Hanna-Barbera Essays

Here are 16 essays I wrote to attack head-on the misconceptions many people–myself included– had about Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera and the cartoons they created.  Read ’em…they’re fun!

LIMITED ANIMATION…UNLIMITED IMAGINATION

Over the years, I’ve occasionally heard Hanna-Barbera criticized for “cheapening” the art of cartoons by inventing a technique for television called “limited animation”.

Here’s the true story: When theatrical cartoons were on death’s door, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera single-handedly (or, rather, double-handily) rescued cartoons from oblivion. As a cartoon blues man might say, “If it wasn’t for limited animation, we wouldn’t have no animation at all.”

Seven Oscars weren’t enough.
In 1957 Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were veteran cartoon directors with over forty years experience between them. These two men had created the cartoon cat and mouse team, Tom & Jerry. (That’s tantamount to having “invented” Abbot & Costello.) They had won seven Oscars with Tom & Jerry, more than anybody else in cartoon history.

But in the mid fifties none of that mattered anymore. Television had arrived. The theatrical market for cartoons had dried up. And MGM, where Hanna and Barbera had risen to the rank of executive producers, suddenly closed up shop without warning. Overnight, Bill and Joe found themselves out of work, along with virtually all of their cartoon colleagues in Hollywood.

Never say die.
But these two cartoonists refused to go gently into th-th-th-th-that’s all folks. They started a studio, and figured out a way to make cartoons viable for television. You think that’s easy? Consider this: The “full animation” cartoons that Hanna and Barbera made at MGM took six months per seven minute episode, with budgets that often exceeded $60,000. Now they had to create thirty minutes of cartoon material every week, with budgets that were half the size of what they used to spend to make a single short!

They had a plan.
How did they do it? They called upon the “planned” animation technique they had developed to test out new Tom & Jerry cartoons at MGM. Instead of making twenty or thirty thousand drawings, a planned or “limited” cartoon only used 2 or 3 thousand drawings. Now Hanna and Barbera had to make this “planned” approach work for them on actual cartoons. They adopted the minimalist cartoon style which was becoming popular at the time, with its simple lines and suggested backgrounds, and turned it to their advantage. They made backgrounds that could be used in multiple scenes; cloud formations that worked whether the action was going up, down, or sideways; characters with “muzzles” so only their mouths had to be animated; characters that blinked a lot, to enhance the illusion of motion.

Shooting stars.
And to keep the entertainment value of their TV cartoons high, Hanna and Barbera turned up the burners on their imaginations. With Tom & Jerry they had worked with the same characters over and over, dreaming up different cat and mouse gags each time. Now these men in their late forties responded to the challenge of their careers by bringing out an avalanche of vivid, hilarious, new cartoon stars and stories.

Ruff & Reddy, Pixie & Dixie, Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw (and his alter ego El Kabong), Topcat, Magilla Gorilla, Snagglepuss, Scooby Doo, The Jetsons, Jonny Quest, Space Ghost …the list goes on and on. (Oh, and let’s not forget the most successful television cartoon team of all time, The Flintstones.)

In the list above I’ve barely scratched the surface of what sprang from the imaginations of Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera, and the other great cartoon talents they assembled at their studio in the fifties and sixties.

Stories, characters, ingenuity, and a dedication to the cartoon cause. That’s how Hanna-Barbera rescued cartoons from death’s door. Anybody who says different will have to answer to El Kabong! (I wouldn’t risk it if I were you.)

Bill Burnett
Creative Director
Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc.

IS THERE A STYLE IN THE HOUSE?

Among the many amazing accomplishments of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera is the fact that, in their late forties, after years of doing Tom & Jerry cartoons at MGM, they created a new studio with a distinct house style. The vivid Hanna-Barbera color palette, character designs, layout, background art, sound effects and music are unique and instantly recognizable. How many other studios can make that claim? (Answer: Only two–and they both feature rodents with big ears.)

What’s more, when Bill and Joe opened their studio doors in the late fifties, the Hanna-Barbera style emerged pretty much full-blown. It bore no resemblance to the work these two cartoonists had done in the past. And yet, there was next to no transition time, no period of trial and error. Certainly the style improved over the years. But a Huckleberry Hound from the fifties could wander into a frame next to Magilla Gorilla in the sixties and not feel out of place.

Imagine a musician, or a novelist, or a fine artist totally reinventing themselves that late in life. It’s almost unheard of. And yet Hanna and Barbera pulled it off, and in the process created the largest cartoon library in the world!

Bill Burnett
Creative Director
Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc.

ENTERING THE CULTURE

The true test of popularity is when the catch phrase of a cartoon becomes part of the language. “Yabba-dabba-doo” is one good example, but others like Astro’s “Rats rall right Reorge,” and of course, Yogi’s “smarter than the average bear” have become universal as well. Hanna-Barbera’s characters have had a knack for entering the culture since the beginning. Partly due to the immense power of television, and partly due to the great writing, design and voice characterizations of the characters, everyone from Huckleberry Hound on down has influenced American pop culture.

The Flintstones effect is obvious. Try singing the theme song at a party and see how many people join in– and know all the words! (OK, maybe not the part about “through the courtesy of Fred’s two feet.” But that’s a tricky line.) Even before the Stone Age, the beatnik era saw the impact of Maynard G. Krebs (“You rang?”) and the equally cool, like, feline hipster, Mr. Jinx. “I hate you meeses to pieces” was on everyone’s lips in 1958. Many fathers have been tempted to say, “my son, my son,” after our own Doggie Daddy. And who hasn’t said, “Exit…stage left!” when in a tight spot? (if not out loud, then under your breath.)

It’s always amusing to hear someone brag that they are “smarter than the av-er-age bear.” While it works well for Yogi, it is kind of self-deprecating for humans to say. But that’s the nature of the beast. A catch phrase becomes a catch phrase, even if it means admitting you’re not too bright!

Bill Burnett
Creative Director
Hanna-Barbera Cartoons Inc.

BEYOND GAGS

When you think of Hanna-Barbera, you probably think of Saturday morning television, right? But there is another side to Hanna and Barbera. Beyond all the pratfalls and the falling anvils, there lies a body of work with real subtlety and power. Honest.

Take for instance, Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White’s classic story about death and re-birth — themes not usually associated with the creators of Scooby-Doo! Yet Hanna-Barbera’s film version was so sensitively realized that even the hard-boiled hipsters at the Village Voice joined the chorus of critics’ praise.

Then there’s The Last of the Curlews. This Emmy-winner broke fresh ground in 1972 as one of the first animated films to highlight environmental issues. And to make sure that their social message hit home, Hanna and Barbera dared to break the biggest rule in the (mythical) Book of Children’s Programming — they ended the story tragically.

And let’s not leave out “The Greatest Adventure: Stories From The Bible”– over one million videos sold so far.

So next time you’re laughing at the misadventures of Yogi Bear or Huckleberry Hound, keep this in mind: Hanna and Barbera have more than gags up their sleeve. They’ve got heart and soul, too.

Bill Burnett
Creative Director
Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc.

WHAT MAKES A TEAM?

Laurel and Hardy. Lennon and McCartney. Hanna and Barbera. What makes these teams great? Is it that both partners were talented? Yeah, but that’s not enough. Putting two talented people together can just as often be a disaster. (Who remembers the comedy team of Jimmy Durante and Buster Keaton?) The secret to a successful team seems to be the way the two members complement each other. That’s complement with an “e,” meaning “to complete.” (Of course, Lennon & McCartney may have complimented each other very often as well, but that’s another matter.) What one party lacks the other supplies. Or, the talents of one individual help to bring out the best in the other.

Look at some of the great pair-ups. Even physically, Laurel and Hardy were a great match: fat and skinny. Likewise their personalities fit like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Stan Laurel’s childlike innocence and Babe Hardy’s bombastic oafishness. Completely different, and yet each giving what the other lacked. It’s been long debated what it was that made The Beatles one of the most popular, and enduring, musical acts of our time. And what made their song writing outlast the hype of Beatlemania. Perhaps Paul McCartney’s sweeter, romantic sensibilities were just what was needed to temper John Lennon’s rebellious rock ‘n roll attitude. Or, was it John’s energy that redeemed Paul’s sentimentality?
Which brings us to the team nearest and dearest to our hearts: Hanna and Barbera. William Hanna, a quiet spoken, California musician and story man with prodigious organizational skills and a razor-sharp sense of comedy timing. Joseph Barbera, an extroverted, energetic New Yorker and a terrific draftsman with an uncanny skill for comic inventiveness. Together the are a team among teams. Each brings out the best in the other. Interestingly, neither man took the leads in business and management. That’s not what they were about. In fact, for all the years that they ran the company, Bill and Joe took turns being president of Hanna-Barbera. Bill would head the company one year and Joe would take it the next. Like Laurel and Hardy, Lennon and McCartney, and scores of other successful partnerships, Hanna and Barbera functioned as one — two halves of a greater whole, with neither one dominant in a leadership position. Even as they were starting out, they knew that great teams are made of opposites that complement each other. Just take a look at their most long-lasting property, Tom and Jerry.

Bill Burnett
Creative Director
Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc.

ACTORS WITH A PENCIL

We’re accustomed to think of a TV character being played by an actor. But an animated TV character is really played by two actors. The person who provides the voice is the obvious one; the other is the animator. Animators are much more than pencil pushers. Sure, they have to be able to draw like crazy, understand movement, dynamics and the laws of physics (even if they break them most of the time). But perhaps more importantly, they have to be able to act. They have to know what the character’s face looks like when he or she is happy, sad, angry wistful, lonely, joyful, jealous or bored. They have to know how the character walks and stands in grips of those emotions. But instead of using their own voices, facial expressions and body language to express themselves, animators have to squeeze all the character’s feeling and actions out through the tiny point of their pencil. Ouch!

One of the most amusing things about visiting the Hanna-Barbera production studio is watching our cartoonists draw. They silently scrunch up their faces, wriggle in their seats and contort themselves as they get into their “roles.” Sometimes it’s completely unconscious; they don’t realize they’re doing it! On occasion you might see an animator with a mirror on his or her desk, making faces and sketching furiously. Through the magic of the animator’s talents, the face in the mirror gets reflected on the paper as the face of Yogi Bear, Wilma Flintstone or Snagglepuss. What acting!

Method actors throw themselves into a role. They think like the character, believe in the character, and if they’re good actors, they become the character. But actors have it easy compared to our cartoonists. Imagine how tough it is to think like Dino, to believe in Elroy Jetson, or to become Baba Louie. Hanna-Barbera animators need great imaginations to go with their great acting and drawing talents.

Unlike Shakespeare’s “poor player that struts and frets his upon the stage,” an animator never gets to strut, walk, run or sweat bullets on opening night. They never get the applause that on-screen actors do, nor do they get even the small recognition that voice actors receive. But here at Hanna-Barbera we know that inside each cartoonist beats the heart of a great actor. The smell of the cel paint, the roar of the crowd!

Bill Burnett
Creative Director
Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc.

GREAT CHARACTERS FROM GREAT CHARACTERS

Do some of the classic Hanna-Barbera characters seem familiar. (Well, they should, since they’ve been around for 30 years or more, but that’s not my point.) Many of Hanna-Barbera’s most endearing characters were already endeared to the American public when they burst on the screen. A paradox? Nope, pure genius. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera had a trick up their collective sleeves for creating characters that were at once original and yet familiar. They based their voices and personas on existing comedians of the day.

It isn’t hard to figure out that The Honeymooners was the inspiration for The Flintstones. Fred is almost a cartoon Ralph Kramden and Wilma is a Stone Age Alice. But wait, why doesn’t Barney bear more of a resemblance to Art Carney’s Ed Norton? (You didn’t know there would be a quiz, did you?) The answer is, Hanna-Barbera had already tapped Carney’s brilliant characterization a few years earlier. Take a look at Yogi Bear, with his flat hat and occasional vest. Listen to Yogi’s voice in your head, “He-ey Boo-Boo!” Now play back your memory of Ed Norton, “He-ey Ralphie Boy!” Audiences were primed to love Yogi Bear because they already loved Norton!

Some of the other Hanna-Barbera inspirations are a bit more obscure, but in historical context they make perfect sense. Before he was cast as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, Bert Lahr had a long career as a radio comedian. His stop-and-go voice pattern was unmistakable. And his character was eminently lovable. Who better to serve as the role model for that overzealous thespian known as Snagglepuss?

Here’s an even tougher one, one you’ll really have to travel back to the late fifties to appreciate. Listen to Huckleberry Hound’s voice in your head. (Or better yet, watch the cartoons!) Picture his laid-back demeanor and easy-going southern disposition. Nothing ruffles the feathers of this hound of hounds. Who’s Huck modeled after? Although today’s audiences know him as Matlock, and older ones among us will forever think of him as Sheriff Andy Taylor, Andy Griffith had made quite a name for himself as a Carolina comedian by 1958. His slow-talking style and southern charm made Andy’s comedy records very popular and a good choice as a blueprint for the true blue cartoon pooch.

Baba Louie, the Mexican bull, was inspired by the comical twists of the English language by a Cuban star of the period. Yes, Baba Louie is a caricature of Desi Arnaz (bet you figured that one out.) Of course, before I Love Lucy, Desi’s big hit was a song called “Babaloo.” And none other than the inimitable (but often imitated) Jimmy Durante served as the prototype for Doggie Daddy. You almost can’t see one without thinking of the other.
There are many more that I’ll let you ponder on your own. (Maybe tracing the roots of Hanna-Barbera characters could become a popular party game?)

Ironically, many of the Hanna-Barbera characters have outlasted their live-action counterparts. But to their everlasting credit, Bill and Joe always knew how to make enduring characters out of endearing characterizations.

Bill Burnett
Creative Director
Hanna-Barbera Cartoons Inc.

THE HOUSE THAT HUCK BUILT

Before The Simpsons , before Ren and Stimpy, before Beavis and Butt-Head, there was Huckleberry Hound. A true blue canine with a flair for fantasy, Huck was the star of the first show to smash the barriers against television animation and emerge as a giant hit. And who smashed those barriers for the sake of all future cartoonists? Bill Hanna and Joe
Barbera.
Without their inspired efforts, a genuine American art form — cartoons – might have died a pathetic death. Theatrical cartoons were over, the victim of economic forces. Television was deemed too expensive to animate. But then, a giant light bulb went off above Hanna and Barbera’s collective head. Limited animation, it said! (Luckily, it was a
talking light bulb.) Use fewer drawings!

And so The Huckleberry Hound Show was born. And Huck begat Pixie and Dixie who begat Yogi Bear who begat Boo Boo who begat Snagglepuss. A classic cavalcade of characters all born from one show.

Buoyed by success, Hanna-Barbera proceeded to make America’s evening hours their personal empire with Quick Draw McGraw and Auggie Doggie and Doggie Daddy, The Hanna-Barbera Series featuring Wally Gator and Touche Turtle, and The Magilla Gorilla Show.

And then the lodestone: The Flintstones, the world’s first prime-time cartoon sitcom, followed by The Jetsons, Top Cat, and the first cartoon show to feature realistic humans, The Adventures of Jonny Quest.

Expanding their empire to the realms of Saturday morning, Hanna-Barbera created instant favorites like Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines and Scooby-Doo, Where Are You ?

All in all, the body of work begat by Huckleberry Hound adds up to the largest video library in the world. Hanna-Barbera boasts more than 3,500 half-hours of cartoon programming and more than 350 television series, specials and films. And of course, now that Hanna-Barbera is sponsoring the biggest commitment to original programming in over
thirty years, with 48 new short cartoons debuting on The Cartoon Network, Huck’s legacy just keep’s on a-growin’.

Not bad for a slow-talkin’, Southern-drawlin’, calamity-bound blue hound.

Bill Burnett
Creative Director
Hanna-Barbera Cartoons Inc.

LAUGHING AT THE FUTURE

When The Flintstones turned out to be a major success, Hanna and Barbera looked around for another idea that could follow America’s favorite Stone Age family. The obvious solution was to create America’s first Space Age family, The Jetsons. Although similar in their concepts, the two shows had opposite approaches t humor. Where the Flintstones showed us how the foibles of modern society had roots in the Paleolithic period, the Jetsons warned us that things could get even worse for us in the future — or at least that they wouldn’t get much better! Fred’s backbreaking job of smashing rocks at Slate’s gravel pit reminded us that our own occupations weren’t all that bad. And George Jetson’s complaints about getting sore fingers from pushing buttons seemed funny, considering how much easier he had it compared to those of us stuck in the 20th century!

This year, as The Jetsons turns 33 year old, some of the show’s predictions about the future life bear reexamination. We are living in the future right now (from a 1962 standpoint) and it does look a little familiar. Technology has created jobs undreamed of in 1962 — except by Hanna-Barbera, of course. (George’s job at Spacely’s Space Age Sprockets is “digital index operator.” Don’t tell me that doesn’t sound like a 90’s job title!) Today, computers are in every business and in many homes. And while they don’t make our lives quite as easy as they do for the Jetsons, they do cause some problems. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome has become a major malady among 9-to-5 keyboardists. (George was ahead of his time even with his health problems!) Robots like Rosie don’t yet act like our maids, but robots build our cars and make increasing inroads in our daily lives. The Jetsons magical food preparation device, the Food-a-Rac-a-Cycle, has almost come true in this age of microwavable instant meals. And picture phones do exist today, even though they are not quite ready for the mass market yet. Will we be walking the family dog on treadmills in the future? Maybe not, but how many people work out on treadmills in the gym or in their own homes? Sadly those jet-powered flying machines that people in the 21st century use to get around town in have not yet materialized. (We’re still waiting. Make mine a red convertible.) And we don’t yet live in mile-high bubble domes like in Orbit City. (Not a bad idea though, considering the flood problems we’ve been having in L.A.)

But much of the Jetsons world is with us already. Which is not to say that the original Jetsons cartoon don’t still make for entertaining viewing. In their future world, there is no depleted ozone layer, no disappearing rain forests, and no radioactive waste disposal problems. You know, escaping into the world of The Jetsons seems like a better idea than ever.

Bill Burnett
Creative Director
Hanna-Barbera Cartoons Inc.
THE REVISIONIST HISTORY OF SCREEN COMEDY

Think of great movie comedians. Charlie Chaplin. Bob Hope. Bugs Bunny ? Or how about TV stars? Lucille Ball. Jackie Gleason. Fred Flintstone? From years of indoctrination into Hollywood history, the cartoon comedians seem out of place in these lists. And yet aren’t these animated comedians just as funny as the live actors? Why shouldn’t they be honored right up there with the live-action greats? They were in their day. Bugs Bunny received and Oscar for his film comedy. Tom & Jerry earned seven, along with an additional four nominations. Bob Hope? Three.

For some reason, as the history of movie and TV comedy is written, cartoons are usually ignored. Maybe it’s because they’re short. (Although a seven-minute cartoon often has a better laugh-per-minute ratio than a 90-minute feature comedy.) Maybe cartoons are neglected because they’re drawn rather than shot with live actors. (Then again, which takes more work? Drawing thousands and thousands of cartoons or pointing a camera and saying “action!” ?) Maybe cartoons get the short shrift because they’re “just for kids.” (Of course, until the TV era, cartoons were made for adults and families to see in theaters.)

We have our own theory about the absence of cartoons from the comedy history books: they’re the secret guilty pleasures of cinema and television historians. Where Chaplin is considered “high-brow” art, cartoons with cats chasing mice are too common, too “low-brow.” But we’ll bet that when no one is looking, those people who write the history books don’t sit in plush screening rooms to enjoy the sophisticated wit of classic
movie comedy half as much as they curl up on the couch with a bag of chips and watch Tom and Jerry, Bugs, Daffy, Huckleberry Hound or The Jetsons. Just like the rest of us!

Bill Burnett
Creative Director
Hanna-Barbera Cartoons Inc.

HIDDEN TALENTS

The whole world knows the names of Hanna-Barbera. But what about the names Takamoto, Hazelton, Singer and Benedict?

Stumped? Don’t feel bad. Hardly anyone recognizes the names of these inspired animators who toiled beside Hanna and Barbera for decades, inventing and refining the television cartoon.

So join me as I tear away their veil of anonymity and blast the limelight on these Hidden Talents!

Meet Iwao Takamoto, head designer of Hanna-Barbera for over thirty years. A Disney graduate whose mastery of design and layout has influenced every aspect of the studio’s work. Television legend Fred Silverman once said of him, “As a designer, he’s simply the best in the business.”

Gene Hazelton’s story has intertwined with Hanna-Barbera’s for more than fifty years, ever since their “Tom and Jerry” days at MGM. That was Gene who created the initial storyboards for “The Jetsons” and designed the “Pebbles” and “Bamm-Bamm” characters for “The Flintstones.”

Ed Benedict celebrates six decades of animation wizardry, beginning with Disney, Tex Avery, and the earliest days at Hanna-Barbera. He was the first designer of Ruff and Reddy, The Flintstones, and present-at-the-creation of Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Boo Boo, Quick Draw McGraw, and Pixie and Dixie.

Bob Singer was the inventor of the layout that allowed animators to use the same background for different scenes, thereby making television cartoons economically possible.

Four anonymous hard-working stiffs in the cartoon salt mines. Four inspired artists inventing a new era in entertainment. Four of Hanna-Barbera’s Hidden Talents.

Bill Burnett
Creative Director
Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc.

A trick question:

NAME THREE COMPOSERS WHO DEFINED CARTOON MUSIC?
(Hint: You can’t. There are only two.)

Ask any reasonably well-informed movie buff who the major film composers are and you’re likely to get a pretty long list of names. You’ll hear Mancini, Williams, Barry, Goldsmith, Bernstein, Steiner, Hermann…

But cartoons? Even the most obsessed cartoon-o-phile comes up short when the subject turns to music. Which is pretty strange when you think of how important music is to the manic power of cartoons. (Try watching a few of your favorites with the sound off and you’ll begin to see what I mean.) Still, the fact remains: In 50 years of cartoon history, only two truly identifiable musical voices have emerged.

There’s Carl Stalling at Warner Bros., who wove together brilliant orchestral pastiches–often rivaling the mad montages of Charles Ives– to accompany the antics of Bugs, Daffy and the rest.

And then there’s Hoyt Curtin at Hanna-Barbera. Like Stalling, Curtin called upon the dominant musical form of his day–in Hoyt’s case, the big band sounds of the forties and fifties–and translated it into a series of themes and scores that are maddeningly catchy, effortlessly funny, and utterly unmistakable. You can tell a Hanna-Barbera cartoon from across the street, just by hearing a few strains of music.

Hoyt Curtin’s music jumps out at you and wraps itself around that part of your brain where the giddy, childlike pleasures live. It nudges and jolts and eggs the action on. It’s as bright and instantly recognizable as the Hanna-Barbera color palliate. That’s called style.

To hear what I’m talking about, pick up a copy of Hanna-Barbera Cartoon Themes volume 1. (If you have trouble finding a copy write to Rhino Records, 10635 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, 90025.) Just put that collection on your player, and then sit back and get ready to enjoy a prolonged involuntary grin. (How long has it been since you’ve had that experience?)

Bill Burnett
Creative Director
Hanna-Barbera Cartoons Inc.

THE BRILLIANT INVENTION OF THE FIVE-O’CLOCK SHADOW

It’s been a well documented how Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera saved the dying art of animation by finding ways to make it possible on a television budget. But here’s one aspect you probably never noticed or at least never understood. The real genius behind limited animation is the need for a shave. Yep. Ever noticed how Fred Flintstone, Barney Rubble, George Jetson and Officer Dibble always seem to have a five-o’clock shadow? Now look at the animal cartoon characters. Yogi, Boo Boo, Quick Draw, Huck, Dino, and on and on, all have muzzles or snouts of a different color. Genius! Why? Think about this. How much of a TV cartoon is actual action and how much is characters talking? And like they say, talk is cheap!

By giving the human and animals a distinct “mouth zone” Hanna and Barbera were able to have the characters’ head on a separate cel level and not have to re-draw it over and over. The top cel level would contain just the mouth movements. This enables countless dollars to be saved when characters are in dialogue scenes. But once the action starts, all bets are off!

So next time you see a cartoon character who needs a shave, think about a world without TV cartoons. Yikes! Thank goodness for Hanna, Barbera and stubble!

Bill Burnett
Creative Director
Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc.

WHO’S THE RAREST OF ‘EM ALL?

In a world of one-hit wonders, how do we judge an artist? Armies of them seem to burst on to the scene for a brief magic moment, then vamoose into the void. Only a few — a depressingly few, don’t you think?– manage to hang on for a lifetime of sustained excellence. Then there’s the rarest of ’em all — the artist who creates such an immense body of work, so studded with classic achievements, that he comes to almost personify his art form. In mysteries, for example, think Agatha Christie. In painting, Pablo Picasso. In suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. And in TV cartoons, Hanna and Barbera.

Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera have been creating classic cartoons for over fifty years now. Together, they’ve invented some of the best-known characters in history and the largest cartoon library in the world. Tom and Jerry , The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, The Jetsons , Huckleberry Hound, Jonny Quest, Scooby-Doo, Quick Draw McGraw… These are only a fraction of the classic characters who continue to cavort in Hanna-Barbera’s 3,500 half-hours of cartoon programming and more 350 series, specials and films.

In a world of one-hit wonders, Hanna-Barbera’s lifetime of achievement is a wonder unto itself.

Bill Burnett
Creative Director
Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc.

SEVEN OSCARS AND COUNTING

They say that greatness is its own reward, but it doesn’t hurt to have seven Oscars, too. On my desk are five pages (count ’em, five) listing all the awards that Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera have won over the years, from their first Oscar in 1943 right through their two Emmies in 1994. Fifty-one years of top honors, including more Oscars than any cartoon directing team in history.

Is your mind boggled? Mine is. Who else out there has been called up to podiums for more than half a century? On top of Oscars, there are Emmies, including the first ever given to a cartoon show. (That was way back in 1960 for “Huckleberry Hound.”) Not to mention the Governors Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Science, the Humanitas, Christopher, Golden Globe, Iris. And on and on.

By the way, next time you’re in Hollywood, drop by Hollywood Boulevard and x Street and take a peek at The Joseph Barbera and William Hanna Hollywood Walk of Fame Star. And please — step on it.

Bill Burnett
Creative Director
Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc.

CALLING DOCTOR FREUD

All the great art comes from deep within the soul. Keep this handy theorem in mind, as I shine my Flintstone flashlight deep into the souls of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera for clues to the source of their finest work.

Uh huh… I see… Well, what do you know? What we have here are two very different souls. Who’d ever think that soft-spoken, mathematical Midwesterner (Hanna) would team up with a hard-driving Italian artist from Brooklyn (Barbera)? And manage to keep this unlikely partnership going through the storms of fifty years?

Aha! I got it! Think of all those legendary teams of cartoon characters that Hanna-Barbera created — teams of natural adversaries who somehow, despite all their differences, were buddies, too. Tom and Jerry, Ruff and Reddy, Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinx… Could these teams of battling buddies have been — dare I say it? — autobiographical?

Well, maybe not. I have it on good authority that Joe never hit Bill on the head with a frying pan. But still, it’s on intriguing theory, n’est pas?

Bill Burnett
Creative Director
Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc.

Published on May 2, 2007 at 10:46 pm  Comments (5)  

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  1. What a big career these two had. I wish we would see more new DTV films based on Yogi Bear, Jabberjaw, Magilla Gorilla, Scooby-Doo, Wally Gator and Huckleberry Hound.

  2. The topic is quite hot in the net right now. What do you pay the most attention to when choosing what to write about?

  3. Is there an effort to use the HB back catalogue as well as possible at present? The Saturday Morning DVD compilations seem to be a step in the right direction, as releasing complete series means there are many series that will never have at least one episode released. The release of Drak Pack, Dinky Dog and Peter Puck DVDs in Canada is encouraging, but will they get a wider release? Also, it would be great to see more films, animated and live-action. Hopefully Jonny Quest and Space Ghost will be made soon, but there are lots of other exciting possibilities including Dynomutt (with Blue Falcon) and Jabberjaw, which would also give Frank Welker more of the limelight he deserves.

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  5. Thank you for the good writeup. It if truth be told used to be a entertainment account it.
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