William Denby Hanna can be regarded as an all-rounder. Apart from being an animator, he was also a director, producer, artist and voice actor! He was born on the 14th of July 1910 at Melrose, New Mexico. Though he dropped out of engineering during the Great Depression of 1929, he joined the Pacific Art and Title animation studio. This was were his talents as an artist got noticed and the very next year, he shifted to Harman-Ising Studios which was known for creating Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of cartoons. Despite lacking any training, Hanna worked up his way to the top steadily. His dedication bore fruit when he was given the opportunity to direct his first cartoon- ‘To Spring’ in 1936 as a part of the Happy Harmonies series that the studio made. When the media giant MGM split with Harman-Ising in 1937, Hanna started to work directly for the latter in their studios. It was in that very year he met Joseph Barbera about whom we will get to know later as well as about their partnership.
Till his demise on the 22nd of March 2001, Hanna was considered as a top-rate animator, though much of the success is attributed to the partnership he forged with Joseph Barbera. The shows he produced and the cartoons he directed have left an unimaginable impression in the minds of the young and old even today. It can be safely said that Hanna was one of those eminent people who saw to revolutionizing animation in a big way.
Joseph Roland Barbera was born on the 24th of March 1911 at Manhattan in New York City. It is interesting to note that Barbera started off as a boxer during his high school days and in fact had won the lightweight championship! But his love for theatre prompted him to try his hand in scriptwriting. Since he was not initially successful, he began working as a clerk in the tax department by studying simultaneously studying at the American Banking Institute. But he quickly lost interest in the banking sector and began to take classes at the Art Students League in Manhattan during the day and at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. In the meanwhile, he used to copy magazine cartoons and illustrations and sell them to a magazine called Collier’s.
Barbera’s first brush with animation came when he joined the Fleischer Studios in New York City which he left in just four days! However, it was at the Van Beuren animation studio in 1934 that he learnt the tricks of the trade as well as honed his skills. When that studio closed shop in 1936, he joined the Terrytoons studio in New Rochelle, New York. However, California and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) quickly lured him and it was there his paths crossed with William Hanna. We will get to know about their phenomenal partnership as we move ahead in this article.
While Hanna dabbled with direction and administrative responsibilities, Barbera was content with production and writing of the cartoons. He wanted to leverage his talents as a cartoon artist till he passed away on the 18th of December 2006. In fact at the peak of his success as an animator, he tried his hand in writing for theatre and even wrote a romantic comedy play entitled ‘The Maid and the Martian’ in 1952! In his later life, he was elected to the Television Hall of Fame and continued to be a writer, director, producer, and storyboard artist even after Hanna’s death.
As mentioned earlier, it was in 1937 that Hanna and Barbera got together for the first time. It is interesting to note that both of them sat at work desks that were across each other. Also, both these individuals were of opposite temperaments! Yet there was a instant connect and it was on the 10th of February 1940 that their first cartoon short ‘Puss Gets the Boot’ under the Tom and Jerry banner was released.
It was a huge success that it was nominated for an OSCAR in the cartoon short subject category! Though MGM wanted a diversified portfolio and were not keen on continuing Tom and Jerry, Hanna- Barbera persisted and decided to continue with the series. However, it was only in 1941 that the full-fledged Tom and Jerry cartoon series took off in a big way. In fact, Hanna- Barbera worked on Tom and Jerry till 1957 wherein they directed 114 cartoon shorts! Another amazing fact is that this series involving a cat and mouse won 7 out of the 14 OSCARS it had been nominated for, the first being in 1943 for The Yankee Doodle Mouse.
Hanna and Barbera took charge of the MGM’s animation wing in 1955 till it closed down two years later. In the same year, they founded H-B Enterprises, which later became Hanna-Barbera Productions. It is said that the order of their names in the new venture was decided by flipping a coin! Both Hanna and Barbera realized that the theatre market for cartoons was dwindling and quickly changed gears to make cartoons for TV.
30th of September 1960 marked a red letter day in the history of American television. It was on this day that the first prime time animated series The Flintstones made by the Hanna-Barbera Studios premiered.
Just like Tom and Jerry nearly two decades ago, it created ripples at the box office! This was set in the pre-historic times and to show something in the future, Hanna-Barbera Productions, in 1962, created The Jetsons.
Though the studio got sold to Taft Broadcasting, Hanna-Barbera continued as consultants and created many more memorable cartoons. The Hanna-Barbera Productions encompass over 3000 animated hours of TV shows, over a 100 series including full-length animated features and several live-action films accounting for about 70% of cartoons on television! Therefore, their contribution is immense and second only to Walt Disney. Apart from the OSCARS they won, Hanna-Barbera were recipients of eight Emmy awards, Golden Globe Award, several Annie awards apart from a host of raves and reviews.
It is no mean achievement that the partnership of Hanna-Barbera continued for almost six decades. Apart from an amazing chemistry, the camaraderie they had in real life showed in their characters that they created. As they created close to two hundred characters, not even once did they have any disagreement or animosity against each other just like the legendary comic duo Laurel and Hardy.
They successfully managed to distribute work among themselves as they knew each the strengths and weaknesses of each other. Having made a smooth transition to TV, they were able to consistently produce superior cartoons that were not only masterpieces, but also loved by the masses. Also, these cartoons had a worldwide following and most of them were translated into more than two dozen languages.
Key characters created by the Hanna and Barbera duo
Stupid Dogs- 1993-1994
The Adventures of Gulliver- 1968
The Amazing Chan and Chan Chan– 1972
The Banana Splits Adventure Hour– 1968-1970
Birdman and the Galaxy Trio- 1967-1969
CB Bears- -1977
Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels– 1977
Cattanooga Cats- 1969
Clue Club- 1976-1977
Courage the Cowardly Dog- 1999-2002
Cow and Chicken– 1997-1999
Dexter’s Laboratory- 1996-2003
Dynomutt, Dog Wonder –1976-1977
Frankenstein Jr.- 1966
Galtar and the Golden Lance- 1985
The Gary Coleman Show- 1982
The Harlem Globetrotters- 1970
Hong Kong Phooey– 1974-1976
The Huckleberry Hound Show– 1958-1962
I am weasel- 1997-1999
Inch High, Private Eye– 1974
Jabberjaw– 1976- 1978
Johnny Bravo– 1997-2004
Josie and the Pussycats– 1970-1972
The Little Rascals– 1982-1984
Loopy De Loop– 1959-1965
Magilla Gorilla– 1964-1967
The Perils of Penelope Pitstop– 1969-1971
The Powerpuff Girls- 1998-2005
The Quick Draw McGraw Show– 1959-1961
Richie Rich– 1980-1984
SWAT Kats– 1993-1994
Top Cat– 1961-1962
The Yogi Bear Show– 1961-1988
Thanks for reading!
Creative students at Animaster College of Animation, Bangalore, penned this article. If you liked reading it, kindly go through the other articles, compiled and composed on several creative industry related topics.