Some of Tex Avery's mourners have never left the drawing board: Bugs and Porky and Daffy and Droopy and others in what became know as the Tex Aviary. Relentlessly he propelled them through a pen-and-ink universe in which logic and reason were platry aramaments against the fateful interventions of a premediated anarchy.
When people came apart at the seams, they came apart at the seams. But usually pulled themselves together again in time for the next orbiting frying pan or plummeting anvil. Avery's works were testaments to spiritual regeneration and to the universality of suffering indignities.
Fred "Tex Avery was one of the premiere directors of animated cartoons during their what-the-hey day at Warner Bros. in the '30s and '40s, then later moved to MGM, where he created Droopy, the doom-spreading, mushed-mouthed bloodhound. And, when times grew leaner for theatrical cartoons, he originated the animated commercials in which devil-may-care insects were dispatchte to eternity by an aerosol spry known as "Raid" -- or as a shell-shocked bug would always say, "RAID!!!!"
On Wednesday, Mr. Avery was himself dispatched in a manner devoid of the prankish surrealism that marked the work of his life. He died in Hollywood at the age of 72.
He was remembered yesterday with fondness, praise and laughter.
"He never missed a gag, you know?" recalled Chuck Jones, who once worked for Avery as an animator at Warners and soon became a top-flight and innovative director there himself. "Tex had the greatest sense of belivable exaggeration I ever saw. No matter how wild it went, he always kept something to hold it in place, so that it was not just a bunch of nuts running around. He had a talent for extending a gag far beyond anything I've ever seen. He had a great sense of comic timing; he was one of the great timers of the world."
In an Avery cartoon, nothing was safe. Anyting could drop out from under anybody without even the protocol of a moment's notice. Visual metaphor ran rampant and the improbable was king. In one of Mr. Avery's most celebrated works, "Bad Luck Blackie," a bullying bulldon is punished for his terrorist tactics by a black cat that repeatedly walks in front of his path. Whenever he does, something of note falls from the sky and onto the bulldog's head. As usual in a very Avery cartoon, the joke escalates until, at the fadeout, the dog is being bombardedd with cars, trucks, locomotives, an ocean liner and, the coup de grace, a kitchen sink.
"I hate to say 'genius,' that's not enough, said Joseph Barbera, of the Hanna-Barbera ("Flintstones," etc.) Co. yesterday. "Tex was much more than that. He was one of a kind, he never imitated anybody, he was a quiet guy who just disappeared into his office but then he did work that was brilliant."
Hanna, Barbera and Mr. Avery were cellmates for a time a MGM, when Hanna and Barbera were turning out Tom and Jerrys. About a year ago, after severe personal problems had rendered him largely a hermit, Mr. Avery was coaxed by Hanna and Barbera into taking an office at their firm and given "carte blanche," Barbera says, to do what he wanted.
The last character he created, Quickie Koala, will turn up in a CBS special next year, Barbera said.
Among Mr. Avery's key contributions at Warner Bros. was a sizable part of Bugs Bunny's then developing wiseacre personality, primarily for the 1940 cartoon "A Wilde Hare," costarring Elmer Fudd, withless wabbit hunter. "It was Tex who, when Elmer had his rifle down the rabbit hole, had Bugs tap him on the shoulder and, with his carrot in his hand, go, 'bite-bite-bite, chew-chew-chew, egg, what's up, Doc?' " Jones recalled. "Now that's the whole idea of Bugs right there."
"What's up, Doc?" which became as familiar an American expression as "Kilroy Was Here," had been a favorite saying of Mr. Avery's and his classmate's at college.
Jones said Mr. Avery would work quietly and intensely by himself, then suddenly jump up to act out and time a bit of action, during their years at "terminte Terrace," the gang's nickname for a small square building at Warners. One day they looked out the window to discover that their corner of the lot was so bleak Warners was using the buildings as the setting for prison pictures.
These were crazy days.
"During the war, Tex made a cartoon called 'The Blitz Wolf,'" said Jones, "and one producer at Warners, who probably should stay nameless, noticed that the wolf had a little mustache and a bit of hair hanging down on his forehead and looked just like Hitler. And the producer said to Tex, 'Do you think it's a good idea to make fun of Mr. Hitler? After all we don't know who's going to win the war yet.' And this was 1944! Of course Tex never paid attention to things like that and he made the picture anyway.
"The men who worked for Tex were crazy about him and crazy about what he did," said Jones. "The animation was so wild, they could explode themselves visually. Tex's stuff was very sexy, too. I never understood how he got away with some of the things he did. In 'Red Hot Riding Hood,' he had Red Riding Hood do an incredible strip tease, and the wolf just flew to pieces when this girl was dancing. I mean, literally to pieces. His limbs would fly off; he would disappear into his suit; two hands would come out of the neck; his eyes would pop."
The wolf puffed so heatedly on a cigarette during his fit of passion that the ash not only burned down to the end but then the wolf's whole head became a burning cigarette ash and fell off. Of course in the next scene he was good as new.
"Tex created a whole modernist cartoon vocabulary that everbody used," said Greg Ford, a tireless animation historian, from a studio in New York. He brought a whole new level to it; he and Chuck Jones are the only really important figures in post-Disney animation."
It was the oderliness and literalness of Disney animation that Mr. Avery rebelled against. He would stop cartoons cold for asides to the audience or other devices that called attention to the artificial nature of the illusion; he might have one character chase the other right off the surface of the film and into the sproket holes. Then one and all would plunge right back into the illusion again.
"You can't compare anybody to him," said the blustery Barbera. "There was one man called Tex Avery and that's who he was. His stuff, fortunately, will live forever."