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Tex Avery (1908- 1980 )


The Life of Tex Avery Page 1 of 2

As if radically rethinking the Hollywood cartoon
weren't enough, our boy Tex can also be thanked
for inventing or perfecting Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, and
perhaps the greatest character in animation, Bugs Bunny


BY GARY MORRIS

Pity the poor cartoon director. In spite of the many thousands of seven-minute theatrical cartoons that poured out of Hollywood during the heyday of the 1930s-'50s, few of their creators are household words, and most are unknown except among devotees. Animation may be unique in the way the fictional characters have eclipsed the men ó they were mostly men ó who made them. Woody Woodpecker is far more famous than his author, Walter Lantz. And even many fans would be hard pressed to identify the artist behind such popular two-dimensional personalities as Casper the Ghost, Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote, or Superman. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule besides the obvious one, Walt Disney. One is Joseph Hanna and William Barbera, who as Hanna-Barbera flooded 1960s American television with Tom and Jerry, the Flintstones, the Jetsons, and other baby-boomer staples. The other is Tex Avery. A contemporary of Disney's, Avery created or developed some of the most timeless characters in cartoon history with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and Droopy Dog, along with the inimitable catch-phrase "What's up, doc?" And like Disney, his name has come to symbolize a distinct, instantly recognizable, and widely merchandised style that has outlived the man himself and continues to be an important cultural presence. Avery's influence on animation equaled Disney's during his lifetime and continues unabated today with two shows currently running on American television that carry his name. The Wacky World of Tex Avery features new animation in the Avery mode, and The Tex Avery Show replays some of the 136-odd seven-minute cartoons he created during his heyday from 1935 to 1955 at Warner Bros., M-G-M, and Universal.

In a field teeming with talent, Avery stood out. Born in 1908 in Taylor, Texas, Frederick "Tex" Avery was related to both Daniel Boone and the infamous Judge Roy Bean, who allegedly assured prisoners that they would receive a fair trial before they were hanged. In retrospect, this was a fortuitous provenance ó Avery's humor was as savage as Judge Bean's ó and American history, particularly the "tall tales" that were common in Texas, was a favorite subject he treated with suitable irreverence. After graduating from high school in 1926, he took courses at the Art Institute of Chicago, worked loading fruits and vegetables in the docks of Los Angeles, and slept on the beach. His attempts to sell a comic strip to the newspapers failed, but his sand sketches landed him a job with a minor cartoon studio doing inking and cel painting. From there he went to Walter Lantz's unit at Universal, where he spent five years doing "in-betweening," drawing sequential poses for a character and generally assisting the animator, learning his art but also its limits.

By mid-1935 he had moved from Lantz to Warner Bros., where he would be a full-time cartoon director. But it was more than the need to grow artistically that pushed him. Money disputes with Lantz were one reason for the change. But something else happened that Avery said "made me think animation owed me a living." Avery had developed a reputation as a raconteur, ladies' man, and athlete. During a rough-housing session among the animators, he was hit in the eye with a paper clip and lost half his sight. This grim event was a turning-point: by all accounts, along with his eye he lost much of his fun-loving spirit, put on weight, and turned for solace to a driving perfectionism that provided both inspiration and frustration during his tenure at Warners, where he stayed from 1935 to 1942, and at M-G-M (1942-1955).

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