Tex Avery was an American cartoonist born on February 26, 1908, in Taylor, Texas. At an early age, he developed an interest in animation and studied art in college. He worked for Warner Brothers from 1935-'41 where he created the beloved cartoon characters Daffy Duck, Porky Pig and Bugs Bunny. After leaving, he worked for other studios where he created popular characters like Droopy and Chilly Willy. Avery died on August 16, 1980, on the job at Hanna Barbera Studios in Burbank, California.
Early Life and Career
Cartoonist and artist Frederick Bean Avery, better known as Tex Avery, was born on February 26, 1908, in Taylor, Texas, to parents George and Mary Augusta "Jessie" Bean Avery. Avery (first known as Fred; "Tex" came later) took up drawing as a student at North Dallas High School, where he published a few rudimentary cartoons for the school yearbook and newspaper. After graduating in 1926, he took the train north for a summer to the Art Institute of Chicago. The school wasn't to his liking, so Avery soon returned home to work odd jobs in Dallas. In 1928, he and some friends traveled to southern California, and Avery immediately knew he'd found the place he wanted to be. His friends went back to Dallas without him, while a 20-year-old Avery stayed behind, scraping together a living unloading produce trucks by day and sleeping on the beach at night.
Avery tried selling his cartoon strip to local newspapers, but he experienced little success. Instead, he landed a job as an assistant animator at the Walter Lantz Studio, which produced the "Oswald the Lucky Rabbit" cartoons, among others. There Avery had a disheartening epiphany: he was not actually a very good artist. "Most of those fellows at Lantz's could draw rings around me," Avery later recalled. To make up for his lack of artistic talent, Avery became determined to master every stage of cartoon production. By the end of his five years at Lantz's, he had convinced his bosses to let him oversee two full animated feature films—a huge responsibility. He had also gained the nickname "Tex," in honor of his home state, and lost the use of his left eye in a freak office accident involving an ill-fated game of catch and a paper clip.
In 1935, Avery sought a move to the Warner Brothers animation studio. As a trial project, he produced a feature film—Gold Diggers of '49—that knocked the socks off producer Leon Schlesinger, who hired the 27-year-old as animation director. From a small building on the studio lot nicknamed the "Termite Terrace," Avery oversaw every aspect of his cartoons, from story and music to animation. From Termite Terrace, Avery created some of the most memorable characters in cartoon history, many of which were voiced by the legendary Mel Blanc (though Avery also provided snatches of dialogue and his deep belly laugh when necessary). His characters included Daffy Duck and Porky Pig as well as Bugs Bunny, whose trademark greeting of "What's up, Doc?" had been popular slang at North Dallas High in Avery's student days.
Avery and his co-workers largely abandoned the children's market, which was already dominated by Disney. They focused instead on making cartoons that could also appeal to adults, transforming the whole idea of what a cartoon would be. Avery was the first director to work from the premise that his characters could do anything since they were, in fact, cartoons. They could get squished by an anvil, pushed off a cliff or chopped into pieces and still emerge intact at the end of the feature (or at least in next week's episode). There were also no saccharine-sweet romantic stories. Avery's cartoons were full of winking, sarcastic humor and sight gags that made adults and kids laugh for different reasons.
Following a conflict with his boss, Avery left Warner Brothers for MGM in 1941. He remained wildly prolific, cranking out animated films at a rate of five per year for 13 years. Avery was such a workaholic that he sometimes refused to leave his office even to go to the bathroom, which at one point forced him to have emergency bladder surgery. His MGM characters included Droopy Dog and "Red Hot Riding Hood," a cartoon so risqué (the storybook heroine performs a striptease) that it was banned from television.
Avery left MGM in 1954, having spent most of his creative energy. After a brief return to the Lantz studio (where he created the penguin Chilly Willy) he turned to a new line of work making commercials. In this phase of his career, Avery created a memorable series of Raid pesticide ads (where the cartoon termites scream "RAAAID!" and die) and the Frito Bandito.
His personal life, however, was never as sunny as his cartoons. Avery acknowledged ignoring his family for his work, and weathered a string of personal tragedies that included a son's fatal drug overdose and the subsequent breakup of his marriage. On August 26, 1980, Avery died of lung cancer at the age of 72. After his death, his one-time Warner Brothers co-worker Chuck Jones said, "I was as ignorant of his genius as I suppose Michelangelo's apprentices were oblivious to the fact that they, too, were working with a genius."
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