Saturday, February 25, 2017

Did Tex Avery dislike Daffy Duck?

For my Tex Avery birthday post this year I'd like to address a hypothesis of mine that's been nagging at me for some time now.  Tex Avery is the one revered and celebrated as the man who created Daffy Duck.  However, as far as being his creator goes, Tex didn't seem to do much with Daffy.  I've read that Tex was not fond of very screwy characters constantly chewing up the scenery and going crazy, which feels like a contradiction when you see the very zany and highly active style of his cartoons.  For instance, Tex was so disenchanted with his other wacky creation Screwy Squirrel that Tex actually had Screwy killed off in his 5th and final cartoon.  He also

had a red hot strong disdain for Woody Woodpecker.  I can venture a guess as to why he felt this way. If one character is so wild and crazy that he dominates the screen then for balance every other character has to be sane or normal.  Maybe Tex did't want to spend agonizing time designing boring old normal characters just to accommodate a wacky one?  If Tex Avery himself were alive to explain himself that would be ideal.  Sadly, since that hasn't been possible since August 26 of 1980, we'll have to settle for theories.

The first Daffy Duck cartoon, as many people know, is of course Porky's Duck Hunt first released on April 17, 1937.

Tex had no special plans when he made this cartoon.  It was just a rudimentary storyline of their current star Porky Pig going out duck hunting.  Unfortunately for Porky, one of those ducks is "less than cooperative".  Bob Clampett was given the awesome duty of animating this duck's first big scene.  Tex' instructions to him were "bring him in from the left and take him out on the right.  What you do in-between is completely up to you."  Well, that inspired Bob to go as wild as possible.  He had that duck jump all over the lake and even bouncing on his head a few times.  That duck became a huge hit in theatres causing many patrons to ask when they could see that duck again.  That duck of course would be called Daffy and the rest is history.
As pleased as Tex was that this duck now called Daffy from his cartoon was doing well, I think he was hoping for another creation of his to become a star.  That same year, Tex made a cartoon called Egghead Rides Again starring his other creation Egghead.

It looks like Tex deliberately put the character's name in the title so that audiences would catch on to him quicker.  Also he hoped that adding the phrase "rides again" would give some validity to Egghead.  People would read that and subconsciously think that Egghead had 'ridden before' as in many cartoons about him had been made before.  You can also tell Tex really wanted Egghead to go far by the next Daffy Duck cartoon:

It's actually called Daffy Duck and Egghead and was released on January 1, 1938.  It looks like Tex was hoping that some of Daffy's popularity would be transferred to Egghead just by proximity and association.

Of course, Daffy would continue to be a popular character while Egghead would fade into obscurity without ever really developing any kind of following.

Later in 1938, Tex would release his third and final Daffy cartoon:

Legend has it that the pig director character in this cartoon, "Von Hamburger", was a caricature of a real director who was brought from Germany to Warner Bros. to make live action movies.  Apparently he was an egotistical jackass who constantly ordered people around and made demands of everybody.

I guess Tex Avery felt that unleashing Daffy Duck into his personal space would be a suitable punishment for him and bring him and his ego down so many pegs.

Then after that, Tex never worked with Daffy ever again.  Fortunately for WB and the animation industry in general, other directors at the studio like the aforementioned Bob Clampett as well as Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Frank Tashlin, Bob McKimson, and Art Davis all put Daffy into many of their cartoons thus making him the very complex dynamo of a character we know today.  But Tex seemed to have walked away from Daffy for some mystery reason.
Animator and animation historian Mark Kausler has talked about his dealings with Tex Avery back when Tex was still around.  One anecdote of his is that he would constantly write fan letters to Tex with a drawing of Screwy Squirrel in the top corner.  These letters received no replies.  Then, he sent a fan letter with Droopy drawn on the side which did receive a reply of something "thank you, I appreciate it".  So obviously Tex had no qualms about expressing his low opinion of his squirrel creation.  But I personally haven't heard Tex say a thing about Daffy, good or bad.

Oh well, I guess I'll leave that as a mystery for the ages.  So now, I'll end this post with Tex Avery's cartoon that started it all.  Happy 109th birthday Tex.

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