Joe Barbera, half of the Hanna-Barbera animation team that produced such beloved cartoon characters as Tom and Jerry, Yogi Bear and the Flintstones died on Monday (Dec.18), aged 95.
From the Stone Age to the Space Age, the characters he created with his late partner, William Hanna, are not only animated superstars, but also a very beloved part of animation cartoon culture. While he will be missed by his millions of fans, Joe will live on through his work.
R.I.P, Mr. Barbera.
Following is the tribute by The Times to the master animator:
March 24, 1911 – December 18, 2006
In 20th-century animation the names of Joseph Barbera and William Hanna ranked second only to that of Walt Disney in terms of public recognition.
At MGM in the 1940s they created a cartoon-character partnership that was to prove as durable as their own — a cat and mouse caught up in a never-ending cycle of surreal mayhem. Tom and Jerry delighted audiences, while prompting concerns about the level and nature of violence. Tom would use everything from poison to dynamite in his desperate attempts to exterminate Jerry; he would always come off worse, and yet suffer no lasting damage.
During the 1940s and 1950s Barbera and Hanna made more than 100 Tom and Jerry shorts, seven of which won Academy Awards. They remained so popular that MGM could make almost as much from re-releasing the old cartoons as it could from making new ones. When the studio recorded its first loss in 1957 it embarked on a thorough costcutting exercise and closed its animation unit.
The two animators rose to new heights with their company Hanna-Barbera Productions, which came to dominate the developing TV cartoons market. Their creations included Yogi Bear, Scooby-Doo and The Flintstones, a prime-time show that featured an ordinary, working-class family, with whom viewers could identify. With their cars, “mod cons” and bowling alleys, the main characters were, as made clear in the theme song, written by Barbera and Hanna, “a modern, Stone Age family”.
In turning out cartoons in such rapid succession Hanna-Barbera cut corners, with characters running past the same background repeatedly. Some critics felt the company was lowering the standards set by Disney.
The son of a barber, Joseph Roland Barbera was born in Manhattan in 1911 and grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn. After high school he spent six “dreadful” years as a bank clerk, while drawing cartoons for magazines and studying art in his spare time. He applied for a job with Disney, but did not get an interview. After spells with other studios, including Terrytoons, he joined MGM in 1937 and struck up a partnership with Hanna, who had been with the studio for several years.
The characters that would become Tom and Jerry first appeared in Puss Gets the Boot (1940), a nine-minute short in which the cat was called Jasper and the mouse did not have a name. The cat is determined to catch the mouse, but is told that if there are any more breakages he will be thrown out of the house — and the crafty mouse starts deliberately wrecking the place.
MGM’s animation chief, Fred Quimby, put Barbera and Hanna to work on a series of cartoons revisiting the same characters and plot. Barbera and Hanna shared director credits and contributed to the writing. Barbera was largely responsible for the drawing, with Hanna also providing many of the vocal sound effects. They managed to produce endless variations on the theme of cat, mouse and violence and won Oscars for Yankee Doodle Mouse (1943), Mouse Trouble (1944), Quiet Please (1945), The Cat Concerto (1946), The Little Orphan (1948), Two Mouseketeers (1951) and Johann Mouse (1952).
Jerry broke new ground in a dance with Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh (1945), a breathtaking mix of live action and animation. Tom and Jerry also appeared in similar sequences in Holiday in Mexico (1946), the Esther Williams musical Dangerous When Wet (1953) and Kelly’s Invitation to the Dance (1956).
After leaving MGM, Barbera and Hanna made cartoons specifically for television, beginning with Ruff and Reddy in 1957. The show pioneered “limited animation”, with, for instance, only the mouth being animated and the rest of the picture staying the same from frame to frame. The practice drew considerable criticism, but Hanna-Barbera had to work on budgets that were a fraction of those spent on cinema animation.
Ruff and Reddy was followed the following year by Huckleberry Hound, Pixie and Dixie and The Yogi Bear Show (named after the baseball legend Yogi Berra). The Flintstones opened in 1960; Top Cat in 1961. The show was renamed Boss Cat in the UK, where there was a pet food called Top Cat.
In the mid-1960s Hanna-Barbera made animated features starring Yogi Bear and the Flintstones for cinema. Other series included Wally Gator, The Jetsons, Jonny Quest, Atom Ant, Secret Squirrel, Wacky Races and Scooby-Doo.
In Wacky Races the villain Dick Dastardly always cheated and always lost. Scooby-Doo, Where are You? featured a bunch of youngsters and their cowardly Great Dane, who investigate supernatural goings-on, but find they are covers for criminal activities. The show recycled the formula, just as Tom and Jerry had done, yet it proved enormously popular and spawned spin-off series.
Ironically, in the 1970s the studio linked up with MGM to make new Tom and Jerry cartoons for television, and in these more sensitive times the pair became best friends. Barbera and Hanna co-directed Josie and the Pussycats, The Harlem Globetrotters and Help! It’s the Hair Bear Bunch. In 1990 they shared the director credit on Jetsons: The Movie. Barbera was one of the main instigators of Tom and Jerry: The Movie film two years later.
In 1991 Hanna-Barbera Productions, and its enormous library, was bought by Turner Broadcasting Systems for an estimated $320 million.
Barbera published his autobiography, My Life in ’Toons: From Flatbush to Bedrock in Under a Century in 1994. The title was an allusion to the town in which the Flintstones lived. Barbera revealed that he and Hanna had almost nothing in common and rarely saw each other socially. Barbera also admitted that the pressure of work had taken a toll on his marriage to his first wife, Dorothy. In 1994 Barbera was inducted into the TV Hall of Fame by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Despite the alleged creative and technical shortcomings, several generations grew up on Hanna-Barbera cartoons and retained fond memories of them. In more recent times The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo have been turned into big budget, live-action feature films, on which Barbera and Hanna served as executive producers. Hanna died in 2001.
Barbera is survived by his second wife, Sheila Holden, whom he married in 1963, and by their son and two daughters.