Saturday, 1 October 2011

Tex Avery

Here’s Tex being interviewed for the feature film ‘Bugs Bunny Superstar’ (1975). At that time, he was 67 years old and working for Cascade, a small studio run by Oscar-nominee Roy Seawright that closed up in the late ‘70s.

Tex is my favourite director, though—as odd as this sounds—my favourite cartoons were made at Warners after he left. At Warners, you watch the characters, which were handled so well by Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng. But in Tex’s cartoons, you’re really watching Tex and what he’ll do with his gags. He’s corny, outrageous and silly—almost all at once. He’ll comment on being corny, outrageous and silly. And just when you think he’s exhausted his gag supply, he comes up with something that’s even more corny, outrageous or silly, usually out of nowhere or when you least expect it, one after another.

I’d love to know what was going through Leon Schlesinger’s mind when he hired Tex in 1935 to direct. Schlesinger had three directors—Freleng, Jack King and Bugs Hardaway. Not only did he demote Hardaway, he created a brand-new unit, soon to be put in a separate building, headed by an untested newcomer. It really was a gamble, as Tex told historian Joe Adamson. Why Leon gambled is anyone’s guess, though wagering (horses, cards) was in his nature by all accounts.

Tex’s unit, judging by the credits, originally consisted of Jones, Bob Clampett, Virgil Ross and Sid Sutherland as animators, along with Bobe Cannon (they are all caricatured near the end of ‘Page Miss Glory’), Cecil Surry, Joe D’Igalo and Elmer Wait. Ross, Sutherland, Surry and D’Igalo had been with Avery at the Walter Lantz studio. Wait died on July 20, 1937. He was 23.

Anyone familiar with Tex’s life knows he went through a variety of struggles. His son Tim died of an overdose in 1972, his marriage broke up, he battled the bottle, then he finally got stuck trying to work around the “children-protecting” censorship and restrictions of late ‘70s television animation at Hanna-Barbera. He died on August 26, 1980. Joe Adamson says he heard it was from cancer of the liver.

In picking the first non-Tralfaz screen grab to put on the site, there isn’t a much better choice than the man who revolutionised humour in animated cartoons—Frederick Bean (Tex) Avery. Bravo, Doc.