Animator Tex Avery died Tuesday at age 73 after a long career that included stints at the animation studios of Warner
Bros. in its earliest days, many years at
MGM and finally a brief period at Hanna-
Barbera, His style has been described as combining" savagery with hilarity," which lives on in the sassy natures of Bugs Bun- ny and Daffy Duck, whom he helped create,
Chuck Jones, creator of Road Runner and Wile B. Coyote, wrote this tribute to
Avery several years ago and now has of- fered it to Calendar in Avery's memory.
tis difficult to be profound, analytical
or discerning about the art of Tex
Avery, because profundity tends to interrupt laughter and this is a poor trade indeed, Avery was a genius. As one of his animators in the late 1930s (at Warner
Bros.), I was as ignorant of his genius as I
'suppose Michelangelo's apprentices were oblivious to the fact that: they too were working with genius, In spite of that in- tellectual weakness on my part, Avery's brilliance penetrated the husk of my self-assured. ignorance, the ignorance that encases most 20-year-olds, Yes, in spite of myself, I learned from him the most important truth about animation:
Animation is the art of timing, a truth ap- plicable as well to all motion pictures
And the most brilliant. masters of timing.
were usually comedians; Keaton, Chap- lin, Laurel and Hardy, Langdon-and
Fred (Tex) Avery.
However, learning a truth and ap- plying it to your own professional life is the difference, as Mark Twain put it, be- tween lightning and the lightning bug.
More on that later,
Avery was lightning. Just as unpredictable, as surprising, as spectacui- lar as lightning-with one difference:
Unlike lightning, Avery was funny-so you will have to bear with me and ima- gine funny lightning. Impossible? Well, listen: He infused life through the use of
'that funny lightning into a rabbit named
Bugs Bunny, who would a shambles of "Watership Down'; a self-
CMc ow
Tex Avery in a caricature by Chuck Jones.
serving, slightly insane Daffy Duck; and a sadly lisping hunter named Elmer Fudd who, disastrously and fruitlessly, and for reasons known only to himself, contin- ually pursued this unappetizing duo.
And then the Avery lightning struck the entire genre of the Fitzpatrick travelogue and drove it whimpering off the screen with marvelous ridicule, and when his polar bear finally replied to the narrator, "I don't care what you say, I'm cold," the echo from the travelogue must have been, "T don't care what you say,
Oh, lightning doesn't care where it strikes. But with Avery the lightning
flashed in and out of the primal porridge of cute cartoons, sadly including mine, and out sprang a Crackpot' Quail, a
Haunted Mouse, a very, very Red Hot
Riding Hood, a Satyr-Maniacal Wolf, a small Droopy, a canine cross between
Muhammad Ali and Albert Einstein with
'a voice like a cooing dove. Dove? How about 900-pound king-size canary? And the world's smallest half-pint pygmy?
A pyemy by a giant? To slip metaphors again, yes, and for good reason, If am going to thank Tex Avery for what he taught me, I must have something more stable than lightning, hence the giant.
'What Tex taught me was this:
1-You must love what you caricature.
'You must not mock it-uniess it is ridicu- lously self-important, like the solemn live-action travelogues of that day.
2-You must: learn to respect that
'golden atom, that single-frame of action, that of a second, because the dif- ference between lightning and the lightning bug may hinge on that single frame,
3-You must respect the impulsive thought and try to implement it. You cannot perform asa director by what- you already know, you must depend on the flash and of inspiration that you do not expect.
and do not know.
4-You must remember always that only man, of all creatures, can blush, or needs to; that only man can laugh, or needs to, and that if you are in that trade of helping others to laugh and to survive by laughter, then you are privileged in- deed.
5-Remember always that character is- all that matters in the making of great comedians in animation and in live-ac- tion,
6-Keep always in your mind, your heart and your hand that timing is the essence, the spine, and the electrical ma- gic of humor-and of animation.
Of course, never once did anyone hear words such as these from Tex Avery-he was not, one to pontificate-but for all of us who worked with him and beside him the message was loud and clear; by his
'example he taught us, I would have imi- tated him, I suppose, if [had the remotest idea as to how to go about it, but since
others tried and failed-T found to my pleasure and surprise that these rules ap- plied equally well to all humor and all character animation. So there was plenty
'of room for me toseek my own way.
Robert Frost once defined the word
"poet" as a gift-word, you cannot give it to yourself, So for all of us, all over the world, Tex, we who have laughed so uproariously with you salute you, and for all of us in animation, who owe you so much I happily -and at long last have the privilege of telling you that you are an artist and a genius, gift-words both.
Perhaps Raphael Sabatini said it best in the opening lines of "Scaramouche";
"He was born with the gift of laughter and a belief that the world was mad."
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