles and specials.

After the market for theatrical shorts finally ceased, the next step was TV. In 1969 NBC debuted THE PINK PANTHER SHOW. The show consisted of two shorts starring the Panther and one starring The Inspector. This was another theatrical series done by DePatie-Freleng. It was based on the Inspector Clouseau character created by Peter Sellers. A live action host, assisted by puppets, appeared on the series its first two seasons.

1971 premiered THE NEW PINK PANTHER SHOW. This half hour series ran through 1976 and again featured theatrical Panther cartoons along with The Inspector and newcomer, The Ant And The Aardvark. This DePatie-Freleng series was similar to the Coyote- Road Runner series only it featured a purple aardvark (drawn more like an anteater) continually trying to catch an ant.

In a special promotional move, General Foods, a heavy sponsor of the show, compiled a group of the cartoons and released them theatrically in 1972. The PINK PANTHER CARTOON FESTIVAL played at theaters around the country.

THE RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER (1975) brought the Panther back to his theatrical title roots. The film's titles were once again a highlight. They were more elaborate and the Panther was more involved. The Panther did impressions of a number of key stars from Fred Astaire to Boris Karloff to Groucho Marx as he evaded the Inspector. This title sequence was handled by Richard Williams in England. Williams would eventually be instrumental in creating the only other modern, theatrical cartoon superstar, Roger Rabbit!

The Fall of 1976 found THE PINK PANTHER LAUGH & 1/2 HOUR & 1/2 SHOW. It was the first 90 minute Saturday morning series. New to the collection of cartoons were THE TEXAS TOADS, a theatrical series originally titled THE TIJUANA TOADS, and MISTERJAWS, a TV "original" about a German shark. The series lasted only one season.

Once again the Panther headed to the big screen for THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN (1976). His animated titles were again handled by Richard Williams and featured a dazzling display of art deco and even more elaborate spoofs of Hollywood. In one shot, the audience sees the spectacular opening of THE SOUND OF MUSIC with the image of Julie Andrews on the hilltop. However, as the camera nears and she turns around, the audience finds she has been replaced by the Pink Panther.

THINK PINK PANTHER! was launched as a mid-season replacement show in the Spring of 1978. THE TEXAS TOADS and MISTERJAWS were along for the short ride. It left the airwaves in the Fall of 1978.

THE REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER (1978) proved to be the last true film in the series, as Peter Sellers died in 1980. However, the feature had DePatie-Freleng return for the animated credits.

ABC picked up the character in 1978 for THE ALL-NEW PINK PANTHER SHOW. This series featured all new cartoons, including a new series, CRAZYLEGS CRANE (a secondary character in THE TEXAS TOADS). Once again, the series lasted only one season. At this point the package of Panther cartoons went into syndication and appeared on numerous local stations.

However, the Panther was given new life that year when NBC broadcast the first Panther prime time special, A PINK CHRISTMAS (1978). The special was directed by Bill Perez and written by Panther regulars John Dunn and Friz Freleng. An oddly dark special, the story (loosely based on O. Henry's "The Cop and the Anthem") featured the Panther in his grimmest predicament. It also removed the Panther from his brightly colored world found in the shorts. For this and other specials, the Panther was surrounded by a realistic looking world and people.

It's Christmas Eve and the Panther is homeless and hungry. Happy scenes of Christmas and new songs (written by Doug Goodwin) play counterpoint to the Panther and other homeless people. After many attempts to get food fail (including a bread line and trying to go to jail), he locates a donut. He shares it with a hungry dog who follows him back to the park bench the Panther calls home. In an abrupt ending, a full course meal suddenly appears, courtesy of Santa Claus.

The Panther's next gig was the prime time PINK PANTHER IN OLYM-PINKS (1980). Directed by Freleng and written by Freleng, Dunn and David Detiege, the special was more like a Panther short. The Olympics are being held and the Panther competes against a cheater, who as all cartoon watchers realize, loses.

It was in 1980 when DePatie-Freleng officially closed. Freleng went back to Warners where he worked with other characters he'd been involved with such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Tweety. This put the Panther in different hands.

PINK AT FIRST SIGHT (1981) offered a slightly different Panther in prime time. Based around Valentine's Day, the story featured a lonely, loveless Panther who imagines every (human) woman he sees as a female panther. So lovesick, he even fantasizes that a child's Teddy Bear is a woman and sensually hugs it. He gets a job as a delivery man to raise money, but generally causes misery and disaster wherever he goes. Just as in the PINK CHRISTMAS special, it ends with him at his park bench when suddenly, out of nowhere, his female panther passes by and drops her handkerchief which has "Be my Valentine" written on it.

This Panther was quite different than the earlier Panther. First, the humans talked. This made it quite clear the Panther was mute. As if to emphasize the point, the only way the Panther can get a job as the delivery person is to mouth the words to songs played on a tape recorder he carries with him!

The new Panther was from Marvel Productions, a studio known for it's TV series like MUPPET BABIES, G.I. JOE, THE TRANSFORMERS and MY LITTLE PONY. The special was directed by Bob Richardson (of MUPPET BABIES) and written by Owen Crump and D.W. Owen. Marvel also did the titles for the final two Pink Panther movies: TRAIL OF THE PINK PANTHER (1982), which used outtake footage of Sellers and clips to tell a story, and finally CURSE OF THE PINK PANTHER (1983) which attempted to launch a new bumbling detective.

The Panther strode back into Saturday morning in 1984 with PINK PANTHER AND SONS from Hanna-Barbera on NBC. The series introduced his "sons," Pinky and Panky. Pinky, the elder son, wore a loose sweatshirt, while Panky, the baby, wore diapers. (The father wore nothing.) No mention was made of their mother. Once again, the Panther was seen as mute since other characters, including his sons, talked. In this series, the Panther was more or less merely a supporting character. The stories generally revolved around the sons and their gang the "rainbow panthers," a group of young panthers who were all different colors. The show lasted one season.

The Panther attempted another shot at prime time in 1989 when CBS optioned a live action animated pilot. The plot featured the Panther stepping out of a cartoon to assist a journalist caught in a burning theater. Before he can get back into the screen, it burns, trapping the Panther in the "real" world. However, only the journalist can see or hear the Panther. Yes, hear. The show's creators felt that the Panther would have to speak. Several voices were tested and the final one was a Jack Nicholson-style, cool character.

The pilot was shot and the animation was supervised by the Film Roman studio. (Roman's studio is best known for the Emmy Winning Garfield TV specials.) When new CBS head Jeff Sagansky took over control of the network, he viewed the pilot. He loved the idea of mixing the animated Panther with live action. However, he hated the idea of a journalist, he hated the origin story, and he hated the fact that the Panther talked. He did like the animation. Work was begun on a new pilot.


The Pink Panther was truly a solitary character, never officially having any kind of co-star. He might meet up with anything from an elephant to an irate painter, but these were all one-shot personalities. At times it appears that he has a standard cast due to the similarity in character designs, especially what seems to be a recurring male character. Generally the people are short and squat, around half the height of the Panther.

In the feature titles, he was teamed with The Inspector. Once again, this was a short, squat character. He was dressed in the typical trench coat and often sported a magnifying glass. Not only did he appear in his own series of cartoons, but he appeared in his own movie title: A SHOT IN THE DARK (1964). This Inspector much more closely resembled a caricature of Clouseau (Peter Sellers) than the Inspector in the TV cartoons did.


Once the Panther began his own series of shorts, he became a popular character for merchandising. By the end of the Seventies over 250 companies worldwide held licensing rights. He was found on almost every imaginable object.

From 1971 to 1984, Gold Key published over 80 issues of THE PINK PNATHER comic book. To aid the telling of stories, the Pink Panther did speak and his dialog was written in a very "proper" voice. the Pink Panther also appeared in his own stories in the short lived THE INSPECTOR comic book series from Gold Key (1974- 1978).

For many years he was the silent spokesperson for Owens Corning Fiberglass insulation. (These commercials were animated by Richard Williams, who did several of the Panther's feature titles.) He was also the silent spokesperson for everything from Kodak film developing to Safeco Insurance.

He has even found himself in the food arena. In 1974, Post (General Foods) released Pink Panther Flakes. They were frosted corn flakes, colored pink! The cereal line only lasted through two box designs. More recently, Pink Panther Pink Lemonade has appeared from Natural Choice.


The Pink Panther became an international superstar in very little time. Oddly, the fact that he doesn't speak has helped his rise to stardom. At first it was a novelty that attracted attention, later it became an easy way to market the character internationally. However, the Panther's popularity comes due to his emphasis on style. The less he spoke, the more popular he became. Like Roger Rabbit, he is a living testimony to the fact that it is the audience that makes a cartoon star a Superstar. Though he never speaks a word, his audience speaks in volumes... of laughter.


"The comments from the press was that the titles were better than the picture." - Friz Freleng, referring to the first PINK PANTHER title sequence

"The problem with him is to keep him slim and loose and not let him get dumpy - to keep him so that he's a catlike character." - Art Leonardi, Panther shorts animator

"We tried several voices with him, but nothing ever worked. Actually, since he was originally created for a main title and didn't speak, there wasn't any reason for him to ever speak." - Friz Freleng

"Very sophisticated - very cool; he's always on top of things. He's been very sophisticated from the very beginning but, as with all characters, his personality has changed some as we've progressed." - Art Leonardi, Panther shorts animator

"He's better than a child; he makes a living for us." - Friz Freleng, regarding creating the Panther

"...Is again introduced by the marvellous Richard Williams cartoon character who upstages all of the title credits and is, in effect, everything that Clouseau is not - urbane, witty, sly, quick-qitted and graceful." - Vincent Canby's review of THE RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER in the New York Times

"He's amazing. He came over here and spent weeks wiggling his behind backwards and forwards in order to feel the correct movement for that opening shot of the Panther." - Richard Williams describing animator Ken Harris, who was 77 years old in 1975 when he was doing this action for THE RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER

"The last thing I did for Warner Brothers was the Pink Panther. I didn't especially like the character, but I didn't dislike it. He was kind of hard to animate, with long legs and tail, but it worked out all right. I probably did 60% of the animation on the titles at the beginning." - Ken Harris