CAT AND MOUSE TALES:
MGM's Tom and Jerry Cartoons
Spotlight on History
You won't find Tex Avery's name on any Tom and Jerry cartoon, but without him, Tom and Jerry would not have been the same. One of the most influential directors in cartoon history, Fred "Tex" Avery is best known as one of the fathers of Bugs Bunny and as the man behind some of the funniest cartoons of all time, none of them Tom and Jerrys.
Avery began life as an animator for Walter Lantz in the early thirties, but by 1935 he had moved to Warner Brothers, where he was instrumental in launching the first real Warner Brothers cartoon star, Porky Pig. In 1937, he directed Pork's Duck Hunt, which introduced Daffy Duck. Three years later, he directed A Wild Hare, taking the crazy bunny character named Bugs Bunny that had appeared in a few other cartoons and giving him more of a Groucho Marx personality. He continued to work with the Bugs character for a few more cartoons, but after a dispute with the studio over the ending gag in A Heckling Hare, he walked out. After a brief stint with Paramount, Avery found employment at MGM in 1942.
Although he had made a handful of classics at Warners, it is his MGM cartoons that fuel his modern-day reputation as a cartoon director. The bosses at MGM gave him his own unit and generally left him alone. As a result, his imagination was allowed to run wild. The result was an unmatchable series of fast, funny and noisy as hell cartoons in which literally anything could happen. Avery characters would not just do takes, they would fly apart at the limbs, with their jaws dropping to the ground and their eyes flying five feet out of their heads. In Joe Adamson's Tex Avery: King of Cartoons, Avery revealed one of the keys to his fast-paced timing: if you want to surprise an audience, bring your surprise in no more nor less than five frames ahead of time. Among his most admired films include Red Hot Riding Hood, Northwest Hounded Police, King-Sized Canary, The Cat That Hated People and Bad Luck Blackie. Although he created the popular character of Droopy Dog and attempted to create another Daffy or Bugs with Screwy Squirrel, Avery preferred to populate his cartoon world with nameless dogs, cats, birds, mice and wolves.
Tex Avery never directed a Tom and Jerry cartoon, but one look at the difference between the early, cuter Tom and Jerrys before Tex landed at the lot and the wilder entries after his arrival clearly show his influence on Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. The Tom and Jerry films started featuring more impossible gags, such as Tom's heading coming off in Tee for Two. The "five frames" rule seems to be fully in place too, such as anytime Tom is running away and then - BAM! - there is that post or mailbox that comes out of nowhere to stop him in his tracks. Reaction shots became much wilder after 1942, with eyes popping out of heads and jaws dropping to the floor. In Quiet Please, Spike says he's being driven crazy by all the noise, and then to prove it, goes on to pull his tongue out several times, make his ears slap together while his eyes roll and bell noises clang away on the soundtrack - pure Avery. Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera rarely went "full Avery", keeping the T&J action somewhat within the laws of physics. As an example, also from Quiet Please, Jerry drops a dozen light bulbs in an effort to wake up Spike. Tom manages to catch them all using his arms, legs and mouth. Had Tex Avery directed the film, Tom would have instantly grown eight extra limbs.
Avery finished his studio career with Walter Lantz, where he directed a small handful of four cartoons of varying quality (though all good), including one of his best ever, The Legend of Rockabye Point. On television, he was the man behind a series of popular commercials for the pesticide Raid, and the creator of The Frito Bandito for Lays Potato Chips.
For more information on Tex,
seek out Joe Adamson's excellent book Tex Avery: King of Cartoons.
It features a historical rundown of Tex's
with Tex Avery and gag man Heck Allen, and a complete filmography
complete with Adamson's always amusing and insightful commentary.