How Michigan J. Frog Got His Name and the True Story Behind Him
For being such an iconic Looney Tunes character, Michigan J. Frog only starred in two 'official' cartoon shorts of his own: “One Froggy Evening” (1955) and “Another Froggy Evening” (1995). Why was he named 'Michigan'? Keep reading...
The original 1955 cartoon storyline is about a construction worker who finds a box hidden in the cornerstone of a demolished 1892 building. He opens it and a frog pops out who puts on a top hat, grabs a cane, and starts singing ragtime tunes. Naturally, the man sees this as a money-making venture and attempts to present the frog to a paying public. But the frog only sings to him and nobody else. Shamed and destitute, the man has enough, puts the frog back in the box, and places him in the cornerstone of a new building being built.
This cartoon plotline mirrors an event that happened in Texas back in 1928. Texas Hill Country says In the town of Eastland, their old 1897 courthouse was being demolished. When workers got to the cornerstone, they opened it and there was a horned toad. Still alive after 31 years, encased in concrete, and buried under a blanket of dust. He was given the name “Rip” after 'Rip Van Winkle' and soon made national news. Rip became so famous, he was even taken to Washington D.C. to meet president Calvin Coolidge.
Of course, exploiters can never leave a potential money-making item alone, and less than a year later, Ol' Rip died from pneumonia. The little horned toad was embalmed and given his own little coffin, which is on display in the new courthouse lobby in Eastland.
There are some who feel the whole thing is exaggerated, that the toad did indeed die in the cornerstone, and was switched with a live one. Either way, it is so similar to the tale of Michigan J. Frog, that it is widely believed that the cartoon was based on this real-life Texas incident. However, the cartoon's creator, Chuck Jones, is no longer around to verify.
OKAY.....now as to why the cartoon character was given the name “Michigan J. Frog” - did the cartoon take place in Michigan? No.
When The Bugs Bunny Show was on TV in the 60s, Jones named the frog “Enrico”. By the 1970s, the name “Enrico” must have been forgotten or ignored, because the character appeared on the show with a new name, “Michigan J. Frog”. But why “Michigan”? In the original 1955 cartoon, the frog sings a song called The Michigan Rag that was written specifically for the cartoon by Jones (there is another tune called The Michigan Rag that was composed in 1910 by Battle Creek resident Adrian Carter, but it is a completely different composition). As for the middle initial “J”, it just sounded good, like it did for other cartoon characters like “Rocket J. Squirrel” and “Bullwinkle J. Moose”.
So there ya have it.
In the gallery below, check out pictures of the real Ol' Rip the Horned Toad, the Texas courthouse where he was entombed, and scenes from the 1955 Warner Brothers cartoon!
Michigan J. Frog