A Cartoon King Is Dead at 90
Los Angeles - Animation pioneer William Hanna, who with
partner Joseph Barbera created such beloved cartoon characters as Fred
Flintstone, Yogi Bear and Tom and Jerry, died yesterday. He was 90.
Hanna died at his North Hollywood home with Violet, his wife of 65 years,
at his side, said Sarah Carragher, a spokeswoman for Warner Bros., which owns
Hanna-Barbera Studios. Carragher said he had been in declining health for the
last few years.
Hanna and Barbera collaborated for more than a half-century, first teaming
up at MGM in 1937. They created the highly successful Tom and Jerry cartoons,
the antics of a cat and mouse team that won seven Academy Awards.
They broke new ground by mixing Tom and Jerry with live action stars such
as Gene Kelly in "Anchors Aweigh" and Esther Williams in "Dangerous When Wet."
They found new success with a witty series of television animated comedies,
highlighted by "The Flintstones," "The Jetsons" and "Yogi Bear." "Huckleberry
Hound and Friends" won the first Emmy Award given to an animated series.
Their strengths melded perfectly, critic Leonard Maltin wrote in his book
"Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons."
"This writing-directing team may hold a record for producing consistently
superior cartoons using the same characters year after year - without a break
or change in routine," Maltin wrote.
Hanna was born in Melrose, N.M., on July 14, 1910. He left college to work
as a construction engineer, but lost the job in the Depression. He found work
with Leon Schlesinger, head of Pacific Art and Title, a cartoon production
In 1930, Hanna signed with Harmon-Ising Studios, the company that created
the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoon series, where he worked as a
member of the story department, as a lyricist and a composer.
One month after being hired at MGM, he formed his partnership with Barbera.
Hanna said, "I was never a good artist," but he said Barbera "has the
ability to capture mood and expression in a quick sketch better than anyone
I've ever known."
The two first teamed cat and mouse in the short "Puss Gets the Boot." When
it was a hit with audiences and got an Oscar nomination, MGM let the pair keep
experimenting with the cat and mouse theme, and the full-fledged Tom and Jerry
characters - almost always telling the story entirely in action, not dialogue -
were the result.
The team's move into television wasn't planned; they were forced to go into
business for themselves after MGM folded its animation department in the 1950s.
With television's sharply lower budgets, their new animated stars put more
stress on verbal wit rather than the highly detailed, and highly expensive,
action of the theatrical cartoon.
Like "The Simpsons" three decades later, "The Flintstones" found success in
prime-time TV by not limiting its reach to children. It ranked in the top 20
shows in the 1960-61 season and Fred Flintstone's "yabba dabba doo" soon
entered the language.
The show's creators freely admitted it was a parody of "The Honeymooners,"
with Fred Flintstone as Jackie Gleason and Barney Rubble as Art Carney.
(Likewise, Yogi Bear was modeled on Phil Silvers' character of Sgt. Bilko in
"The Phil Silvers Show." [CORRECTION: In an obituary of cartoonist William
Hanna that appeared in Friday's editions, The Associated Press erroneously
reported that the TV character Sgt. Bilko served as the model for Yogi Bear.
Bilko was the model for Top Cat. pg. A02 ALL 3/24/01])
"The Jetsons", which debuted in 1962, were the futuristic mirror image of
"Somebody said, 'What's next?' and we went from the rock era into the
future," Barbera said at a celebration when the show turned 25 in 1987. "It
wasn't that brilliant, really, but we used a lot of gimmicks and gadgets and it
Hanna-Barbera received eight Emmys, including the Governors Award of the
Academy of Television Arts & Sciences presented in 1988.