Joseph Barbera

Animation pioneer whose creations with William Hanna included the Flintstones and Tom and Jerry


Joseph Roland Barbera, animator and scriptwriter: born New York 24 March 1911; married first Dorothy Earl (one son, two daughters; marriage dissolved 1964), second 1966 Sheila Holden; died Los Angeles 18 December 2006.

Joseph Barbera and William Hanna were pioneers of animation who created one of the most beloved cartoon teams, Tom and Jerry. After the cat-and-mouse couple proved a success with critics and public, Hanna and Barbera spent 15 years working for MGM on cartoons featuring the pair, winning seven Oscars and 14 nominations for their splendid output, which for over a decade was unsurpassed for technical skill, beauty of execution and quality of gags.

Later, Hanna and Barbera formed their own company to make television cartoons and occasional feature-length movies. They created The Flintstones, the first prime-time animated series, and their TV movies included Jack and the Beanstalk (1967), which starred Gene Kelly, with whom, while at MGM, they had collaborated on the classic sequence from Anchors Aweigh (1944), in which Kelly teaches Jerry how to dance in a delightful combination of live action and animation.

Joseph Roland Barbera, born in New York City in 1911, was the son of Italian immigrants from Palermo. He attended New York University and the American Institute of Banking with plans to be a banker, and after graduation he joined the Irving Trust Company as an accountant, but found that his hobby of contributing cartoons to magazines gave him much more satisfaction. In 1932 he quit his job to take a position as a draughtsman with the Van Beuren animation studios in the Bronx, having written to Walt Disney, who failed to reply to his request for an interview. "I'm glad he didn't," he said later. "I would probably have become a devoted member of his team and would still be at the Disney studios today."

His flair for producing comedy ideas soon had him promoted to scriptwriter, and in 1937 he joined MGM's story department, where his exceptional skill at sketching ideas was quickly noted. Hanna, who was already at the studio, said, "He has the ability to capture mood and expression in a quick sketch better than anyone I've ever known." Barbera's ability to conceive inventive gags, plus his animation skills, complemented Hanna's flair for timing and story construction, and the pair soon became a team.

They were working under Rudolf Ising, who ran one of MGM's two major cartoon units in the Thirties (the other was run by Hugh Harmon), when the producer Fred Quimby decided in 1939 that he wanted more cartoons than Harmon and Ising could produce, so he recommended that Ising allow the pair to "develop a cartoon". The result was Puss Gets the Boot (1940), which was credited to Ising, who generously admitted that he merely contributed a couple of ideas. "Joe did most of the story sketches, and Hanna most of the direction."

The story of a cat named Jasper who is threatened with eviction by a housekeeper should he break one more thing, a condition a mischievous mouse (not named) takes advantage of by provoking the cat, then threatening to break a glass, forcing the cat to retreat, the animated short was a huge success, winning an Oscar nomination.

Quimby had given the pair their own production unit while they were making the cartoon, approving of their ability to give their characters an aggressive streak in a vein more like the work of Tex Avery than the more genteel products of Harmon and Ising. By the time Puss Gets the Boot was released, Barbera and Hanna had made three more cartoons, Swing Social, Gallopin' Gals (both 1940) and The Goose Goes South (1941), after which they returned to the cat and the mouse for Midnight Snack (1941).

Although they retained the cat's name as Jasper in their first drafts for the cartoon, by the time it was finished they had named the pair Tom and Jerry. Gus Arriola, who worked as a gag man for the team, said:

Barbera came up with about 75 per cent of the gags. He would inspire the rest of us to come up with material, because he was so fast.

Barbera had the legs of his desk extended so that he could work standing up, and, Arriola recalled, I remember seeing long layout sheets hanging over the end of it, because he would be laying out the whole background.

The animator Jack Hannah said, Joe wrote all the stories, made all the sketches, made all the layouts, and Bill Hanna wrote the exposure sheets. Joe could sit with a pencil, and ideas would come off the end of his pencil as quickly as he could move it.

The animator Irven Spence told Leonard Maltin, author of Of Mice and Magic (1980),

Bill and Joe had it all planned out, with Joe's thumbnail sketches and Bill's timing, before the animators ever got it. When they would hand out the work to the animators, they would act out the entire picture, in a very hammy fashion, which seemed exaggerated when they would do it, but it was just right for animation.

Initially, Hanna retained some of the influence of Ising. The animator Michael Lah said, "Hanna loved cutesie stuff . . . Joe was the other way, wild as hell." After making Officer Pooch (1941), which featured a canine policeman, the team were told by Quimby to concentrate on Tom and Jerry and, in December that year, The Night Before Christmas was released, a cartoon in which the Ising influence worked to advantage - it was more sentimental than average (Tom softens when Jerry kisses him under the mistletoe) but proved very effective and won the team a second Oscar nomination.

The five Tom and Jerry cartoons released in 1942 included the stunning Bowling Alley Cat, which not only had great sight gags but some of the most beautiful drawing, with skittles and the images of Tom and Jerry reflected in the polished lanes of the bowling alleys in the type of painstaking animation which is not seen today.

The team's first Oscar came with Yankee Doodle Mouse (1943). The arrival of the legendary Tex Avery at the studio in 1941 had prompted Hanna and Barbera to increase both the pace of their films and the aggression of the gags - in Fine Feathered Friend (1942), Jerry twice nearly cuts Tom's head off with hedge clippers - and the team's output is considered to have been at its peak in the mid-Forties, when story ideas, gags and the animated personalities of the two stars combined to make miniature masterpieces.

Quiet Please (1945) won the team their second Oscar, and the same year they made the lilting Mouse in Manhattan, in which Jerry has an initially elegiac but finally overwhelming adventure amid the glamour of New York. Scott Bradley's musical scoring for the Tom and Jerry films (making felicitous use of the studio's song library) was often lauded, and Mouse in Manhattan made particularly entrancing use of Louis Alter's "Manhattan Serenade". Solid Serenade (1946) included a typical, brutally funny gag when Jerry hits Tom with a custard pie that happens to have an iron in it, flattening the cat's face momentarily.

A third Oscar was awarded for Cat Concerto (1947), one of the team's most fondly remembered works, in which Tom is a hilariously pompous concert pianist whose performance of one of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies is sabotaged by Jerry, who had been sleeping inside the piano. Maltin wrote,

The stories were almost entirely the work of Barbera, one of the most creative minds ever to function in the animation field. That one person could develop so many variations on a basic theme is astounding.

Praising Barbera's ability to invest Tom and Jerry with full-bodied personalities, he notes, Tom chasing Jerry is the ritual of the series. But somehow the audience realises that when all is said and done, the cat doesn't want to eat the mouse; it's the thrill of the chase that counts. There is an underlying bond between Tom and Jerry that gives these cartoons tremendous strength and likeability.

Mouse Cleaning (1948), a reworking of Puss Gets the Boot with some new, hilarious gags, won another Oscar for the series, and two more came for Two Mouseketeers (1952) and Johann Mouse (1953). The team had also worked on feature films, starting with their famed collaboration with Gene Kelly for George Sidney's musical Anchors Aweigh, in which Kelly performed a brilliantly joyous and innovative dance duet with cartoon Jerry - ironically, though Hanna and Barbera were "house" animators at MGM, Kelly had first requested the services of Disney, who declined.

George Sidney then asked the team to provide an animated opening for his musical, Holiday in Mexico (1945), and later Tom and Jerry swam alongside Esther Williams in Charles Walters's Dangerous When Wet (1953). The team worked with Kelly again when they created a whole segment of his portmanteau movie Invitation to the Dance (made in 1952 but released in 1957). Titled Sinbad the Sailor and danced to the music of Rimsky-Korsakov, it was later released on its own as a short feature titled The Magic Lamp.

By the mid-Fifties, budget restrictions caused a distressing reduction in quality. In 1955 MGM put Hanna and Barbera in charge of their own cartoon division, but it closed in 1957 (the last Tom and Jerry cartoon, released that year, was Tot Watchers) and the pair cashed in their MGM pensions in order to start their own company and make cartoons for television.

Their successful creations for that medium were to include The Flintstones, The Jetsons, The Huckleberry Hound Show, The Yogi Bear Show (its title character proclaiming that he was "smarter than the average bear") and The Smurfs. The Flintstones, inspired by the popular sitcom The Honeymooners and described as "a modern stone-age family", was a hit show of the 1960 season, with Fred Flintstone's "yabba dabba doo" catchphrase entering the language. Its run of six years was the longest for a primetime cartoon series until The Simpsons.

With Gene Kelly, Barbera and Hanna made a musical version of Jack and the Beanstalk mixing live action and animation, with a tuneful score by James Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn that included a show-stopper worthy of a Broadway show, "Stiffen Up Your Upper Lip", in which the child dancer Bobby Riha instils courage into a band of mice while joining them in song and dance. The team also made the charming cartoon feature, Charlotte's Web (1973), with songs by the Sherman brothers, plus Debbie Reynolds providing the voice for the spider-heroine, and the less successful Heidi's Song (1982).

Although they won a total of eight Emmy Awards, the team faced criticism for their use of "limited animation", which virtually eliminated visual personality and nuance, lowering standards to meet the constrictions of time and money imposed by television.

In 1991 their studio was sold to Turner Broadcasting and subsequently to Warners, though they remained as advisers. Hanna died in 2001, the year of the last Hanna-Barbera production, Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase. Barbera, who wrote his autobiography, My Life in Toons, in 1994, said, "We understood each other perfectly, and each of us had deep respect for the other's work."

Barbera was still working until a few months ago, and in 2005 contributed to The Karateguard, the first theatrical Tom and Jerry short in more than 45 years.

Tom Vallance

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Sport
sport
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape