Tex Avery

Active - 1934 - 1990  |   Born - Feb 26, 1908   |   Died - Aug 26, 1980   |   Genres - Comedy, Fantasy, Children's/Family

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Biography by AllMovie

A descendant of both Daniel Boone and Judge Roy Bean, Fred "Tex" Avery enjoyed on-the-job art training when he was assigned to illustrate his high school annual ("The only guy there who could handle a pencil") Avery left his home in Dallas to take a three-month course at the Chicago Art Institute, then headed for Hollywood, to look for work in the animation field. Contrary to previously published reports, Avery did not get his start at Terrytoons or Van Beuren, instead, he "met a fella who knew a girl" in charge of inking and painting at the Walter Lantz Studio. From 1929 to 1934, Avery animated scenes for other directors, and also dabbled in gag writing. Seeking out a better-paying job, Avery wangled a job with Warner Bros. animation producer Leon Schlesinger after convincing Schlesinger that he'd directed two cartoons at Lantz. He hadn't, but that didn't stop Schlesinger from appointing Avery head of his own unit at "Termite Terrace," populated with such animation wizards as Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett and Bob Cannon. At the time, Warners' Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoon series were dying because the animators were attempting to emulate industry leader Walt Disney. Reasoning that he'd never be able to match Disney in terms of technique, Avery decided to simply concentrate on making his cartoons funnier. During his six-year (1936-41) tenure at Warners', Avery sped up the pace of the studio's product, stepped up the gag supply, and sharpened and defined the personalities of such characters as Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and especially Bugs Bunny. Many of Avery's Warners efforts--Porky's Duck Hunt, The Shooting of Dan McGoo, All This and Rabbit Stew--are among the best cartoons ever made. It is no exaggeration to say that Avery poured his heart and soul into his work, not to mention his voice (that inimitable, gut-deep guffaw!) and his idiosyncratic, off-screen catchphrases ("What's Up, Doc?", "I can't do it! I just can't do it!" etc.) On the debit side, many of Avery's Warner cartoons are repetitious--notably his "spot gag" travelogue parodies--while his seeming fascination with the character of Egghead (a cretinous precursor to Elmer Fudd) bogged down many an otherwise excellent film. When producer Schlesinger insisted upon altering the ending of Avery's 1941 Bugs Bunny effort Heckling Hare, Tex left Warners in a huff. In collaboration with two old Universal cronies, Jerry Fairbanks and Bob Carlysle, Avery developed the Speaking of Animals short subjects series at Paramount, then moved to MGM in 1942, where for the next twelve years he would turn out his finest work. Though the set-up at MGM was more strictured than at Warners'--Avery was given a set amount of footage for each cartoon, while producer Fred Quimby, a man with zero sense of humor, would nitpick and bean-count over each project--Tex produced some of the wildest, wackiest, least-inhibited cartoons in the business while under the imprimatur of Leo the Lion. The Avery ouevre included far-out visual puns, hyperbolic facial and physical reactions (elasticized eyeballs, precipitously dropping jaws, bodies stiffening suggestively in mid-air at the sight of feminine pulchritude) and "everything including the kitchen sink" payoff gags. The mere mention of titles like Who Killed Who?, Batty Baseball, Bad Luck Blackie, Red Hot Riding Hood and King Sized Canary are enough to send Avery's devotees into uncontrollable paroxysms of mirth, while dyed-in-the-wool cartoon buffs still greet one another on the street with such Averyisms as "Pretty darn long, huh?" and "Which way did he go, George, which way did he go?" In addition to his one-shot cartoons, Avery created such deathless characters as The Wolf, The Girl (an impossibly sexy lass, usually known as "Red"), Droopy the Dog ("Hello, you happy people"), and the short-lived but unforgettable Screwball Squirrel. When MGM made noises about folding its cartoon division in 1954, Avery returned to his old boss Walter Lantz. His five directorial efforts under the Lantz banner have their moments (especially Crazy Mixed-Up Pup), but they lack the production finesse of the MGMs. Retiring from theatrical films in 1955, Avery set up his own Cascade Productions for the purpose of producing animated TV commercials. Tex's principal achievement during his Cascade years were his classic "Raid" commercials and his "Frito Bandito" spots. Retiring in the mid-1970s, Avery returned to the fold at the personal invitation of his old MGM colleagues, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. Avery died in 1980, before his one Hanna-Barbera project, the weekly series Kwicky Koala, could reach full fruition. The Tex Avery tradition lives on, however, not only in his vintage cartoons but also in such recent theatrical features as Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and such every-man-for-himself TV cartoon series as Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs.

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