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Tex Avery (1908- 1980 )

Name: Fredrick Bean "Tex"Avery

Birthdate: February 26, 1908

Birthplace: Taylor, Texas

This page is a tribute to the genius of cartoonist Tex Avery. He is the creator of such characters as The Wolf, Droopy, and Screwy Squirrel.  His cartoon style of slapstick gags and hilarious situations are still being imitated today, over forty years after they were created. So now, sit back and explore around and find out a little bit about one of the greatest cartoonists the world will ever know.

Tex was interested in animation from an early age. He started drawing comic strips in high school, and spent a summer studying art at the Chicago Art Institute. Avery moved to California in the early thirties and entered the animation field as a painter for Walter Lantz. Under Lantz, he learned the entire animation process and soon became a storyboard artist. In 1935, Tex went to work at Warner Bros. where he created Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, and created the personality of Bugs Bunny. He was with Warner from 1935-1941. During this time, he created animation that was a far cry from all the Disney imitators out there. Unlike Disney, Tex Avery’s cartoons had their own personality. A disagreement with Leon Schlesinger led Tex to quit Warner in early 1941.

Later that year, Tex was hired by MGM producer Fred Quimby. With new creative freedom, Tex created some of the best cartoons the world has ever seen. Tex did not concentrate on creating lasting characters, but on slapstick gags and humorous situations. Of all his characters, Droopy is the most popular.

In 1954, Tex left MGM right before the studio stopped making theatrical shorts. He re-joined Walter Lantz to make only four cartoons, and making popular the Chilly Willy character. He then joined the world of TV commercials where the Raid bug spray ads and Frito Bandito where among his creations.

Tex Avery died in August, 1980. He left behind a legacy of timeless cartoons that will entertain and influence young cartoonists for years to come.

zitiert nach John Canemaker,Tex Avery, 1998 , JG Press

Frederick (later Tex) Bean Avery was born February 26, 1908, in the small mid-Texas town of Taylor, the elder son of Mary A. Bean and George W. Avery, a house designer and builder.

In 1926, Avery graduated from North Dallas High School, where annually he had filled the school yearbook (The Viking) with humorous and awkwardly drawn cartoons of school activities. The husky youth also enjoyed athletics, fishing, and shooting sports; a lifelong love of duck hunting was initiated at Dallas's White Rock Lake, which he once daimed was Daffy Duck's birthplace.

Avery haunted the offices of local newspaper cartoonists looking for work and received only suggestions that his drawing talent might improve with more art training. Obediently, he enrolled in a three-month summer course at the Art Institute of Chicago, but quit after only a month because "They gave me all kinds of life study but what good is that to a cartoonist? It made me tired, so I quit. Then I camped on the trail of all the well-known [comic] strip artists in Chicago, but you can guess the encouragement I got from them. So back to Dallas I came."

After he had settled in Los Angeles, Avery worked from late in the evening until four in the morning, loading fruit and vegetable crates on the docks, and sleeping on the beaches.

He tried to sell a cartoon strip ("I sent it everywhere.") but received only rejections. A kid at the beach saw Avery's 'toon "scratchings" and told him of the nearby Charles Mintz animation studio. "I literally camped at that studio," recalled Avery, until he was hired for a few months as a cel inker and painter. Next he found a similar position at the Walter Lantz Studio, which in 1930 was producing for Universal Films twenty-six shorts a year that starred now-forgotten characters such as Oswald the Rabbit and Pooch the Pup.

Avery "worked up into in-betweens"; that is, he became an animator's assistant and drew sequential sketches between a character's main (or extreme) poses. In the early thirties "Disney raided the whole West Coast for talent. And the three-quarters of us who were left knew nothing of animation. We had just been in-betweening." Up to that time, Avery claimed to have "no interest" in becoming an animator; he saw his time at Lantz as merely a stop-gap job until his comic strip was sold. "But I kept on getting nothing but rejects, so I said,'Well, I'm going to try animation. This is the coming thing.' And then I really worked hard at it."

Avery's debut as a director happened abruptly when the indolent and bored Bill Nolan "simply turned over two of his pictures to him and said,'Do them."' Joe Adamson identifies these films as The Quail Hunt and The Towne Hall Follies, "both made just before Tex left for Warner Bros., and both flaunting the kind of dementia he pioneered over there, which was to shake up the entire cartoon industry."

Avery eagerly dived into directing, and years later admitted why: "I was never too great an artist. I realized there at Lantz's that most of those fellows could draw rings around me.... I thought Brother! Why fight it? I'll never make it! Go the other route! And I'm glad I did. My goodness, I've enjoyed that a lot more than I would have enjoyed just animating scenes all my life."

One day at the studio, an incident occurred that Avery said, years later, "made me feel the animation business owed me a living." A group of "crazy gagsters that would attempt anything for a laugh" enjoyed shooting spitballs from a rubber band at each other's heads. When one of them, Charles (Tex) Hastings&emdash;who, according to Avery, "had actually been kicked in the head by a horse"&emdash;substituted a steel paper clip for a paper wad, Avery lost the sight in his left eye.

His permanent handicap&emdash;the ultimate nightmare for anyvisual artist&emdash;changed him. Before the accident he had several girlfriends and was said to be conceited about his hefty physique, which he kept trim with exercise, jogging, or playing volleyball at Santa Monica beach. The loss of his eye challenged his self-esteem, and he let his weight go. "He was always conscious of that fake eye," says

A dispute over money at Lantz led Avery to seek employment at Warner Bros. in mid-1935, where the twenty-seven-year-old boldly sold himself as a director of long experience to producer Leon Schlesinger.

Avery became the third full-time director on Schlesinger's staff (along with Friz Freleng and Hal King). Because of space problems, he was placed in a separate, small wooden-frame building in the middle of the Warner lot and assigned four animators, two of them eager-beavers who had been with Schlesinger for a couple of years, but were slightly younger than Avery, Charles M. "Chuck" Jones and Bob Clampett.

Both at Warner Bros. and later at MGM, Avery relentlessly pursued laughs, first by increasing the pace of the cartoons, which eventually were streamlined to breathtakingly speedy levels. Avery's first Warner cartoon, GoldDiggers of '49 ( 1935) convinced Schlesinger to keep him on because the slightly faster presentation of the silly gags made the film seem funnier than those by the studio's two other directors. "I started that faster trend," Avery said. "We started filling in more gags. Prior to that they felt you had to have a story. Finally we got to where the 'story' was just a string of gags with a 'topper.' I found out the eye can register an action in five frames of film."Averylayered visual gags (good and bad, with usually nothing in between) one on top of the other like a filmic Dagwood sandwich, extended them, and held them together by sheer manic, primitive energy.

"Give me an opening and a closing and thirty gags and I'll make you a cartoon," he once bragged to animator Michael Lah.

Throughout the 1930s, Walt Disney attempted to convince audiences of the "reality" of his film world and characters by seeking to create a so -called "illusion of life." Avery went in the opposite direction by celebrating the cartoon as cartoon, exploring the medium's potential for surrealism; he never let audiences forget they were watching an animated film. His modernism harks back to animation's earliest days, particularly the impossible antics of Felix the Cat, in whose films "appearance is the sole reality." Felix's visual gags&emdash;removing his tail and using it as a baseball bat or fishing pole, for example&emdash;are visual gags proper for a "world of creatures consisting only of lines," where, as theorist Bela Belazs put it, "the only impossible things are those which cannot be drawn."

Avery redesigned Porky Pig, created Daffy Duck (first seen in Avery's Porky's Duck Hunt (1937)), and gave Bugs Bunny his definitive personality. Before Avery took on the character in A Wild Hare (1940), Bugs Bunny had appeared in four films and "was just Daffy Duck in a rabbit suit," a wild, aggressive, screwball character. A Wild Hare is considered to be the first true Bugs cartoon; it is the film that established the cool, in-control personality of the "cwazy wabbit" through the way he moved and spoke. Avery's coining of the now-famous Bugs catch phrase "What's up, Doc?" was based on a remembrance of youthful smart talk at North Dallas High.


Ronnie Scheib writes: "For Avery's mind-wrenching reversals, inversions, and violations of physical and psychological laws are only possible if these laws exist. Gravity, cause and effect, logic, subjectivity, personality, all the Disney-incorporated processes must weave their web of expectations, their dream of continuity, to set the stage for the violent shock of awakening that shudders through an Avery cartoon."

In his use of extreme animation&emdash;the wild "takes" with which characters register surprise by stretching or coming apart in extraordinary ways&emdash;Avery emphasized the process of animation (a series of sequential drawings) by foregrounding their sheer cartoony-ness. Avery's reflexivity constantly reminds audiences of the director's presence. Characters depart from the narrative ("Hey, that wasn't in the script! " ), interact with moviegoers represented by silhouetted shadows, and walk in front of title cards the better to read them. Signs appear and comment on the action ("Gruesome, isn't it?"), and after a particularly groan-inducing gag an ear of corn might sprout. Narrative-destroying and distancing devices include characters who run so fast they skid offthe film frames into limbo, or draw their own props and settings. At MGM, an Avery character once stopped the show to pluck a "hair" that was seemingly stuck in the film projector's gate.

"This sort of self-aware reflection on his medium infected the rest of the Warners school," notes film critic J. Hoberman.

Avery's DetouringAmerica (1939) and A WildHare (1940) were the first two Warner animated shorts to be nominated for Academy Awards, which raised the cartoon film industry's opinion of the Schlesinger studio considerably and brought attention to Avery. But the director apparentlywas then interested in inching sideways into live-action films. In the summer of 1941. Avery and Schlesinger argued over Avery's desire to make a series of live-action shorts of animals speaking wisecracks with animated mouths, which led to the director being punished with an eight-week layoff. The "Speaking of Animals" shorts were eventually released by Paramount, with the determined Avery directing the first three, before a dispute with his partners over money led him to sell his interest in the series. Years

In September 1941, the thirty-three-year-old Avery quit Warners to start work at MGM. There, at Hollywood's grandest and wealthiest studio, he reached his apogee as a director by intensifying the pacing and exaggeration of the cartoons and elaborating on themes, character types, and humor that he first explored at Warners. Avery's fragmented, violent, frenetically paced 'toons came to mirror the energy and mindset of America as it went to war.

A series of updated fairytales are among his most memorable cartoons&emdash;Red Hot Riding Hood (1943), Swing Shift Cinderella (1945 ), Uncle Tom's Cabana (1947). Little Rural Riding Hood (1949)&emdash;in which a curvaceous human showgirl/singer excites a licentious Wolf to extraordinary extremes of ardor (in terms of both passion and the animation drawings used to express it). The closest to a star character Avery created at MGM was the deadpan pooch Droopy, who, for all his understated antiheroism, consistently and magically bests his rivals.

During his fourteen years at MGM, Avery created sixty-seven cartoon shorts, several of them masterpieces of the genre, such as Northwest Hounded Police (1946), Slap Happy Lion (1947), King Size Canary (1947), and Bad Luck Blackie (1949), films whose thin narratives exist as springboards for the director's brilliant fantasias on paranoia, control, survival, and the film medium itsel£

There was also, according to storyman Heck Allen, "a very competitive feeling" between Avery and the directing team of MGM's successful "Tom and Jerry" series, William Hanna and Joe Barbera. "Tex always felt, and I think he was correct, that Bill and Joe were the darlings of Fred Quimby's eye. And that favoritism rankled quite a bit."49 As with his peers at Warners, Avery's directorial style influenced Hanna and Barbera, which is evident in the faster pacing and more aggressively outlandish gags found in the Tom and Jerry films after his arrival at MGM. Ironically, seven of Hanna and Barbera's series won Academy Awards for MGM, while Avery's shorts won none.

Avery was essentially "the original one-man band." Unassisted, Avery dreamed up plots and gags, drew small, rough storysketches for Allen to follow up on, and layouts for the animators and background painters. He timed the action, supervised the voice track recordings (sometimes demanding up to thirty takes on a line of dialog), and even provided a few voices himself. When he saw the animation pencil tests, he "would want a lot of changes," recalled animator Michael Lah. "And, my gosh, even when the animation was on cels, he would cut frames on the Movieola, to get the effect he wanted!"

Costts were rising in the early fifties, and the filmaudiences were dwindling, because of the television. Avery`s MGM unit was eliminated in 1954. Avery joined the Walter Lantz studios. But Avery quit after one year, unhappy with the work and his contract. Avery wemt to Cascade, a small Hollyewood studio where for two decades he freelanced as a director of television commercials. On 21. Jan.1972 , the family was shattered by the death of their son Tim on heroin, and his marriage was breaking up. Avery apparently had began drinking." Genial, but beaten down."

At Hanna-Barbera&emdash;where he worked for the last three years of his life developing gags and characters, such as Kwicky Koala&emdash; The office became a mecca for the studio's young artists who were thrilled to be working with the great Tex Avery. "Tex liked holding court with the youngsters," recalled one of them, Mark Evanier. "He felt he could contribute valuable inspiration, education. They groveled at his feet. His sad side was not shown at work. He walked in the door in the morning, was not paid a lot, but was treated like a god, given gifts, et cetera. He didn't take the job seriously. He figured he earned his money just by showing up each day."

To this day his directorial style and outrageous humor continue to be borrowed and/or ripped off and incorporated into contemporary animated and (thanks to computers) live-action films. Observe the "homage" to Avery-esque pacing, imagery, design, and general philosophy regarding animation in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). the Genie sequence in Aladdin (1992), the television series Ren &Stimpy and Animaniacs ,the live-action feature The Mask (1995), and numerous computer-enhanced television commercials. Babe, the 1995 feature about a talking pig, is nothing if not a high-tech descendant of Avery's "Speaking of Animals" series.

At Avery's funeral in Los Angeles in 1980, a eulogist noted that Avery "was a leader who never established a studio, never tried to do anything but make good films," a filmmaker who never won an Oscar, "yet he attracted followers and fans the world over." One attendee at the service recalled that "with the exception of some of the Disney people, virtually everyone in animation was there. Almost everyone had worked with him or felt they were, in part, a student of his."

siehe John Canemaker,Tex Avery, 1998 , JG Press