Cartoon Pioneer Joe Barbera Mourned

By SUE MANNING
The Associated Press
Tuesday, December 19, 2006; 10:08 AM

LOS ANGELES -- Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna were hired within a month of each other in 1937 by the MGM cartoon factory. They soon hit on the idea of a cat named Tom and a mouse named Jerry.

"When we started, people said, `Cat and mouse? That's old stuff,'" Barbera recalled in a 1993 Associated Press interview. Citing characters such as Felix the Cat and Mickey Mouse, he added, "They said it had been done by everybody."

"But I felt that in any country you wouldn't need dialogue to understand the plot. All you needed was a cat and mouse, and everybody knew what was going to happen."

In the decades since, Hanna-Barbera entertained generations of children, filling movie and TV screens with animated series such as "Tom and Jerry," "The Flintstones," "Yogi Bear," "Huckleberry Hound and Friends," "Top Cat," "Scooby-Doo," "Johnny Quest," "The Jetsons" and "Animal Follies."

Barbera died Monday of natural causes at his home with his wife, Sheila, at his side, Warner Bros. spokesman Gary Miereanu said. He was 95. His longtime collaborator, Hanna, died in 2001.

"Joe's contributions to both the animation and television industries are without parallel _ he has been personally responsible for entertaining countless millions of viewers across the globe," said friend, colleague and Warner animation President Sander Schwartz.

The "Tom and Jerry" cartoons won seven Academy Awards, more than any other series with the same characters. Hanna-Barbera received eight Emmy Awards, including the Governors Award of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

Jerry's dance with Gene Kelly in "Anchors Aweigh" has become a screen classic and Fred Flintstone's "yabba dabba doo" and Yogi's "smarter than the average bear" became part of the language.

Their strengths melded perfectly, critic Leonard Maltin wrote in his book "Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons." Barbera brought the comic gags and skilled drawing, while Hanna brought warmth and a keen sense of timing.

"This writing-directing team may hold a record for producing consistently superior cartoons using the same characters year after year _ without a break or change in routine," Maltin wrote.

Hanna once said he was never a good artist but his partner could "capture mood and expression in a quick sketch better than anyone I've ever known."

The two first teamed cat and mouse in the short "Puss Gets the Boot." It earned an Oscar nomination, and MGM let the pair keep experimenting until the full-fledged Tom and Jerry characters eventually were born.

After MGM folded its animation department in the mid-1950s, Hanna and Barbera were forced to go into business for themselves. With television's sharply lower budgets, their new cartoons put more stress on verbal wit rather than the detailed _ and expensive _ action featured in theatrical cartoons.

Like "The Simpsons" three decades later, "The Flintstones" found success in prime-time TV by not limiting its reach to children. The program, a parody of "The Honeymooners," was among the 20 most popular shows on television during the 1960-61 season. "The Jetsons," which debuted in 1962, offered a futuristic mirror image of the Flintstones.

"It was a family comedy with everyday situations and problems that we window-dressed with gimmicks and inventions," Barbera once said. "Our stories were such a contrast to many of the animated series that are straight destruction and blasting away for a solid half-hour."

The show ran just one season on network TV but was often rerun, and the characters were revived in the 1980s in a syndicated show. Barbera said he liked the freedom syndication gave the producers, with none of the meddling from network executives.

The influence of Hanna-Barbera was felt for decades. In 2002 and again in 2004, characters from the cartoon series "Scooby-Doo" were brought to the big screen in films that combined live actors and animation.

Neither Hanna, born in 1910, nor Barbera, born in 1911, set out to be cartoonists. Hanna, who had studied engineering and journalism, originally went into animation because he needed a job.

Barbera, who grew up in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, originally went into banking. Soon, however, he turned his doodles into magazine cartoons and then into a job as an animator.

In addition to his wife, Barbera is survived by three children from a previous marriage, Jayne, Neal and Lynn.

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Associated Press writer Polly Anderson in New York contributed to this report.


© 2006 The Associated Press