Joseph "Joe" Barbera is one of the most famous animators of all time, together with his business partner William Hanna. They had their first success producing the 'Tom & Jerry' cartoons for the MGM film studios in the 1940s and 1950s. Afterwards they founded their own company, Hanna-Barbera Productions, which eventually became the most succesful TV cartoon studio in the world. While Walt Disney was the first to realize the potential of television his company mostly made live-action series for television and rebroadcast his classic animated shorts from the theaters. It wasn't until 1985 before Disney finally dared to produce actual new TV cartoon series. Hanna-Barbera on the other hand, already went into mass-production of new TV cartoon shows in 1958. They scored international hits with series like 'The Flintstones', 'The Jetsons', 'Yogi Bear', 'Top Cat' , 'Wacky Races' and 'Scooby-Doo', while also adapting comics series by other artists to the small screen, like Peyo's 'The Smurfs'. While the quality of some of their TV output has often been contested they at least proved that TV animation could be as profitable as film animation. They pioneered the first prime-time animated sitcom ('The Flintstones') and received 7 Oscars, 8 Emmy's and one Golden Globe for their work. Several of their shows also inspired numerous comic book spin-offs.
Cartoons drawn by Joseph Barbera, depicting different moments in his life (1961, source:hannabarberaforever.com)
Born in New York City in 1911, Barbera had a banking job when he sold his first cartoons to magazines like Redbook, Saturday Evening Post and Collier's. He began his career in animation at studios like Van Beuren and Terrytoons in the 1930s. He teamed up with William Hanna while working at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in California. In 1940 the duo gained their first successes with their 'Tom and Jerry' shorts at MGM. The shorts revolved around a blue housecat, Tom, and a little brown mouse, Jerry, who constantly fight each other. Despite being a standard plot in animation, Hanna and Barbera managed to avoid the dangers of formulaic writing by cleverly reworking predictable gags. The cartoons were action-packed and combined hilarious slapstick violence with breakneck speed and excellent comedic timing. They would only became funnier when Tex Avery moved to MGM in 1942. While he never worked on 'Tom & Jerry' his swift comedic timing had a beneficial effect on Hanna and Barbera, who worked in the adjacent animation unit of MGM. Contrary to many other cartoons at the time, 'Tom & Jerry' also stood out for being almost completely done in pantomime. This helped the series break through all language barriers and become universally popular. During the 1940s and 1950s 'Tom & Jerry' 's success was only rivalled by Tex Avery's 'Droopy', Walter Lantz' 'Woody Woodpecker' at Universal and the 'Looney Tunes' cartoons of Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, Frank Tashlin and Bob McKimson at Warner Brothers. But Hanna and Barbera managed to win seven Academy Awards, an animation record only equalled and surpassed by Walt Disney. Their seven crowned shorts were 'The Yankee Doodle Mouse' (1943), 'Mouse Trouble' (1944), 'Quiet Please!' (1945), 'The Cat Concerto' (1947), 'The Little Orphan' (1949), 'The Two Mouseketeers' (1952) and 'Johann Mouse' (1952). Other cartoons have also become classics, such as 'Fraidy Cat' (1942), 'Bowling Alley Cat' (1942), 'The Zoot Cat' (1944), 'The Mouse Comes to Dinner' (1945), 'Tee for Two' (1945), 'The Milky Waif' (1946), 'Trap Happy' (1946), 'Solid Serenade' (1946), 'Salt Water Tabby' (1947), 'A Mouse in the House' (1947), 'Kitty Foiled' (1948), 'Mouse Cleaning' (1948), 'Heavenly Puss' (1949), 'Love That Pup' (1949), 'Tennis Chumps' (1949), 'Little Quacker' (1950), 'Cue Ball Cat' (1950), 'Jerry's Cousin' (1951), 'Slicked-up Pup' (1951), 'Posse Cat' (1954) and 'Pecos Pest' (1955). The cat and mouse also had cameos in the live-action MGM musicals 'Anchors Aweigh' (1944) and 'Dangerous When Wet' (1953), where they had musical routines with respectively Gene Kelly and Esther Williams. Kelly's dance sequences with an animated serpent and two Arab guards in 'Invitation to the Dance' (1956) were also animated by Hanna-Barbera.
Hanna and Barbera worked together on the stories of 'Tom & Jerry' with the writers. Barbera drew out the storyboards, while Hanna timed every gag. Among the animators (and later comics artists) who worked at the studio at the time were Gus Arriola, Carl Wessler, Dan Gordon, Harvey Eisenberg and Don R. Christensen. In 1955 Hanna and Barbera were promoted to producers. Unfortunately rising production costs and the arrival of a new popular medium, television, made many animation studios cope with financial cuts. In 1957 MGM was the first classic animation studio to close down, others would follow in the two decades beyond. Hanna and Barbera didn't despair and went into television. They founded their own company, Hanna-Barbera, and had great success with re-running the old Tom & Jerry cartoons on television for decades to come. Despite some complaints about the violent content and the racial insensitivity of Tom's African-American owner Mammy Two-Shoes in later, more politically correct times, 'Tom & Jerry' have remained as beloved as they were in their heydays and the original cartoons between 1940 and 1957 are still regarded as the best. Among their celebrity fans are Whoopi Goldberg, Terry Gilliam, Idi Amin Dada and Yasser Arafat. Steven Spielberg used a clip from the Tom & Jerry short 'The Mouse Comes to Dinner' (1945) in his film 'E.T.' (1982).
But Hanna and Barbera also created new characters. After some first efforts, the studio's first hit was 'The Huckleberry Hound Show' (1958-1961), about a happy-go-lucky blue dog who enjoys singing "My Darling Clementine". Another character who made his debut on this show was Yogi Bear. The picknick basket stealing bear soon received his own spin-off show, 'The Yogi Bear Show' (1961-1962). Encouraged by these early successes Hanna-Barbera soon conceived a bold idea: an animated TV series that would air in the prime-time TV slot. 'The Flintstones' (1960-1967) was the first animated TV sitcom in history and became a colossal international success. Set in an anachronistic Stone Age, the antics of Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty were very similar to a live-action domestic sitcom, but with more cartoony jokes. The show appealed not only to children, but also to adults. Until the arrival of Matt Groening's 'The Simpsons' (since 1989) no other animated TV series managed to duplicate The Flintstones' prime-time success, run for a record-breaking seven seasons or attract an equally big fanbase among mature audiences. 'The Flintstones' also pioneered the first pregnant animated character (when Wilma gave birth to Pebbles in a 1963 episode) and were the first animated TV show to feature Hollywood celebrities as "special guest voices": Hoagy Carmichael, Ann-Margret, Tony Curtis and Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York (best known as Samantha and Darrin from the TV sitcom 'Bewitched' (1964-1972)). Hanna-Barbera incidentally also provided the animated opening sequence of every episode of 'Bewitched'.
For more than two decades Hanna-Barbera was the most succesful TV cartoon studio in the world, scoring hits with shows like 'Quick Draw McGraw' (1959-1962), 'Top Cat' (1961-1962), 'The Jetsons' (1962-1963), 'Magilla Gorilla' (1963-1967), 'Jonny Quest' (1964-1965), 'Wacky Races' (1968-1970), 'Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!' (1969-1970), 'Josie and the Pussycats' (1970-1971), 'Wait Till Your Father Gets Home' (1972-1974), 'Hong Kong Phooey' (1974), 'The Smurfs' (1981-1989) and 'Snorks' (1984-1989). Among the most notable of these series were 'The Jetsons', which was basically a futuristic version of 'The Flintstones'. 'Wacky Races' introduced the campy villain Dick Dastardley and his snickering dog Muttley, who would also reappear in other H&B series. The most popular of their later endeavours was 'Scooby-Doo', about a group of friends who solved mysteries accompanied by a cowardly hippie, Shaggy, and his equally frightened Great Dane Scooby-Doo. The series ran for several seasons under various different names, inspired countless spin-offs, TV specials and films and even motivated Hanna-Barbera to create similar but less succesful animated shows about crime-solving teenagers and an anthropomorphic pet. Yet sometimes Hanna-Barbera dared to break with tradition too. 'Jonny Quest' was their first non-humoristic show and therefore used realistically drawn and animated characters, designed by Doug Wildey. 'Wait Till Your Father Gets Home' even dared to take a political route. Heavily inspired by the live-action sitcom 'All In The Family' but still a lot tamer, the series dealt with the generation gap between conservative middle-aged people and progressive teenagers. All of the above named shows also kept their popularity in repeats. Generations have grown up enjoying their semi-animated characters, who moved against ever-looping backgrounds. The studio received eight Emmy Awards over the years, as well as a Golden Globe. One artist who was a frequent writer for Hanna-Barbera cartoons was Don R. Christensen. Jack Mendelsohn wrote scripts for 'Scooby-Doo'.
However, the company also drew criticism. Many viewers feel that Hanna-Barbera brought animation into a dark age. The drawings were simplified and actions limited to the point of stiffness. The same backgrounds, sound effects, corny gags and even whole scenes were recycled into infinity. Several Hanna-Barbera shows borrowed heavily from already popular franchises. 'The Flinstones', for instance, took its mustard from the sitcom 'The Honeymooners', while 'Top Cat' had the same plotlines and cast characterizations as Phil Silvers' sitcom 'You'll Never Get Rich'. This became more blatant as the decades rolled by, particularly in the series Hanna-Barbera made about popular comic book heroes. 'The Fantastic Four' (1967-1970) was directly based on the Marvel comic book series created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. 'Josie and the Pussycats' was inspired by Dan DeCarlo's popular Archie Comics title. 'Super Friends' (1973-1974) brought popular DC comics characters like 'Superman', 'Batman', 'Wonder Woman' and 'Aquaman' together. 'The Addams Family' (1973) was an adaptation of Charles Addams' eponymous ghoul family, while 'The All-New Popeye Hour' (1978-1983) recycled E.C. Segar's 'Popeye'. 'The New Shmoo' (1979) gave the breakout character from Al Capp's 'Li'l Abner' his own show, while 'The Smurfs' (1981-1989) and 'Lucky Luke' (1983) were based on the Belgian comics series created by respectively Peyo and Morris. Also from Belgium came the characters of 'The Snorks' (1984-1986), which were created by Nic Broca and Raoul Cauvin. Other shows were complete rip-offs of films ('Laurel & Hardy', 'Abbott & Costello', 'Charlie Chan', 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' and 'Godzilla') or TV shows ('I Dream of Jeannie', 'The Partridge Family', 'Happy Days', 'Laverne & Shirley' and 'Mork & Mindy').
The most unusual of all these cash-ins were shows where characters from different franchises were brought together in unusual combinations. In 'Fred and Barney Meet The Thing' (1979) the two Flintstones friends were teamed up with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four member. 'Casper and the Angels' (1979-1980) was a crossover between 'Casper The Friendly Ghost' and the titular characters of the TV series 'Charlie's Angels'. 'The Richie Rich/Scooby-Doo Show' (1980-1982) and 'The Pac-Man/Little Rascals/Richie Rich Show' (1982-1983) featured Alfred Harvey and Warren Kremer's billionaire boy character. Even toys ('Pac-Man', the Rubik's Cube, etc.) and celebrities (Harlem Globetrotters, Gary Coleman, Cantinflas, Harold Ramis, etc.) received their own shows. As a result of their approach other TV cartoon studios started copying their cheap production methods and even their formulaic sound effects. New episodes were churned out on a weekly basis, regardless of quality. Many shows barely lasted one season and stigmatized the medium as cheap, throwaway children's entertainment without any artistic pretenses. To cut costs most of the production process, even the animation, was done cheaply in other countries such as Australia, Spain or South-Asian nations like Korea, Japan and Taiwan. This created less job opportunities for young American animators, as well as less opportunity to learn skills.
Others have defended Hanna-Barbera for helping the art form survive the golden era of their Hollywood days and prove the viability of TV animation. They were also one of the few animation studios in Hollywood who were always hiring new people, creating opportunities for future cartoon talents such as John Kricfalusi ('Ren & Stimpy'), Seth MacFarlane ('Family Guy'), Van Partible ('Johnny Bravo'), Craig McCracken ('The Powerpuff Girls'), Butch Hartman ('The Fairly OddParents', 'Danny Phantom') and Genndy Tartakovsky ('Dexter's Laboratory', 'Samurai Jack', 'Hotel Transylvania'). Hanna-Barbera, by then owned by Warner Bros, returned to the forefront of TV animation in the mid 1990s, with a series of new creations for Cartoon Network, such as 'Dexter's Laboratory' (1996-2003), 'Johnny Bravo' (1997-2004) and 'The Powerpuff Girls' (1998-2005).
Most of Hanna-Barbera's creations also appeared in comic books published by Dell/Western and Gold Key in the 1960s, and Charlton in the 1970s. Among the many talented artists working on these comics, Harvey Eisenberg and Pete Alvarado stood out. Leading artist for the syndicated newspaper strips starring 'Yogi Bear' and 'The Flintstones' was Gene Hazelton. Publishers in Europe also started developing their own material. For instance De Geïllustreerde Pers from The Netherlands published stories with 'The Jetsons' and 'Yogi Bear' by local artists like Jan Steeman, Jan van Haasteren, Ed van Schuijlenburg and Ton Beek. Il Giornalino in Italy also published original material by Italian authors.
In 1976 Hanna and Barbera received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They were only the second animators after Disney in 1960 to receive this honour. Joe Barbera himself remained active until the very end. He is credited as executive producer, writer and co-director on several new Warner Bros. productions starring 'Scooby-Doo' and 'Tom and Jerry' until his death in 2006.