MELISSA BLOCK, host:
A pioneer of animation died today. Joe Barbera was half of the animation duo, Hanna-Barbera, known for such legendary cartoons as “The Flintstones,” “The Jetsons,” “Yogi Bear” and “Tom and Jerry.” Barbera was 95. Independent producer Joe Bevilacqua is producing a documentary on Hanna-Barbera, and has this appreciation.
(Soundbite of documentary)
Mr. JOSEPH ROLAND BARBERA: You were actually able to put all of the business, but by using the knowledge you had of 20 years of animation, we were able to get the same effect as full animation.
Mr. JOE BEVILACQUA: That's the voice of Joseph Roland Barbera, one half of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon-making team. The list of animated cartoon characters created by these two men is astounding. “Yogi Bear,” “Huckleberry Hound,” “Quick Draw McGraw,” “The Flintstones,” “The Jetsons,” “Johnny Quest,” “Scoobie Doo.” The list seems endless.
Joe Barbera was born March 24, 1911 in New York City. He tried his hand in many professions, including banking and drawing illustrations for magazines, before stumbling into animation.
In 1937, he moved to Hollywood, California to join the fledgling MGM animation unit. It was there that Joe Barbera met Bill Hanna. I asked media critic, Leonard Maltin, why these two men made such a great team.
Mr. LEONARD MALTIN: When you're dealing with 24 frames a second, a gag has to be timed to the split second. And that's one of the things that a cartoon director knows how to do and, Bill Hanna had that skill.
Joe Barbera's great strength was gag. And no one was faster or more inventive or more precise than Joe Barbera.
Mr. BEVILACQUA: Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera's first MGM cartoon, “Puss Gets the Boots,” in 1940, was not only a hit, but it was the first “Tom and Jerry” cartoon.
Mr. MALTIN: Even in the first cartoon, which is pretty rough, there's personality in both Tom the cat and Jerry the mouse, even though neither one is named. And all of that personality comes out of their pantomime because there's no dialogue.
Mr. BEVILACQUA: Hanna-Barbera went on to work inclusively on the “Tom and Jerry” series for the next 17 years, until MGM closed down their animation unit in 1957.
Mr. BARBERA: I found myself in a position of having to go on and sell new cartoons that we would create.
Mr. BEVILACQUA: Hanna-Barbera produced the first successful television animated cartoon show, “The Huckleberry Hound Show,” beginning in 1958. The sheer novelty of having a brand new cartoon show, funny dialogue, great voices and a great theme song, made it a sensation.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. BEVILACQUA: But it was in 1960 that Hanna-Barbera produced TV's most unexpected hit.
Mr. BARBERA: Our sales man, John Mitchell, came in one day and said, why don't we try to do a primetime, nighttime show, which no one even ever dreamed of or dared. So we did analyst drawings, trying to create a family, you know, nothing was ringing. Whatever it was, a guy named Ed Benedict was drawing the characters and we arrived, we just had to go caveman.
(Soundbite of cartoon, “The Flinstones”)
Mr. BEVILACQUA: Other primetime animated cartoons followed. But by 1965, Hanna-Barbera's assembly line style is beginning to catch up with them and the quality began to suffer.
For the next three decades, Hanna-Barbera produced a long string of uninspired but popular cartoon shows. Joe Barbera continued to work after Bill Hanna's death in 2001. Mentors Hanna and Barbera were pioneers, who forged the way for “The Simpsons” and “South Parks” of today.
For NPR News, I'm Joe Belivacqua.
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