Tex Avery born in Taylor on February 26, 1908, Frederick bean “Tex” Avery is one of the most important figures in the history of animation. directing cartoons at Warner brothers and MGM from 1935 to 1955, he developed such legendary characters as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Droopy and Chilly Willy. he also pioneered a style of fast-paced slapstick comedy that introduced many of the basic comedic elements still found in cartoons today. his peers considered him a creative genius and his films continue to enjoy critical and popular acclaim.
Avery spent his childhood in Taylor, growing up in homes on eighth and hackberry streets. he attended high school in Dallas before moving to California after graduation. in 1935, Avery took a job at Warner bros. where he presided over the innovative crew of "termite terrace" and introduced the world to daffy duck and bugs bunny. searching for the perfect expression to capture bugs bunny’s carefree attitude in a wild hare (1940), Avery recalled a phrase popular among students at north Dallas high school: “what’s up, doc?” he spent seven years at Warner brothers and then moved to MGM in 1942, where he perfected his unique style of rapid-fire, logic-defying gags. after a lifetime spent reinventing the American cartoon, Avery died in Los Angeles in 1980.
Tex Avery’s influence on his craft is difficult to overstate. he created some of the most enduring characters and compositions in history and directed cartoons that were funnier, faster and wilder than anyone had ever seen. an enormously talented writer, artist and director, Tex Avery left his stamp not just on the world of animation, but on the wider universe of American popular culture.
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Tex Avery Historical Marker Historical Narrative by Mike Duncan and Wendy Thompson
Texas State University - April 16, 2013
Tex Avery is one of the most important figures in the history of American animation. Directing cartoons at Warner Brothers and MGM from 1935-55, he rejected the cute realism made popular by Walt Disney and invented an entirely new genre of fast-paced slapstick comedy, creating legendary characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Droopy Dog in the process. He also introduced many of the most basic comedic elements still used in cartoons today: wildly exaggerated takes, breakneck pacing, and gags that ignored the laws of both physics and logic. He was revered by his peers as a creative genius, and his films have been shown around the world continuously for over 75 years. An enormously influential writer, artist, and director, Tex Avery left his stamp not just on the world of animation but on the wider world of American popular culture.
Frederick Bean “Tex” Avery was born in Taylor, Texas, in 1908. His parents, George Avery and Mary Augusta Bean were not native to Texas. When George Avery was a boy, his family moved from Alabama to Milam County, part of a large influx of Southeasterners who migrated west after the Civil War to take advantage of the rich soil to grow cotton. Listed in the 1880 census as a farmer, George’s father Needham Avery bought additional land in nearby Taylor, which he later sold to his son. The 1889 census shows George Avery residing in Taylor and working on the railroad, probably for the International-Great Northern, which operated in Taylor around that time. Shortly after little Frederick Bean was born, the Avery's lived at 118 Eighth Street, but by 1914 the family had moved to Hackberry Street, and George was running a lumber company in south Taylor.
Avery did not talk much about his early years, but the outrageous sense of humor he later developed was flavored by a childhood spent absorbing Texas tall-tales. By the time he was thirteen—possibly inspired by the popular Mutt and Jeff comics he would have found at Candy Jim’s store in downtown Taylor —Avery had been bitten by the cartooning bug.
After the family moved to Dallas, Avery’s passion for cartooning blossomed.
Now attending North Dallas High School, Avery filled the 1926 edition of the yearbook with funny cartoon depictions of school activities. When he was not participating in athletics or hunting—traditional Texas pastimes that would show up repeatedly in his later films—Avery hounded the local newspaper cartoonists for work. Finding no encouragement in Dallas, he enrolled in the summer drawing course at the Art Institute of Chicago. After the class turned out to be a disappointment, he briefly returned to Dallas before setting out for Los Angeles in 1928. Like his grandfather, Avery chose to head west in search of better fortunes.
As he shopped his comic strips to the local Los Angeles newspapers, Avery quickly earned the nickname “Tex” for the twang in his voice and boisterous southern charm. But selling the strips proved difficult, and he took a job in Universal Studios’ animation department to help pay the bills. This temporary job soon became Avery’s defining passion, and he never went back to newspaper cartooning. After Universal laid him off in 1935, the brash young animator successfully bluffed his way into a position as a director at Warner Brothers. Put to work in a little bungalow on the Warner Brothers lot dubbed “Termite Terrace,” Avery was assigned a small team of animators that included Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett, both of whom would go on to become legendary directors in their own right after apprenticing under Avery. Leading this talent-rich unit, Avery presided over one of the most innovative periods in animation history.
Enjoying full creative control over his films, Avery immediately set to work re-inventing American cartoons.
At the time, Walt Disney dominated the market with a distinctive brand of cute and realistic cartoons. But Avery recognized how limiting the Disney style was. For him, the great power of animation was that you could literally do anything you wanted. There was no reason for a director to acknowledge any constraint on the imagination. Acting on this insight Avery, “steered the Warner Brothers house style away from Disneyesque sentimentality and made cartoons that appealed equally to adults, who appreciated Avery's speed, sarcasm, and irony, and to kids, who liked the nonstop action.” With each new film, Avery pushed the limits of what was possible in a cartoon, and audiences loved him for it.
During his seven-year stint at Warner Brothers, Avery created some of the most famous characters in the history of animation. In 1937 he directed Porky’s Duck Hunt, introducing the world to Daffy Duck, whose lunatic antics were an immediate sensation. Three years later, Avery released the seminal A Wild Hare, starring a supremely cool-under-fire gray rabbit named Bugs Bunny. Seeking the perfect line to capture Bugs’s preternatural calm, Avery harkened back to an expression common among his fellow classmates at North Dallas High. With Elmer Fudd’s shotgun pointed directly at his face, Bugs absent-mindedly chewed a carrot and asked: “What’s up Doc?” The line brought the house down and cemented Bugs as a cartoon superstar. By itself, the creation of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck is enough to establish Avery’s historic credentials. But he was just getting started.
After directing more than 60 films for Warner Brothers, creative disputes lead Avery to take a new job MGM in 1942.
At MGM, he “reached his apogee as a director by intensifying the pacing and exaggeration of the cartoons.” In Dumbhounded, one of his first films for MGM, Avery created yet another enduring cartoon icon: Droopy Dog. The unflappable little basset hound became famous for delivering deadpan quips as Avery spun rapid-fire, logic-defying gags all around him.
While at MGM, Avery also explored themes not commonly associated with cartoons today, including a famous series of risqué shorts that recast Little Red Riding Hood as a sultry lounge singer and the Wolf as a smitten paramour. The Wolf’s wildly exaggerated reactions to Red’s dancing were a hit with the adult audiences—especially soldiers—who made up most of the audience for cartoons during the period. Avery also peaked creatively with stand-alone films like King Size Canary and Bad Luck Blackie, both commonly listed amongst the greatest animated shorts of all time. In 1955, after a sensational 13-year run, MGM closed Avery’s animation unit, and he moved on to directing television advertisements. In the late 1970s, he started to work with his old MGM colleagues William Hannah and Joseph Barbara again, but his return was short-lived. In 1980, Tex Avery died of cancer in Los Angeles.
Tex Avery’s contributions to American animation are difficult to overstate. If the only thing he ever did was create Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, his place in American pop culture history would be secure, but Avery’s legacy is much richer than that. It wasn’t just the characters that made him an animation legend; it was the boundaries he pushed, the styles he invented, and the technical skills he pioneered. His Texas roots informed his unique sense of humor, fostered his love of outrageous storytelling, and drove him to make his films funnier, faster, and wilder than anything else on the market.
Avery’s first great contribution was to make cartoons funny. Before he came along, the primary objective of an animated short was to provide an entertaining story, with comedy deployed only occasionally and often without success. Bucking this trend, Avery focused exclusively on making the audience laugh as much as possible. This leads him to develop a “particular comic approach…more gag-oriented than character-oriented” to generate those laughs. If it is difficult today to picture a time when cartoons were not primarily joke-driven, it is because the comedic style Avery invented became so pervasive that it is now practically synonymous with the word “cartoon.”
Avery’s second great contribution was to make cartoons faster-paced. Because he wanted to inject as much humor into his cartoons as possible, Avery studied how quickly he could animate a gag, finding that a joke supposedly requiring thirty feet of the film could be laid out in eight. He also discovered that the human eye only needed five frames of film to register a gag. As Avery himself said, “We gunned things up to the point where we could get twice as much stuff in a cartoon, getting from one situation to another. A guy would no sooner get hit with an anvil than he takes one step over and falls in a well.” Avery spent his entire career pushing for faster and faster speeds, and the entire industry was forced to keep up. The pacing of a pre-Avery cartoons is painfully slow. Saving audiences from the tedium of plodding gags is one of his most enduring legacies.
Finally, Avery established once and for all that cartoons were a realm of infinite possibility.
In an Avery film, characters “maybe chopped in half, beheaded, fragmented, burned to cinders, disemboweled, turned inside out or twisted into pretzels.” A few frames later, they would appear unhurt and ready for the next gag. This style of impossible slapstick is now so embedded in the culture of animation that it is hard to imagine it not always being present. But it wasn’t always present—it was introduced by Tex Avery, who, “belongs to that very limited group of movie artists (Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel, Allen) who built this century’s visual comedy from scratch, inventing procedures and styles which have since become common knowledge.” He freed future animators from the tyranny of reality, leaving them to play in a universe where anything can happen at any time.
When Tex Avery died in 1980, his friend and colleague Chuck Jones tried to explain Avery’s historical importance but admitted, “It is difficult to be profound, analytical or discerning about the art of Tex Avery, because profundity tends to interrupt laughter and that is a poor trade indeed.” So Jones summed up the life and career of his old mentor by stating simply: “Avery was a genius.” A genius born and bred in Texas.
Clara Stearns Scarbrough, Land of Good Water Takachue Pouetsu:
A Williamson County, Texas, History (Georgetown: Williamson County Sun Publishers, 1973), 237.
U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1880 Census.; Williamson County Deed Records, County Clerk’s Office, Williamson County Justice Center, Georgetown, Texas: 56/552.
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Official Census City of Taylor, Texas Williamson County 1883 and 1889.
1 Clara Stearns Scarbrough, Land of Good Water Takachue Pouetsu: A Williamson County, Texas, History (Georgetown: Williamson County Sun Publishers, 1973), 237.
2 U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1880 Census.; Williamson County Deed Records, County Clerk’s Office, Williamson County Justice Center, Georgetown, Texas: 56/552.
3 U.S. Bureau of the Census, Official Census City of Taylor, Texas Williamson County 1883 and 1889.
4 Scarbrough. 237.
5 1910 Taylor City Directory.
6 1914 Taylor City Directory.
7 Joe Adamson, Tex Avery: King of Cartoons (USA: Da Capo Press, 1975), 40; Interview with Heck Allen, quoted in Adamson, 144.
8 Jean-Paul Gabilliet, Of Comics and Men: A Cultural History of American Comic Books, trans. Bart Beaty and Nick Nguyen (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010), 6; Michna, 21; 1915 Taylor City Directory, 112.
9 Lenburg, 14.
10 North Dallas High School. The Viking (1926), 55, 62, 101, 111, 115, 119, 121, 123, 136, 139, 140, 142.
11 John Canemaker, Tex Avery: The MGM Years, 1942-1955 (Atlanta: Turner Publishing, Inc., 1996), 11, quoted in Sara Petty interview by author, February 26, 1996; Ibid., quoted in Dorothy Guillot, “Stars of the Animateds and How They Grow,” The Dallas Morning News, April 2, 1933, 3.
12 Lenburg, 15.
13 Adamson. 171.
14 Michael Barrier, Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in its Golden Age (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 329.
15 Scott Curtis, “Tex Avery’s Prison House of Animation, or Humor and Boredom in Studio Cartoons.” In Funny Pictures, ed. Daniel Goldmark and Charlie Keil (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2011), 213.
16 Floriane Place-Verghnes, Tex Avery: A Unique Legacy (1942-1955) (Malaysia: John Libby Publishing, 2006), 180.
17 Gary Morris, “A Quickie Look At The Life & Career of Tex Avery,” Bright Lights Journal No. 22 (September 1998), http://brightlightsfilm.com/22/texavery.php (accessed April 15, 2013).
18 Adamson, 50-54.
19 Interview with Tex Avery, quoted in Adamson, 164.
20 Canemaker, 16.
21 Barrier, 413-415.
22 Jerry Beck, The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals (Atlanta: Turner Publishing, 1994).
23 Burt A. Folkart, “Breeder of This Bunny Gave ‘What’s Up, Doc?’ to World,” Los Angeles Times, September 1, 1908, pg. A20.
24 Place-Verghnes. 129-130.
25 Barrier, 343
26 Curtis, 214
27 Interview with Tex Avery, quoted in Adamson, 188.
28 Place-Verghnes. 181.
29 Adamson, 35.
30 Citing Giannalberto Bendazzi, quoted in Place-Verghnes, 130.
31 Chuck Jones, “A Farewell to A Funny Genius,” Los Angeles Times, August 31, 1980, pg U7.
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