Animation legend Joseph Barbera, co-chairman and co-founder of the world-renowned Hanna-Barbera Studios, died Monday at his Studio City, Calif., home with wife, Sheila, at his side. He was 95.
The production company he co-founded in 1944 was subsequently sold and in 1991 purchased by Turner Broadcasting, which used its 300-plus cartoon-series library as the basis to form The Cartoon Network.
During the late 1990s, Turner turned Hanna-Barbera toward primarily producing new material for the Cartoon Network. In 1996, Turner was bought out by Time Warner and, with his partner William Hanna's death in March 2001, Hanna-Barbera was absorbed into Warner Bros. Animation; Cartoon Network Studios assumed production of the network's output. The Hanna-Barbera name is today only used to market properties associated with Hanna-Barbera's "classic" works, such as The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo, or in future reincarnations.
“Joe Barbera truly was an animation and television legend,” said Barry Meyer, chairman-CEO, Warner Bros. “From the Stone Age to the Space Age, and from primetime to Saturday mornings, syndication and cable, the characters he created with his late partner, William Hanna, are not only animated superstars but also a very beloved part of American pop culture.While he will be missed by his family and friends, Joe will live on through his work.”
Born in the Little Italy section of New York City on March 24, 1911, Barbera and Hanna created hundreds of famed cartoon characters during their 60-plus-year partnership.They enjoyed one of the most enduring and successful relationships in entertainment history, creating some of the world’s most recognizable characters, including Tom and Jerry, Huckleberry Hound, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Scooby-Doo and Yogi Bear.
He worked as a New York banker until the 1930s, when Collier’s Magazine published some of his hand-drawn “comics.” After studying art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, Barbera honed his animation skills at the Van Beuren animation studios in New York. It wasn’t until 1937, when Barbera was hired by MGM as an animator and writer, that he met Hanna, whom MGM had also just hired as a director and story editor. Hanna’s precise comedic timing and ability to manage top creative talent were the ideal complement to Barbera’s strong animation skills and storytelling instincts.
The pair’s first collaboration at MGM was entitled Puss Gets the Boot, which led to the creation of the immortal Tom and Jerry. The duo won tremendous acclaim in the 1940s when their cartoon cat and mouse danced alongside Gene Kelly in the motion pictures Anchors Aweigh and Invitation to Dance, and alongside Esther Williams in Dangerous When Wet. Over the years, Tom and Jerry have been honored with seven Academy Awards.
Concerned by the advent of television, MGM eliminated the studio’s animation department and, suddenly unemployed, Hanna and Barbera decided to make cartoons directly for the small screen. In 1957, 20 years after the birth of Tom and Jerry, Hanna-Barbera Studios opened its doors as one of the first independent animation studios to produce series television.
The fledgling studio’s first production was Ruff and Reddy, followed by The Huckleberry Hound Show in 1958. The blue canine became an immediate hit and won Hanna-Barbera its first Emmy Award, marking the first time an animated television series had been honored with an Emmy.
The studio’s next series, Quick Draw McGraw, premiered in 1959 and showcased the lanky, Stetson-wearing horse on two legs, ol’ Quick Draw McGraw himself. The series also introduced America to JellystonePark’s most famous bears, Yogi and Boo Boo, and the mischievous mice, Pixie and Dixie.
Breaking new ground became a tradition at the Hanna-Barbera Studios. In 1960, the team created television’s first animated “family sitcom,” The Flintstones, a series marked by a number of other firsts -- the first animated series to air in primetime, the first animated series to go beyond the six- or seven-minute cartoon format, and the first animated series to feature human characters.
The Flintstones ran for six years and went on to become the top-ranking animated program in syndication history, with all original 166episodes currently seen in more than 80 countries worldwide. Fred, Wilma, and Pebbles Flintstone, along with Betty and Barney Rubble, are considered to be some of Hanna-Barbera’s most celebrated classic characters and have spawned spin-off television series, specials and feature films. Hanna and Barbera served as executive producers of 1994’s The Flintstones feature film and even made a cameo appearance. The Flintstones soon paved the way for other primetime cartoons such as The Jetsons, Top Cat and The Adventures of Jonny Quest.
Another popular offering from Hanna-Barbera featured a cowardly Great Dane named Scooby-Doo, who eventually made his own place in television history. The popular series Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? remained in production for 17 years and maintains the title as television’s longest-running animated series.
In 2002, the character returned with What’s New Scooby-Doo?. The popular snack-eating canine inspired a pair of live-action feature films, and an ongoing series of direct-to-video movies that now numbers in double-digits. The new series Shaggy & Scooby-Doo Get a Clue! currently airs on Kids’ WB! on The CW as the top-rated Saturday-morning children’s show.
In addition to their award winning animated series, Hanna-Barbera also produced animated feature films including the award-winning Charlotte’s Web and Heidi’s Song, a full-length animated musical based on Johanna Spyri’s novel Heidi.
In 1981, Hanna-Barbera developed the phenomenally successful The Smurfs, which won two Daytime Emmy Awards in 1982 and 1983 for Outstanding Children’s Entertainment Series, and a Humanitas Award in 1987.
After nearly 50 years, Barbera and Hanna were elected by their peers to the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Hall of Fame in 1994. During his 80s and into his 90s, Barbera continued to report to his office regularly, taking an active role in the creation of new Hanna-Barbera projects.
In 1992, he served as a creative consultant for the animated feature film Tom and Jerry - The Movie and executive-produced Tom and Jerry Kids, the Hanna-Barbera/Fox Children’s Network series which ran from 1990 to 1994.
In 2000, he lent his voice for a small part in the Tom and Jerry short Mansion Cat. The beloved cat and mouse have enjoyed a lengthy career that continues to thrive today. Tom and Jerry have been featured over recent years in several top-selling direct-to-video films, and a new television series, Tom and Jerry Tales, premiered in fall 2006 to strong broadcast ratings for Kids’ WB on The CW.
That same year, Cartoon Network launched the Boomerang Network, created specifically as a showcase for the Hanna-Barbera library. It airs animated programs 24 hours a day, bringing the delights of the Hanna-Barbera legacy to new generations.
Barbera wrote his autobiography, My Life In Toons, in1994. He is survived by his wife, Sheila, and his three children from a previous marriage, Jayne, Neal and Lynn.