Obscure Obit Leads to New Meaning in Daffy Duck Cartoon


While noodling through Wikipedia, catching up on my notable deaths, I saw one for a 92 year old lady whom I had never heard of. The link there was about something called the “Sleepy Lagoon Murder” in 1942. The lady, I gathered, was an activist in the defense of the case. I had never heard of this incident of anti-Mexican bias in a murder investigation before, even though I try to keep well studied in famous murder cases.

Interesting enough, except that the name Sleepy Lagoon seemed familiar to me somehow. With some musing, it came to me. I remember a Daffy Duck cartoon where Daffy plays an agent who torments Porky Pig, a show producer, to hire his client: a short, slow-acting duck named Sleepy Lagoon. Sleepy Lagoon spends the entire cartoon licking a giant lollipop until the end when he breaks into a baritone singing voice, and then is overcome with a hacking coughing fit.

Sleepy Lagoon never appeared in another Warner Brothers cartoon that I know of. But still, naming a one-off character after a controversial murder case? How very South Park-esque. I wouldn’t expect that in a Forties cartoon, not even from Warner Brothers.

The short is called Yankee Doodle Daffy, and the character of Sleepy LaGoon is more likely named after the #1 hit song that predates the murder case, but the timing is definitely interesting.

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Also inspired one of my favorite movies, Zoot Suit

True, in fact, I believe the name is probably a double entendre. The cartoonists had to be aware of the murder and the hoo-hah surrounding it. They were living right there in the middle of where it happened, and the newspapers were screaming about it all the time. So in the unlikely event someone complained about the name of the character, they could always insist he was named after the song. Maybe that’s why they didn’t make Sleepy Lagoon a Mexican stereotype. Daffy does do a Carmen Miranda routine in the short, but of course, she was a Brazilian. One wonders whether your average racist would make that distinction.

The young Edward James Olmos’ starred in the Broadway musical version, as El Pachuco, the embodiment of Mexican machisimo.

Also interesting is Daffy’s aside to Porky before he gets into sarong and fruit headress, saying something like, “You’ll like this, chum!” with a wink and an elbow in the ribs. In the idiom of the day, he appears to be indicating that what Porky is about to see is, well, racy.

Apropos of this, from the Wikipedia article on the Daffy Duck cartoon: