Frederick Bean Avery was born in 1908 to George Walton Avery and Mary Augusta Bean Avery when the family was living in Taylor, Williamson County, Texas. His parents were both from the South with his father having been born in Alabama and his mother in Mississippi. His father George operated a lumber yard. Shortly afterward, his family moved to Dallas and by 1920, they were living on East Brooklyn Avenue, near the present location of the Dallas Zoo (Oak Cliff). The census said that his father was in the oil lease business. At some point they moved further north, as Frederick graduated from North Dallas High School in 1926. By 1935, he was on his own with his mother passing away in 1931 and his father passing away in 1935.
The family legend was that Frederick was related both to Judge Roy Bean and Daniel Boone. Some accounts say that he was even descended from both of them. As for Judge Roy Bean, Bean was a family name. Tex’s grandfather resided in Mississippi and was named Frederick Mumford Bean. Tex was known to add that his grandmother Minnie cautioned him not to claim that he was related to the famous/infamous west Texas judge. We can find no common relatives that would connect Tex to Phantly Roy Bean (Judge Roy Bean). Although it may have just been a family legend, it made for a good story.
The legends did not end with Boone and Bean. His grandmother Minnie Edger Bean was said to have been related to some different historical figures. When she passed away in Fort Worth in 1940, her obituary stated that she was a descendant of Lord Baltimore and a niece of President James Monroe.
Tex Avery headed west and began working in California in various jobs. By 1935 he was working as an animator for Warner Brothers in California. He later directed cartoons for Warner Brothers and then MGM during what might have been the best years of animation in America. If you grew up during that era, roughly 1935 to 1955, you will likely know many of the characters he either created or developed while working for various studios: Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Droopy Dog, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Elmer Fudd, Screwy Squirrel, Chilly Willy and others.
Tex and his collaborators had a vision for animation that was quite different from the cute characters of studios like Disney. It was said that in Avery’s world, anything goes. Characters could emerge unscathed after the worst calamities, their eyes could zoom out at astonishing sights, their jaws could literally drop to the floor, their limbs could stretch like rubber, they could speak English and were absolutely unbound by physical laws. For example, in one scene, Bugs Bunny and another character fall off a high cliff. They drop several seconds and what appears to be thousands of feet though the clouds to the earth with seemingly no way to save themselves. Just as they are about to strike the surface, they put down their feet and skid to a stop in the air. Audiences loved this kind of thing.
The character Bugs Bunny is said to have been created around 1940, although an animated rabbit had earlier been featured in film shorts done by others. Bugs’ signature question “What’s up, Doc?” was said to have originated in the halls of North Dallas High School. His name Bugs is said to have been based on the nickname of Ben “Bugs” Hardaway, another employee of the Leon Schlesinger studio that became Warner Brothers Cartoons. Bugs made a big debut of sorts in the cartoon “A Wild Hare” in which Tex was credited for supervision along with three other individuals for their respective roles. Bugs became one of the studio’s mascot characters long after Avery had moved on to other jobs.
Avery left Schlesinger/Warner Brothers in 1941 for a job with MGM. His characters including Droopy Dog were featured in a number of cartoons, some even with western themes. It’s been said that he worked in some capacity on most of the MGM cartoons during that period, except for Tom and Jerry. During World War II, some of his cartoons had wartime themes, such as a wolf starring in a highly parodied version of Adolph Hitler. He also created a series of cartoons featuring a somewhat edgy and risqué female character in “Red Hot Riding Hood” along with other original characters. His collaboration with MGM lasted until around 1953 after which he worked for Walter Lantz/Universal Studios for a few more years.
For the rest of his career, Tex mostly seems to have worked in advertising with a few engagements back in animated cartoons. His creations are said to include the screaming Raid roaches and the Frito Bandito. The Bandito was intended to replace the well used Frito Kid. The new character was created by an ad agency and illustrated by Avery. Frito-Lay used it in its promotions from around 1967-1971 until the character was retired in response to social criticism in favor of a new character, W. C. Fritos, patterned after the late actor W. C. Fields. In his later years, Tex suffered some personal issues including his divorce and the death of his son. Along the way he had lost the sight in one eye from a random injury due to horseplay in one of the studios. Avery’s health also began to fail and he died of cancer in 1980. Tex is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California.
Although Bugs Bunny has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Avery does not. Tex was nominated for seven Academy Awards, though he never won. Avery was honored with a Texas historical marker in his birthplace of Taylor, Texas in Williamson County and in 2010 a project was created for students of North Dallas High School to honor him with a mural that includes his famous cartoon characters.
Said of Tex in a documentary, “He was serious about being funny.” – June Foray.
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