Does the beloved Looney Tunes character Porky Pig actually hail from Portis, Kansas? Well, no, he doesn’t. But that hasn’t stopped the small town from making Porky a native son.
The story begins with Melvin “Tubby” Miller, who was born in Portis on May 6, 1900. After graduating high school, he changed his name to Melvin Millar, thinking it sounded more unique. Tubby Millar attended the Kansas City Art Institute, where he met and befriended Isadore “Friz” Freleng. Both students soon moved to Hollywood, attracted by a fellow Kansas City Art Institute graduate named Walt Disney.
Freleng would get a job at Leon Schlesinger Productions, the studio behind popular shorts Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. He rose to lead director, and created the character of Porky Pig. Porky Pig was an instant hit who quickly became the face of the Looney Tunes shorts, with a distinctive stutter that would be voiced by legendary voice actor Mel Blanc.
Freleng hired Millar as an animator and gag writer. Millar drew many characters, including Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, but was drawn to the famous pig, perhaps seeing his own jovial nature and rotund presence in the character. Millar would frequently sneak his hometown’s name in cartoon episodes. For example, in the 1936 cartoon Porky’s Pet, there is a poster in a train station that reads “When in Portis, Stop at Millar Manor.” Many in Portis assumed Millar was the creator of Porky Pig, and that Portis was Porky’s hometown.
In 1945, Millar became a freelance cartoonist. He would continue to live in Burbank, California, until his death, but always maintained connections in Portis. And when Tubby did come home? He would sign autographs for his old friends, and always include a drawing of Porky Pig.
After Millar finally said “Th-th-that’s all folks!” in 1980, Portis residents wanted to honor their famous son and put their town on the map. His childhood friend Hud Turner and his wife Nina wanted to drum up tourism by calling Portis the “Home of Porky Pig.” They wrote to Warner Bros. for permission, where they finally discovered the truth about Porky’s heritage. Despite the setback, residents decided to move ahead with the memorial anyway.
The memorial cost $700, paid for in full by Hud Turner. It’s made out of Kansas post rock limestone, and its inscription correctly refers to Mel Millar as “animator for Looney Tunes’ Porky Pig cartoons and assistant to Friz Freleng, creator of Porky Pig.” In the corner of the memorial, of course, is a drawing of Porky himself, welcoming visitors to Portis.
Know Before You Go
The Porky Pig Memorial is located at the corner of Market St & E. 5th St in Portis City Park. Admission is free.