Toon titan, revolutionary Hanna dies

Former engineer helped create 'Flintstones,' 'Jetsons'

William Hanna, the former engineer who became one half of the best-known team in the history of animation, died Thursday at his home in North Hollywood. He was 90.

With partner Joseph Barbera, Hanna created the characters Tom and Jerry for MGM before setting up the powerhouse animation factory Hanna-Barbera where they created hallmarks of television animation such as “The Flintstones” and “The Jetsons.” Inducted into the TV Academy Hall of Fame in 1993, Hanna/Barbera has won eight Emmys.

Their most enduring work is certainly “The Flintstones,” which debuted on ABC in 1960, becoming the first primetime animated sitcom on television. The show was a major ratings hit and led to Saturday morning spinoffs on CBS, NBC and ABC at various times between 1967 and 1989. In 1994, Universal produced a live action feature film based on the series which grossed $400 million worldwide.

Born in Melrose, N.M., Hanna studied journalism and engineering at Compton Junior College in Compton, Calif. He left school in 1929 to start work as a structural engineer and supervised the building of Hollywood’s Pantages Theater, only to be laid off during the Depression.

His first animation job came working for Leon Schlesinger at Pacific Art and Title. In 1930, he moved on to Harmon-Isling Studios, creators of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies. He stayed on for seven years, working in the story department and on music and lyrics.

MGM hired him in 1937 as animation director. A month later Barbera joined the studio; they were soon collaborating on projects. In 1939 they came up with battling cat and mouse Tom and Jerry.

Over the next two decades, under producer Fred Quimby, 113 “Tom and Jerry” shorts were produced, yielding Hanna and Barbera 12 Oscar noms and eight 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).

Tom and Jerry also made appearances in MGM feature films such as “Dangerous When Wet” and “Anchors Aweigh.” MGM promoted them to producers in 1955, but TV was taking its toll on movies and the duo were ordered to dismiss their animators shortly thereafter. Refusing, they asked to be released from their contracts and in July 1957 founded their own company, Hanna Barbera Prods., catering to the burgeoning television market.

To keep up with the rapid pace of television, they used “limited animation” (or “planned animation”), a technique invented by United Producers of America.

“I think we do a fair job in voice casting and in backgrounds,” said Hanna once. “But we fall short in actual animation.”

System allowed them to deliver programming on a weekly basis starting with “Ruff and Ready” on NBC in December 1957, six-minute segs to wrap around classic Columbia Pictures cartoons. Their first series was “The Huckleberry Hound Show,” which began in syndication in 1958. In 1960, the show won an Emmy.

More importantly, “Huckleberry” and his friends launched a lucrative children’s merchandising line of products, which generated hundreds of millions in revenues.

Since Huckleberry also promoted breakfast cereal, it seemed logical that in 1959 Kellogg’s would sponsor Quick Draw McGraw and his sidekick Baba Louie. Yogi Bear got his own show in 1961.

“Top Cat” went primetime on ABC in 1961 and lasted a season. “The Jetsons” followed a year later and ran for a year before moving to Saturday mornings, where it stayed for a decade (and eventually spawned a feature-length film). Other nighttime HB offerings were “The Adventures of Johnny Quest” in 1964, “Where’s Huddles?” in 1970 and “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home” in 1972.

Dominating TV

By the end of the decade HB Prods. was supplying a third of the major nets’ 18 hours of animated fare.

In the late 1960s, HB resurrected Tom and Jerry and created loosely adapted literary classics such as “The Three Musketeers,” “The Adventures of Gulliver” and “Around the World in 80 Days.” They also dipped into live action with “Banana Splits,” “Danger Island” and “The New Adventures of Huck Finn.”

Their biggest success of the period was the toon “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?”

Starting in 1970, HB Prods. adapted live action films and series and spun them off into children’s animation, including “Butch Cassidy,” “Laverne and Shirley,” “Fonz and the Happy Days Gang” and “Mork and Mindy.”

HB met with great success bringing to animation the comicstrip “The Smurfs” and vidgame Pac Man.

In addition to series, HB created specials such as a musical version of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Jack and the Beanstalk” (the latter won an Emmy in 1967). Other Emmys were earned for the educational “The Last of the Curlews” in 1972 and the live action “The Runaways” in 1974.

Hanna-Barbera returned to the theatrical market with a full length animated “Charlotte’s Web” in 1973, based on E.B. White’s tale, and “Heidi’s Song” in 1982.

In the mid ’80s they created an entire series of animated tales from the Bible, “The Greatest Adventure: Stories from the Bible.” As they moved into the 90s there was “Wake, Rattle & Roll,” “Fender Bender 500,” “Monster Tails.” And, of course, Tom and Jerry. They even launched their own retail stores.

In the 1990s, Hanna served as executive producer for 20th Century Fox’s feature film “Once Upon A Forest” and Universal’s live action “The Flintstones.” In 1995 Hanna created two original cartoon shorts (“Hard Luck Duck” and “Wind-Up Wolf”) for Cartoon Network’s “What A Cartoon!” project, marking his first solo directorial efforts since 1941. In 2000, Cartoon Network launched the Boomerang Network, a showcase for the Hanna-Barbera library.

“Bill was a cartoon scientist and a genius at timing,” said Betty Cohen, president of Cartoon Network. “The cartoons of Hanna-Barbera have influenced and entertained generations of kids and adults and will serve as a legacy to his talent.”

‘Scooby’ goes live

This year, production began on a live-action film “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” which was produced for 17 years and maintains the title as television’s longest-running animated series.

Hanna Barbera Prods. was purchased by Taft Broadcasting in 1966, but Hanna and Barbera continued to oversee the more than 800 employees for the next two decades. In 1988, Taft was absorbed by the Great American Broadcasting and Barbera was named president. Turner Broadcasting bought the H-B studios and used their cartoon library as the cornerstorne of the Cartoon Network. AOL-Time Warner now owns H-B.

He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Violet; a son and a daughter and seven grandchildren.

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