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Tex Avery

Frederick Bean "Tex" Avery (February 26, 1908 - August 26, 1980) was a director of animated cartoons during the golden age of Hollywood. He influenced the styles of the Warner Bros. and MGM animated cartoon series of the 1940s and 1950s, and his style of cartoon directing broke the mold of ultra-realism established by Walt Disney. Avery's cartoons encouraged animators to stretch the boundaries of the medium and do things in a cartoon that could not be done in the world of live-action film. An often-quoted line from Avery's cartoons was, "In a cartoon you can do anything," and his cartoons often did just that.

Avery first began his career in the Walter Lantz studio, but he migrated to Warner Bros. in the 1930s, and in 1935 he fast-talked the head of the animation studio, Leon Schlesinger, into letting him head his own group of animators (or "unit") and create cartoons the way he wanted them to be made. His first studio cartoon, Gold Diggers of 1935, is recognized as the first cartoon to make Porky Pig a star, and his experimentation with the medium continued from there. Working with animation directors Bob Clampett, Isadore "Friz" Freleng, Chuck Jones, and Bob McKimson, the Warner Bros. animation unit moved into its own building and was known as Termite Terrace[?]. Here they laid the foundation for a style of animation that drove Disney from the throne of animated short films, and created a legion of cartoon stars whose names still shine around the world today.

Avery's influence in the creation of cartoon stars Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cannot be overstated. Daffy's first appearance in Porky's Duck Hunt established the character and gave way to a new form of "lunacy" that had not been seen before in animated cartoons. Avery's A Wild Hare in 1940 is seen as the first cartoon to truly establish the personality of Bugs Bunny, the super-cool rabbit who is always in control of the situation and who runs rings around his opponents. Avery's second Bugs Bunny cartoon, The Heckling Hare, led to a disagreement with Schlesinger that ended with Avery leaving Warner Brothers and heading to MGM's cartoon division, to work under the supervision of Fred Quimby.

At MGM, Avery's creativity reached its peak. His cartoons became known for their sheer lunacy, breakneck pace, and playing with the medium of animation that few other directors dared to approach. Avery's most famous MGM character was Droopy Dog[?], the calm, little, slow-moving and slow-talking dog who still won out in the end. He also created a series of adult-oriented "Red Riding Hood" cartoons, whose sexy female star never had a name, but who influenced the minds of young boys (and future animators) worldwide. Notable MGM cartoons directed by Avery include Red Hot Riding Hood, The Blitz Wolf (nominated for an Oscar in 1941), Bad Luck Blackie, Magical Maestro, Lucky Ducky, and many others. Avery began his stint at MGM working in lush colors and realistic backgrounds, but he slowly abandoned this style for a more frenetic, less realistic approach that reflected the influence of the up-and-coming UPA studio, the need to cut costs as budgets grew higher, and Avery's own desire to leave reality behind and make cartoons that were not tied to the real world of live action. His last cartoon for MGM was Cell Bound in 1955.

After MGM, Avery returned to the Walter Lantz studio to produce three cartoons (two of which were nominated for Oscars), but his career as a director of cartoons effectively ended after that. He did remain in the field of animation, producing a number of TV commercials (the most famous of which were the Raid bug spray commercials of the 1960s: "Oh no! RAID! BOOM!"), though he grew reserved and depressed. The final days of his career were spent at the Hanna-Barbera TV cartoon studio, writing gags for Saturday morning TV shows up until shortly before his death in 1980.

Avery was a quiet, shy, and gentle man; there were few people who were ever able to say a bad word about him. He seemed to avoid the limelight, preferring to make people laugh through his cartoons. He died several years before the animation industry entered a renaissance in the late 1980s. Since that time, Tex Avery's influence has been recognized by animation and film historians. Today, he is seen as one of the most influential animation directors of all time, whose mark on the industry was surpassed only by Walt Disney.

Recommended Reading:

  • Tex Avery: King of Cartoons by Joe Adamson (1975)
  • Tex Avery by John Canemaker (1996).

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