Tex Avery and Michael Maltese, both born a century ago in early 1908, crossed paths at the Warner Bros. animation studio back when it was Leon Schlesinger Productions (now affectionately referred to as “Termite Terrace”). Among their collaborations and individual career achievements are many of the wackiest moments (animation or live action) ever devised for the film medium. This double centennial tribute returned to the big screen some of the short cartoons Avery and Maltese worked on together as well as selected highlights from their prolific individual careers in animated films.
Avery’s directorial approach to animation was to celebrate the medium’s unique energy and limitless possibilities at a time when Disney animation was striving for increased pictorial realism. Maltese, who wrote dozens of animated shorts over the course of his career, was perfectly suited to incorporating Avery’s madcap style into the evolving stable of Warner Bros. characters, which included Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd.
Avery began his career at Walter Lantz’s Universal cartoon studio, working on Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. In 1935 he moved to Warner Bros., where he would create Daffy Duck and crystallize the personality of Bugs Bunny. From 1941 to 1954 Avery directed cartoons for MGM, introducing audiences to Screwy Squirrel, Droopy Dog and a whole new style of animated humor. In 1954 he initiated his final theatrical cartoons for Walter Lantz (four of which he actually completed, more of which were finished by Alex Lovy); some of these cartoons were Chilly Willy’s best.
Maltese began at Warner Bros. in 1937 and actually appeared on camera as a studio guard in You Ought to Be in Pictures, a 1940 Porky Pig short. After working with Avery and many other Warner directors, Maltese would go on to collaborate primarily with Chuck Jones, writing and storyboarding some of the most memorable Warner cartoons ever made, including “What’s Opera Doc?,” “Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century” and “One Froggy Evening.”
To complement the screenings, “Putting Looney in the Toons” also featured a unique autobiographical element – audio presentations of rare recorded interviews with both Avery and Maltese (again, singly and together) discussing their careers with film historian Joe Adamson.