William Hanna and Joseph Barbera
William "Bill" / Joseph "Joe" Derby / Roland Hanna / BarberaOccupation / Title:
07/14/1910 and 04/24/1911Date of death:
03/22/2001 and 12/18/2006Birthplace:
Melrose, New Mexico USA and New York City, New York USA
William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were two animators from MGM who began their own animated television studio, Hanna-Barbera Productions; a studio which would dominate and transform the industry from the 60s to the end of the century.
William Denby “Bill” Hanna was a voice actor, director, animator, producer, cartoonist, who was best known for his collaboration with Joseph Barbera and their founding of the extremely successful animated television studio, Hanna-Barbera.
Hanna was born one of seven children to William John and Avice Joyce (Denby) Hanna. William John Hanna was a construction superintendent for several types of infrastructure across America, causing the family to move very often. It was throughout these travels that he developed his love of the outdoors, and in Watts, California he joined the Scouts. Scouting was an activity that he would pursue throughout his entire life. At this time he also developed a passion for music, singing, and sailing.
William Hanna studied journalism and structural engineering at Compton City College, but had to drop out before completion due to the Great Depression. He began to find other work where he could, beginning as a construction worker (in fact, he helped build Hollywood’s Pantages Theater during this time). He then moved on to work as a car washer for a brief period of time before finding work at Pacific Title and Art as a title card writer. Then, in 1930, Hanna joined the Harman and Ising animation studio (famous for the Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies cartoon series). At Harman and Ising, Hanna soon became the head of the Ink and Paint department, though he also contributed a great deal to the cartoon music accompaniments due to his passion for music. This engagement with the musical side of cartoons would continue throughout his career as a cartoonist. In 1936, Hanna was given the opportunity to direct his first cartoon, called To Spring, which was part of the Harman-Ising Happy Harmonies series.
Up until 1937, Harman and Ising had been creating cartoons independently for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios. However, MGM then decided to end this partnership and create an in-house animation studio, bringing some of Harman and Ising’s animators away from them. Hanna was one such animator, and thus went to work at the MGM studio instead.
He was soon given a fair amount of control over animations at the new studio, becoming one of the senior directors of the series Captain and the Kids for a few years. However, the show did not go well and Hanna was demoted within the animation department, being assigned instead to working on story development for the animations. It was at the MGM studio that he met Joseph Barbera, and the two decided to form a team, working alongside Tex Avery who was directing the Droopy cartoons for MGM.
Joseph Barbera had previously worked and lived in New York for most of his life. He was born to Vincent Barbera and Francesca Calvacca, who were originally from Italy, in 1911 in New York City. His father owned three barbershops, but gambled the money away and eventually abandoned the family. From an early age, Barbera was very fascinated with drawing and boxing. During the Great Depression, Barbera tried to become a cartoonist for The NY Hits Magazine, an endeavour which he supported by also working at a bank. He began to get single comic pages published in a variety of magazines, including Redbook, Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s. Barbera also took art courses at the Art Students League of New York, and the Pratt Institute. He was soon hired by Fleischer Studios to work in the paint and ink department. After that, Barbera joined the Van Beuren Studio in 1935 as an animator and storyboard artist. After the studio closed the following year, Barbera joined Terrytoons.
In 1935, Barbera married Dorothy Earl, with whom he would have four children together. They divorced in 1963, and soon after Barbera met his second wife, Sheila Holden.
In 1935, Barbera also attempted his first independent storyboarding project, about a character named Ciko the Kangeroo. Though Terrytoons did not produce the story, Barbera was pleased with the experience and felt it a significant advancement. In 1937, with the promise of higher pay, Barbera left New York to go work for MGM in California. Though he almost returned due to the financial difficulties in California not being unlike those in New York, but he soon met William Hanna and the two struck an informal (and later, formal) partnership.
Hanna and Barbera’s first major project was their development of the extremely popular animated show Tom and Jerry (1940-1958). The show originated with an earlier model they had tried out, called Puss Gets the Boot, which had won them an Academy Award for Best (Cartoon) Short Subject. Though the show had clearly garnered success, their supervisor Fred Quimby was reluctant to let them continue to work on the idea, as he felt that the MGM studio should create broader animated offerings.
The duo worked mainly on the Tom and Jerry series until 1958, focusing on developing the series as well as on their cartooning strengths. During this time they were also awarded an Academy Award for the short animation The Yankee Doodle Mouse (1943). The series continued to be a tremendous success, ultimately being nominated for 14 Academy Awards and winning 7 of them. Tom and Jerry were also used in animated features in several feature films, including Anchors Aweigh (1945), Invitation to the Dance (1956), and Dangerous When Wet (1953).
At the retirement of Fred Quimby from the MGM studio, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera became the heads of the animation department in 1955. However, the MGM animation studio was on its last legs, and began to play more older cartoons instead of putting effort into producing new ones. In 1957, Hanna tried to move into working in television by creating the side project of the Shield Productions company with animator Jay Ward. This partnership was not to last, though, and as the year drew to a close Hanna and Barbera were told that the MGM animation department was going to fully shut down: the two decided they would begin a partnership of their own to produce cartoons for theatre and television.
The two first called their partnership H-B Enterprises, but then changed the name to Hanna-Barbera Productions. They shared business decisions and alternated the title of president each year. They were also helped significantly by the additional business partnership of George Sidney, who arranged a financial and distribution arrangement with the television division of Columbia Pictures.
Hanna-Barbera developed a wide range of widely popular animations, as well as significantly changed the way television animations were to be created. The studio created over 3000 television shows, including Scooby Doo, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, The Smurfs, Josie and the Pussycats and The Jetsons. The studio even created longer animations based on stories such as Alice and Wonderland, and even the full-length feature Charlotte’s Web (1973). All of these hit television programs began with their first attempts, The Ruff & Reddy Show (based around the antics of a cat and a dog) and a full-length feature, Loopy De Loop. Though overall not very successful, the Hanna-Barbera studio soon hit its stride with the development of the television shows The Huckleberry Hound Show and The Yogi Bear Show. Soon after, in 1960, Hanna-Barbera created The Flintstones, which enjoyed immediate popularity and became the first hit animated prime-time television show. While popularizing cartoon prime-time television and presenting audiences with a wide range of stories and characters, Hanna-Barbera also streamlined and popularized key techniques for television animation.The lower budgets of television studios had placed pressure on the television animation industry and studios, putting many of them out of business during the 1960s and 1970s. The Hanna-Barbera studio became a leader in the use of limited animation, a technique in which involved focus on character dialogue and rapid background changes over detailed animation in order to create more cost and effort efficient animations. These techniques balanced cost effectiveness with detail and quality, and despite a wave of criticism from many, the new developments in television animation technique boldly used by Hanna-Barbera enabled the continued production of several beloved shows, work for many animators who otherwise would not have found animated television work, and the honing of what would become a mainstay television animation technique (even to this day).
Throughout the lifetime of the studio, Hanna-Barbera won seven Academy Awards, eight Emmy Awards, Humanitas Prize and are featured as a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 1966, Hanna-Barbera was sold to Taft Broadcasting, though William Hanna and Joseph Barbera remained head of the company until 1991. In 1991, Hanna-Barbera was sold to Turner Broadcasting System which used Hanna-Barbera animations for its new channel, Cartoon Network. Hanna and Barbera continued to work as consultants after this new purchasing of the studio, and even after Turner merged with Time Warner and the studio became part of Warner Bros. Animation. With an even closer relationship to Cartoon Network, Hanna and Barbera continued their positions and even worked on new series, such as The Cartoon Cartoon Show and new versions of The Flintstones and Scooby Doo. Hanna died in 2001 to throat cancer, marking the full absorption of the studio into Cartoon Network Studios. Barbera still worked for Warner Bros. Animation until his death in 2006.
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Lenburg, Jeff (2011). William Hanna and Joseph Barbera: The Sultans of Saturday Morning. New York, NY: Chelsea House.
Mallory, Michael (1987). Hanna Barbera Cartoons. Englewood, NJ: Universe.