Note: Some of this research, and an interview with the author, is being included in a report on CBS Sunday Morning, which should air Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016.
While I was doing the research for my recent blog post on the history of the Easter Bunny, I noticed that the Library of Congress has made available on its website two brief excerpts from the 1971 TV Easter special Here Comes Peter Cottontail. The animated special starred Danny Kaye in several voice roles, and the excerpts are part of the Music Division’s Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine Collection. In the first excerpt, Danny Kaye, as Seymour Sassafras, introduces the story:
Here Comes Peter Cottontail first aired in 1971. I was not yet three years old at the time, but I have vivid memories of seeing the show as a child, probably in repeat showings over the following years. Like some of the other holiday specials of the era, it was a surreal story featuring such elements as magical bubble gum, a talking caterpillar, and a time machine called the “yester-morrow-bile.” I didn’t know it at the time, but despite the special’s very 1970s feel, many of its elements had a long and distinguished literary and cultural history. I thought would be fun to explore that here.
We’ll begin with the idea of a rabbit named “Peter Cottontail,” which seems to derive from not one but two classic series of children’s books featuring anthropomorphic animals. The most famous of these were written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter in the early 20th century. Potter’s books featured both wild and domesticated animals living alongside human farmers in an idealized English countryside. The first in the series was The Tale of Peter Rabbit, first self-published in 1901, and commercially published in 1902, which established the tradition of a rabbit named Peter. Potter herself had had a pet rabbit named Peter Piper as a child, which explained her use of the name for her most famous protagonist. Her fictional Peter also had a sibling named Cotton-tail, which supplies the second half of Peter Cottontail’s name. Peter and his siblings feature in several of Potter’s books, which you can read online: The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, and The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies.
Only a few years after Potter’s books began to appear, American naturalist and conservationist Thornton W. Burgess began writing his own series of animal tales, collectively known as the Old Mother West Wind books. Burgess’s books featured a character named Peter Rabbit as well, due to Potter’s influence. According to the Thornton W. Burgess Research League, he publicly acknowledged his debt to Potter in his autobiography, with the following words:
When I began writing stories for my own small boy, a rabbit was already Peter and there was no changing the name…. I like to think that Miss Potter gave Peter a name known the world over, while I with [my illustrator Harrison] Cady’s help perhaps made him a character.
Burgess’s Peter Rabbit was certainly a character. One of his character traits in the books is a tendency to put on airs, which drives the plot of one of Burgess’s most popular books, The Adventures of Peter Cottontail (1917), which you can read here. In this story, Peter decides his real name, Peter Rabbit, is too common, and changes it to Peter Cottontail. It’s only a temporary change, however, and by the end of the book he’s back to being Peter Rabbit.
(The Library of Congress has put another of Burgess’s Peter Rabbit books, Mrs. Peter Rabbit, online at read.gov.)
By 1917, then, “Peter Cottontail” was a popular name for a fictional, anthropomorphic rabbit. That rabbit was not, however, the famous “Easter Bunny.” The two ideas came together over thirty years later, in the song “Here Comes Peter Cottontail.” The song, which tells a simple story of the Easter Bunny delivering baskets filled with candy, eggs, and flowers, was written by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins in 1949 and first recorded by Melvin Shiner in 1950. Shiner’s version was a hit, but Nelson and Rollins had even bigger ambitions. In 1950 the king of holiday songs was Gene Autry; his 1947 hit “Here Comes Santa Claus” had been followed by his even more successful 1949 recording of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Nelson and Rollins pitched the song to Autry, who recorded it and sent it to #3 on the Billboard country charts and #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Autry also sang it onscreen, in the 1951 movie “Hills of Utah.” The Autry Foundation put that version online at YouTube, and you can watch it here.
So by 1950, Peter Rabbit had become Peter Cottontail, and Peter Cottontail had become the Easter Bunny. But none of the works that contributed elements to the “Peter Cottontail” idea had enough of a plot to be the basis of a TV special. Instead, the producers were inspired by a 1957 children’s book by Priscilla and Otto Friedrich. Otto Friedrich (1929-1995) was a well known journalist and historian who served as an editor at the New York Daily News, Newsweek, the Saturday Evening Post, and Time. With his wife Priscilla, he wrote six children’s books from 1957 until 1965. The first of these, called The Easter Bunny that Overslept, was the inspiration for Here Comes Peter Cottontail.
As the book’s title suggests, it’s about an Easter Bunny who oversleeps, missing Easter entirely. For the rest of the year, he has to try to give away Easter eggs on other holidays. Eventually, Santa Claus takes the bunny under his wing and gets him ready for the following Easter. The Easter Bunny that Overslept is still protected by copyright, but you can see its bibliographic information here.
The TV special Here Comes Peter Cottontail was produced and directed by the team of Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr., who had previously created similar TV specials such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. All these previous shows used a similar formula: begin with a hit holiday song which could be featured in the show, find or create a story, and animate the tale in their signature stop-motion style.
All these previous shows also had another thing in common: they were written by Romeo Muller, whom Rankin and Bass also hired for the screenplay of Here Comes Peter Cottontail. Muller added crazy, wacky, almost psychedelic elements to the show. Beginning with the basic idea of an Easter Bunny oversleeping from the Friedrichs’ book, Muller added a corporate environment for the Easter Bunny to work in, in which individual bunnies compete for promotion to Chief Easter Bunny. When Peter Cottontail (voiced by Casey Kasem) is chosen as Chief Easter Bunny, his rival January Q. Irontail (voiced by Vincent Price) sets out to sabotage him and destroy Easter. He causes Peter to oversleep by feeding Peter’s rooster magic bubblegum, so that when he crows the sound is carried far away by the bubbles. Where the Friedrich’s book simply had the Easter Bunny waiting for each holiday in turn, Muller added a time machine, the “yester-morrow-bile,” owned by Seymour Sassafras and piloted by a French caterpillar named Antoine, both voiced by Danny Kaye. In the Library’s second excerpt, Sassafras introduces Antoine and the Yester-morrow-bile.
In the rest of the show, Peter is able to save Easter from Irontail and reclaim his title as Chief Easter Bunny, with the help of Sassafras and Antoine.
Here Comes Peter Cottontail was a successful program in its day, and certainly my generation of Americans remember it with amusement and fondness. Moreover, on its 25th anniversary it was followed by a computer-animated sequel, Here Comes Peter Cottontail: The Movie. For all these reasons, it’s a pleasant reminder of Easters past.
Finally, remember that a very important part of this program’s history comes from folklore: the idea of the Easter Bunny itself. You can read all about that at my previous blog post, right here at Folklife Today.
Answer: The name actually derives from a 1914 children's book, “The Adventures of Peter Cottontail” by children's story author Thornton Burgess. The character's actual name was “Peter Rabbit,” and he originated with writer Beatrix Potter, who named the character after her childhood pet rabbit Peter Piper.Is Peter Cottontail the same as the Easter Bunny? ›
So by 1950, Peter Rabbit had become Peter Cottontail, and Peter Cottontail had become the Easter Bunny.Is Peter Rabbit Burgess or Potter? ›
Not to be confused with Beatrix Potter's storied rabbit, Peter Cottontail is the creation of famed writer Thornton Burgess, who created the character for his son.Who created Peter Cottontail? ›
The name Peter Cottontail comes from a fictional rabbit in the works of Thornton Burgess, who was an author from Springfield, Massachusetts. During 1910, Burgess began a series entitled, Old Mother West Wind; included in the cast of animals was Peter Rabbit.What is the message of Peter Rabbit? ›
The quintessential cautionary tale, The Tale of Peter Rabbit warns naughty children about the grave consequences of misbehaving.What does Peter Rabbit symbolize? ›
Because the rabbit is such a prolific animal, it has long been regarded as a symbol of immortality. Peter himself belongs to a long line of Rabbits who will five after him.What is Peter Rabbit's girlfriend called? ›
Lily is finding out what it's like to be a truly wild rabbit
Feisty and plucky, Lily shares Peter's love of adventure and the great outdoors.
|Family||Mr. Rabbit (father, deceased) Mrs. Rabbit (mother) Benjamin Bunny (cousin/brother in-law) Flopsy Rabbit/Flopsy Bunny (sister/cousin-in-law) Mopsy and Cotton-tail (sisters)|
The story of Peter Rabbit originated from a series of letters written by Beatrix to help cheer up her late Governess' son, Noel, who was often ill. These letters, which began in 1893, were tales written after Potter's real-life pet rabbit named Peter.Why was Peter not well? ›
7) Why was Peter not feeling well that evening? Ans: Peter was not feeling well that evening because he had over-eaten the vegetables from Mr McGregor's garden.
Peter explains that both his parents are dead and that Mr McGregor killed his dad and put him in a pie. Peter is very upset about this. Old Mr McGregor has a heart attack and collapses in the garden. Peter pokes his eye to make sure that he's dead.What movie is Peter Cottontail in? › Why is Easter Bunny related to Jesus? ›
And what do they have to do with the resurrection of Jesus? Well, nothing. Bunnies, eggs, Easter gifts and fluffy, yellow chicks in gardening hats all stem from pagan roots. They were incorporated into the celebration of Easter separately from the Christian tradition of honoring the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead.What was Peter Rabbit original name? ›
He was a Belgian buck rabbit named Peter Piper, who Potter spent hours observing and drawing and would often take for walks on a leash. She later described in a letter how he liked to lie in front of the fire “like a cat.What is the real Easter Bunny's name? ›
The Easter Bunny is a rabbit that delivers presents and eggs to children on Easter. The tradition goes back a very long way just like the ones about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. His real name is Peter Cottontail, just like how Santa's real name is either Saint Nicholas or Kris Kringle.What is the irony in Peter Rabbit? ›
Dramatic irony establishes Peter's escape from persecution, yet his actions will inevitably be punished; Peter cannot remain unscathed even though he was never caught. The main act of disobedience or naughtiness had no impact on any other character but the protagonist.What is the meaning of the rabbits story? ›
“The Rabbits is about a deep environmental crisis, a crisis of conscience, and a costly failure of communication. At the end the question of reconciliation is left open to the reader as it is in the real world: The future, as always, remains undecided” (Tan 1998).How does the story of Peter Rabbit end? ›
Peter and his friends do what they do best and spring their traps to send the couple running away. In the end, Thomas and Bea get together and head back to London with the rabbits where Bea makes illustrations for children's books, including a few stories on Peter and his friends.Why was Peter Rabbit controversial? ›
Sony Pictures and the filmmakers of “Peter Rabbit” have released a statement in response. “Food allergies are a serious issue. Our film should not have made light of Peter Rabbit's arch nemesis, Mr. McGregor, being allergic to blackberries, even in a cartoonish, slapstick way.What are the values in The Tale of Peter Rabbit? ›
The moral of Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit is that you should always listen to your parents. In the story, Peter Rabbit's mother tells him explicitly that he should not go into Mr. McGregor's garden because that is how his father died.
Peter is a tall young boy rabbit around age 8 (the same age as Lily but slightly younger than his twin sisters) with light brown fur, hazel eyes, and long ears.Who is Peter Rabbit married to? ›
|Mrs. Rabbit (Mrs. Josephine Rabbit)|
|Family||Mr. Rabbit (husband) Peter Rabbit (son) Flopsy (daughter) Mopsy (daughter) Cottontail (daughter)|
Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail are Peter's sisters. They are well behaved bunnies who try to stay out of trouble - unlike their brother Peter!Who is Peter Rabbit's crush? ›
Peter always looks out for Lily and stands up for her, and vice versa.Is Peter Rabbit the oldest? ›
Peter - Peter is a naughty rabbit who disobeys his mother. (He is the eldest of the four little rabbits.) Flopsy - Flopsy is Peter's sister who is a good rabbit. (She is the second youngest the four siblings.)Is Peter Rabbit a girl? ›
Sir Peter Rabbit, the protagonist of the series, is Beatrix Potter's first and most famous character. He is a young, impulsive, mischeivous little rabbit, but really he has a soft heart. His mother is Old Mrs. Rabbit, and his sisters are Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail.Who was Beatrix Potter's first love? ›
Beatrix fell in love with her editor, Norman Warne, who had always tirelessly supported her work. Although her parents objected to their relationship, they became engaged in 1905. Tragically, their engagement was short-lived, as Norman died suddenly of leukemia one month later.Where is Peter Rabbit buried? ›
Others whose mortal remains lie in Brompton Cemetery include: Peter Rabbett, Mr. Nutkins, Mr. Brock and Mr. McGregor.Who are Peter Rabbit's dad? ›
Rabbit is known as the father of Peter. Peter idolizes his father who is acknowledged as being deceased multiple times in the TV series. Exactly how he died in the TV series remains a mystery, but if it's the same as the books, he was put into a pie by Mrs.What was Peter's flaw in the Bible? ›
The stories of Peter's mistakes often are in the forefront: when he lost faith and sank when walking on water toward Jesus in Matthew 14:22-33; and when Peter denies knowing Christ three times in John 18:15-27. Yet the high points of Peter's leadership also are known.
The causes of Peter's fall were these: 1. He did not avoid the proximate occasions of sin; for at the time of his fall he was associating with the enemies of Christ. If he had left their company even after his first denial, he would not have fallen so low. “He that loves danger shall perish in it” (Ecclus.Why did Peter cry when he denied Jesus? ›
Peter, affirming his loyalty, his determination, his resolution, said that he would never deny. But the fear of men came upon him and the weakness of his flesh overtook him, and under the pressure of accusation, his resolution crumbled. Then, recognizing his wrong and weakness, “he went out, and wept.”Is Benjamin Peter Rabbit's brother? ›
Benjamin is Peter Rabbit's cousin. He is a loyal and brave friend to Peter and helps him recover from mishaps and misadventures.What are Peter Rabbit and his sisters names? ›
Having successfully evaded Mr. McGregor, Peter, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail live in splendor at Fairytale Town. Beatrix Potter's beloved tale of a misbehaving boy rabbit and his good little sisters has a permanent home next to the Children's Theater.What happened to Peter Rabbit's mum? ›
Josephine Rabbit is the widowed mother of Flopsy and Peter Rabbit. However Her Death Is Unknown.Who is the villain in Peter Cottontail? ›
Irontail is the main antagonist of Here Comes Peter Cottontail and its sequel. He wants to ruin Easter by becoming the Chief Easter Bunny and stop Peter Cottontail.How did Iron Tail lose his tail? ›
Irontail (Vincent Price), a reclusive rabbit villain, wants to be Chief Easter Bunny, only so he can ruin the holiday for children everywhere, as revenge for the loss of his tail, which was run over by a small child who roller-skated over it and had to be replaced with a prosthesis made of iron, thus giving him his ...Who narrates Peter Cottontail? ›
|Here Comes Peter Cottontail|
|Narrated by||Danny Kaye|
|Country of origin||United States Japan|
Peter explains that both his parents are dead and that Mr McGregor killed his dad and put him in a pie. Peter is very upset about this. Old Mr McGregor has a heart attack and collapses in the garden. Peter pokes his eye to make sure that he's dead.Why did Peter disobey Mrs Rabbit? ›
Ans. Peter disobeyed his mother because he was very naughty.
Lily Bobtail | Peter Rabbit (TV series) Wiki | Fandom.Who was the villain in Peter Rabbit? ›
John McGregor (better known as Mr. McGregor) is the main antagonist of the Peter Rabbit franchise and the arch-nemesis of Peter Rabbit. He's the main antagonist of three of Beatrix Potter's children's books.What age is Peter Rabbit movie appropriate for? ›
Lily Bobtail – Peter and Benjamin's quick-witted female best friend, who carries many useful objects in her pocket. Unlike cousins Peter and Benjamin who were based on the books by Beatrix Potter, Lily is a newcomer who was created by the production team for the series.