One of the most influential theatrical animators of the 20th century, Tex Avery shepherded Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes series from a second-tier interest for the studio to one of the most iconic franchises in animation history thanks to such enduring characters as Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck. Avery's work was defined by a strong sense of visual and verbal anarchy, with characters gleefully breaking the fourth wall or the laws of nature in pursuit of a madcap ideal that married the lunacies of the Marx Brothers with the free-form structure and refusal to adhere to the sweetness and gentility that defined the work of their greatest competitor, Walt Disney Studios. Avery's shorts for Warner Bros. and later MGM, where he created the phlegmatic canine Droopy and the hot-blooded "Red Hot Riding Hood" (1943), had a profound influence on countless subsequent animated shorts and television, from Hanna-Barbera to John Kricfalusi's "Ren & Stimpy" (Nickelodeon 1991-95) to Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Tex Avery continued to provide blueprints for animation writers and artists into the 21st century.
Born Frederick Bean Avery on February 26, 1908 in Taylor, Texas, Tex Avery attended North Dallas High School, where he did some of his earliest published illustrations for the school's yearbook. After graduation in 1926, he took courses at the Art Institute of Chicago before heading west to try his hand in Hollywood, California. In 1929, he landed a job with Walter Lantz's animation studio at Universal, where he assisted on many of the unit's "Oswald the Lucky Rabbit" shorts. During this period, Avery was blinded in one eye by a thumbtack fired during office horseplay with other animators. Reportedly, the incident had a significant impact upon not only his personality, transforming him from an outgoing, social individual to a solitary perfectionist, but also his perspective on animation itself: his unique, semi-surreal art and direction were credited in part by many biographers and collaborators to his lack of visual depth perception due to his injury.
Money disputes spurred Avery to leave Lantz for Warner Bros. in 1935. There, he convinced the studio's animation chief, Leon Schlesinger, to let him head his own production unit. He was granted a five-room bungalow on the Warner Sunset Blvd. lot - dubbed "Termite Terrace" due to its infestation problem - which he shared with several other up-and-coming animators, including Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett, and associate director Frank Tashlin. Charged with creating animated shorts that would compete with Walt Disney's output, Avery's unit abandoned the idea of producing material that would challenge their artistic ability in favor of shorts that were simply funnier and more anarchic than the Disney efforts. Termite Terrace's first shorts established Avery's signature style: frenetic action that often defied the laws of physics, wild visual puns laced with sarcasm and a satirical approach to the fairy tales and travelogues that were part and parcel of Disney's cartoons. Avery also played fast and loose with the inherently artificial nature of animation by having his characters speak directly to audiences or burst out the frame to decry the pomp and circumstance of title and credit sequences.
Avery's cartoons for Warners introduced or developed some of the most iconic figures in animation history. The first Termite Terrace short, "Gold Diggers of '49" (1935) boosted Porky Pig from bit player to a featured star in the Looney Tunes series, while Daffy Duck burst onto the scene two years later as Porky's berserk foil in "Porky's Duck Hunt" (1937) before bedeviling Egghead, an early incarnation of Elmer Fudd, in "Daffy Duck & Egghead" (1938). Avery also took a pesky rabbit character that had appeared in several Looney Tunes shorts and transformed him into a quick-thinking trickster with a talent for deceiving simple-minded pursuers. He also lent the rabbit -- who adopted the nickname of one of his animators, Ben "Bugs" Hardaway, for his own moniker, Bugs Bunny -- Avery's own signature phrase, "What's up, doc?" from the verbiage of his Texas youth.
In these and countless other Warner Bros. cartoons, Avery was deeply involved in nearly all aspects of production, from writing and editing to voices and catchphrases that became part of the American pop culture lexicon ("Which way did he go?" "Screwy, isn't it?"). Under Avery's supervision, Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes characters became exceptionally popular among audiences and bona fide rivals to Disney for their affections. But his perfectionism also ran afoul of his boss, Leon Schlesinger, who balked at his insistence on repeating the same gag three times in the 1941 Bugs Bunny carton "The Heckling Hare." Avery responded by quitting Warner for Paramount, where he created the offbeat "Speaking of Animals" series, which incorporated animated lip movements into live action footage of real animals. By the following year, Avery had moved to MGM, where he created some of his most inspired work. His MGM cartoons cast off any semblance to reality with their flights of fancy, which ranged from the antics of his slow-talking hound, Droopy, to the risqué rave-ups featuring sexually charged takes on classic fairy tale characters like Little Red Riding Hood ("Red Hot Riding Hood," 1943) and a lothario wolf whose reactions to the women's presence reached volcanic heights of arousal. Avery's tenure at MGM was marked by considerable success, with his first project for the studio, the wartime satire "The Blitz Wolf" (1941), netting an Oscar nomination for Best Short Subject (Cartoons). But by 1950, he was burned out due to his relentless pace, and left MGM for a year before returning briefly to complete two Droopy shorts in 1953.
That same year, he returned to his old boss, Walter Lantz, to direct five shorts, including the Oscar-nominated "Legend of Rockabye Point" (1955). His tenure there was quickly torpedoed over the same financial issues that prompted him to quit the Lantz operation in 1935, and he moved into television commercials, producing memorable shorts for Raid and Frito-Lay under his own banner, Cascade Productions. Though his career remained active and his work regarded with the utmost respect by many of his peers, Avery became depressed and withdrew from the industry in the mid-1970s. However, he returned to television in 1980 for "The Kwicky Koala Show" (CBS 1981), a Saturday morning series for Hanna-Barbera's Australian production office that featured a titular character who shared several personality traits with Droopy. But Avery would not live to see Kwicky Koala appear on American screens; he succumbed to liver cancer at St. Joseph's Hospital in Burbank, California on August 26, 1980.
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Animation (Feature Film)
Worked as animator for Walter Lantz at Universal
Began directing at Warner Bros.
Directed "Porky's Duck Hunt" which introduced the character of Daffy Duck
Helmed one of the first Bugs Bunny shorts, "A Wild Hare"