Joseph Barbera, who with William Hanna founded powerhouse animation factory Hanna-Barbera, creator of TV gems such as “The Flintstones” and “The Jetsons,” died of natural causes at his home Monday. He was 95.
Early in their careers, Barbera and Hanna (who died in 2001) won seven Oscars for the “Tom and Jerry” cartoon series at MGM; later they earned eight Emmys as the duo set about defining TV animation.
The pair had mostly retired from the business by 1991, when Turner Broadcasting purchased Hanna-Barbera from owner Great American Broadcasting in order to launch the Cartoon Network.
Time Warner purchased Turner in 1996, and its Warner Bros. Animation arm absorbed the remaining Hanna-Barbera assets in 2001. But the Hanna-Barbera name lives on, as toons first created under Hanna’s and Barbera’s watch continue to be revived on both the small screen and in features.
Born in New York City, Barbera was educated at NYU’s American Institute of Banking. He first worked as an accountant and, after selling his first cartoon to Colliers, was a freelance magazine cartoonist. He joined MGM as a story man in 1937, about a month after Hanna had come to the studio. The two were soon collaborating on projects. In 1939 they came up with the battling cat and mouse known as Tom and Jerry.
“We asked ourselves, what would be a normal conflict between characters provoking comedy while retaining a basic situation from which we could continue to generate fresh plots and stories,” Hanna once explained. “We almost decided on a dog and a fox.”
The first Tom and Jerry toon, “Puss Gets the Boot,” received an Oscar nomination for cartoon short in 1940.
Over the next two decades, under producer Fred Quimby, 113 “Tom and Jerry” toons were produced, yielding 12 Oscar nominations and seven 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 including “Dangerous When Wet” and “Anchors Aweigh.”
MGM promoted Barbera and Hanna 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., to cater to the burgeoning TV 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. With simplified actions, limited backgrounds, closeups and reusable stock footage, they were able to reduce the number of drawings per minute of animation from 1,000 to about 300.
This process allowed them to deliver programming on a weekly basis, starting with NBC’s “Ruff and Ready” in December 1957 — six-minute segments to wrap around classic Columbia Pictures cartoons. Their first series was “The Huckleberry Hound Show,” which began in syndication in 1958 and featured such characters as Yogi Bear, Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinx. 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 of dollars in revenues.
Since Huckleberry also promoted breakfast cereal, it seemed logical that in 1959, Kellogg’s would sponsor “Quick Draw McGraw.” Other characters included McGraw sidekick Baba Louie, as well as Snooper and Blabber, Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy.
Yogi Bear got his own show in 1961, to be joined by Snagglepuss, Yakky Doodle and, eventually, Magilla Gorilla, Wally Gator and Jabberjaw.
In 1960, Hanna-Barbera created another milestone, “The Flintstones,” the first primetime animated sitcom, on ABC. The show was dismissed by critics, and owed more than a nod to Jackie Gleason’s “The Honeymooners.” But it was a major ratings hit, running in primetime until 1966 and in syndication ever since.
The series spawned millions of dollars in merchandising, including vitamins and cereals, spinoffs, specials, even feature films like “‘The Man Called Flintstone.” In 1994, Universal produced a live-action feature based on the series that was a worldwide blockbuster, grossing $400 million.
“The Flintstones” remained the longest-running primetime animated show until “The Simpsons” took over that title in the mid-1990s.
“Top Cat” went primetime on ABC in 1961 and lasted a season. “The Jetsons” followed a year later and also ran in primetime for a year before moving to Saturday mornings, where it stayed for a decade (and also eventually spawned a feature-length film, albeit animated). Other nighttime HB offerings were “The Adventures of Jonny Quest” in 1964, “Where’s Huddles?” in 1970 and “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home” in 1972.
Their daytime output was even more impressive: By the end of the decade, HB Prods. was supplying a third of the major networks’ 18 hours of animated fare.
The output of new characters never stopped, continuing with Penelope Pitstop, Motormouse, Wacky Races, Autocat and Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines (for which Hanna wrote the theme song, “Stop That Pigeon”).
In the late ’60s, HB resurrected “Tom and Jerry,” toning down the violence for TV, and created loosely adapted literary classics such as “The Three Musketeers,” “The Adventures of Gulliver” and “Around the World in 79 Days.” They also dipped into live action with “The Banana Splits Adventure Hour,” “Danger Island” and “The New Adventures of Huck Finn.”
Their biggest success of the period was the animated “Scooby Doo, Where are You?,” a supernatural whodunit featuring a cowardly Great Dane.
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,” “Happy Days” and “Mork and Mindy.” They also created shows around the “Flintstones” characters like Dino, Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm.
Always adaptable, HB met with great success bringing comicstrip “The Smurfs” to animation as well as videogame “Pac Man.”
In addition to series, HB created specials, including musical versions of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Jack and the Beanstalk” (the latter won an Emmy in 1967). ABC After School Special “The Last of the Curlews” won an Emmy in 1972.
Hanna-Barbera returned to the theatrical market with 1973’s full-length animated feature “Charlotte’s Web,” based on E.B. White’s children’s classic, and “Heidi’s Song” in 1982. Both used full animation techniques.
HB’s live-action work includes the made-for-TV “Hardcase,” “Shootout in a One Dog Town,” “KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park” and “Belle Star,” all in the 1970s.
Barbera also exec produced 1977’s Emmy-winning telepic “The Gathering.”
In the mid-1980s the duo created an entire series of animated tales, “The Greatest Adventure: Stories From the Bible.” As they moved into the 1990s, there was “Wake, Rattle & Roll,” “Fender Bender 500” and “Monster Tails.” They even launched their own retail stores.
Hanna-Barbera Prods. was purchased by Taft Broadcasting in 1966, but Hanna and Barbera continued to oversee the 800-plus employees for the decades that followed. In 1988, Taft was absorbed by Great American Broadcasting and Barbera was named president.
In 1994, Hanna and Barbera were inducted into the TV Academy Hall of Fame.
By the time Turner took over Hanna-Barbera in the 1990s, Hanna and Barbera were no longer actively involved. The duo continued as figureheads, however, until the end of the decade. By the time of Hanna’s death, the Hanna-Barbera nameplate had been retired for new development.
The massive Hanna-Barbera library lives on, however, on cable nets including Cartoon Network and its classic toon spinoff, Boomerang.
Barbera is survived by his wife and three children.