Joseph Roland "Joe" Barbera (; March 24, 1911 – December 18, 2006) was an influential American animator, director, producer, storyboard artist, and cartoon artist, whose movie and television cartoon characters entertained millions of fans worldwide for much of the twentieth century. Through his young adult years, Barbera lived, attended college, and began his career in New York City.
After working odd jobs and as a banker, Barbera joined Van Beuren Studios in 1932 and subsequently Terrytoons in 1936. In 1937 he moved to California and while working at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Barbera met William Hanna. The two men began a collaboration that was at first best known for producing Tom and Jerry and live action films. In 1957, they co-founded Hanna-Barbera, which became the most successful television animation studio in the business, producing programs such as The Flintstones, The Huckleberry Hound Show, The Jetsons, Scooby-Doo, The Smurfs, and Yogi Bear. In 1967, Hanna-Barbera was sold to Taft Broadcasting for $12 million, but Hanna and Barbera remained head of the company until 1991. At that time the studio was sold to Turner Broadcasting System, which in turn was merged with Time Warner, owners of Warner Bros., in 1996; Hanna and Barbera stayed on as advisors.
Hanna and Barbera won seven Academy Awards and eight Emmy Awards. Their cartoons have become cultural icons, and their cartoon characters have appeared in other media such as films, books, and toys. Hanna-Barbera's shows have a global audience of over 300 million people and have been translated into more than 20 languages.
Barbera displayed a talent for drawing as early as the first grade. He graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn in 1928. While in high school, Barbera won several boxing titles. He was briefly managed by World Lightweight Boxing Champion Al Singer's manager but soon lost interest in boxing. In 1935, Barbera married his high school sweetheart, Dorothy Earl. In school they had been known as "Romeo and Juliet".
Barbara and his wife briefly separated when he went to California. They reunited but were on the verge of another separation when they discovered that Dorothy was pregnant with their first child. The marriage officially ended in 1963. Shortly after his divorce, Barbara met his second wife, Sheila Holden, at Musso Frank's restaurant, where she worked as bookkeeper and cashier. Unlike Dorothy, who had preferred to stay at home with the children, Sheila enjoyed the Hollywood social scene that Barbera often frequented.
Barbera died at the age of 95 at his home in Studio City, Los Angeles on December 18, 2006, ending a seventy-year career in animation. His wife Sheila was at his side at the end; he was also survived by three children from his first marriage: Jayne (who worked for Hanna-Barbera), Lynn, and Neal.
Barbera took art classes at the Art Students League of New York and the Pratt Institute and was hired to work in the Painting Department of the Fleischer Studios. In 1932, he joined the Van Beuren Studios as an animator and scriptwriter. He worked on cartoons such as Cubby Bear and Rainbow Parades, and also co-produced Tom and Jerry. This Tom and Jerry series involved several boys; it was unrelated to Barbera's later cat-and-mouse series. When Van Beuren closed down in 1936, Barbera moved over to Paul Terry's Terrytoons studio.
Barbera's desk was opposite that of William Hanna. The two quickly realized they would make a good team. By 1939 they had solidified a partnership that would last 50 years. Barbera and Hanna worked alongside cartoonist Tex Avery, who created cartoon characters such as Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny.
In 1940 Hanna and Barbera jointly directed Puss Gets the Boot, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best (Cartoon) Short Subject. The studio wanted a diversified cartoon portfolio, so despite the success of Puss Gets the Boot, Barbera and Hanna's supervisor, Fred Quimby, did not want to produce more cat and mouse cartoons. Surprised by the success of Puss Gets the Boot, Barbera and Hanna ignored Quimby's resistance and continued developing the cat-and-mouse theme. By this time, however, Hanna wanted to return to working for Ising, to whom he felt very loyal. Barbera and Hanna met with Quimby, who discovered that although Ising had taken sole credit for producing Puss Gets the Boot, he never actually worked on it. Quimby then gave Hanna and Barbera permission to pursue their cat-and-mouse idea. The result was their most famous creation, Tom and Jerry.
Modeled after the Puss Gets the Boot characters with slight differences, the series followed Jerry, the pesky rodent who continuously outwitted his feline foe, Tom. Hanna said they settled on the cat and mouse theme for this cartoon because: "We knew we needed two characters. We thought we needed conflict, and chase and action. And a cat after a mouse seemed like a good, basic thought." The revamped characters first appeared in 1941's The Midnight Snack. Over the next 17 years Barbera and Hanna worked exclusively on Tom and Jerry, directing more than 114 highly popular cartoon shorts. During World War II they also made animated training films. Tom and Jerry relied mostly on motion instead of dialog. Despite its popularity, Tom and Jerry has often been criticized as excessively violent. It was nonetheless groundbreaking in its use of live action stars. Among the more prominent guest stars were Gene Kelly, who appeared in Anchors Aweigh (1945) and Invitation to the Dance (1956), and Esther Williams in Dangerous When Wet (1953). The series won its first Academy Award for the 11th short, The Yankee Doodle Mouse (1943)—a war-time adventure. Tom and Jerry was ultimately nominated for 14 Academy Awards, winning 7. No other character-based theatrical animated series has won more awards, nor has any other series featuring the same characters.
Quimby accepted each Academy Award for Tom and Jerry's without inviting Barbera and Hanna onstage. The cartoons were also released with Quimby listed as the sole producer, following the same practice for which he had condemned Ising. Quimby also once took six months to give Barbera a promised raise. When Quimby retired in late 1955, Hanna and Barbera were placed in charge of MGM's animation division. As the studio began to lose more revenue due to television, MGM soon realized that re-releasing old cartoons was far more profitable than producing new ones. In 1957 MGM ordered Barbera and Hanna's business manager to close the cartoon division and lay off everyone by a phone call. Barbera and Hanna found the no-notice closing puzzling because Tom and Jerry had been so successful.
The first offering from the new company was The Ruff & Reddy Show, a series which detailed the friendship between a dog and cat. Despite a lukewarm response for their first theatrical venture, Loopy De Loop, Hanna-Barbera soon established themselves with two successful television series: The Huckleberry Hound Show and The Yogi Bear Show. A 1960 survey showed that half of the viewers of Huckleberry Hound were adults. This prompted the company to create a new animated series, The Flintstones. A parody of The Honeymooners, the new show followed a typical Stone Age family with home appliances, talking animals, and celebrity guests. With an audience of both children and adults, The Flintstones became the first animated prime-time show to be a hit. Fred Flintstone's signature exclamation "yabba dabba doo" soon entered everyday usage, and the show boosted the studio to the top of the TV cartoon field. The company later produced a space-age version of The Flintstones, known as The Jetsons. Although both shows reappeared in the 1970s and 1980s, The Flintstones was far more popular.
By the late 1960s, Hanna-Barbera Productions was the most successful television animation studio in the business. The Hanna-Barbera studio produced over 3000 animated half-hour television shows. Among the more than 100 cartoon series and specials they produced were: Atom Ant, Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy (an imitation of the earlier Spike and Tyke MGM cartoons), Jonny Quest, Josie and the Pussycats, Magilla Gorilla, Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks, Quick Draw McGraw, and Top Cat. Top Cat was based on Phil Silvers's character Sgt. Bilko, though it has been erroneously reported that Sgt. Bilko was the basis for Yogi Bear. The Hanna-Barbera studio also produced Scooby-Doo (1969–1986) and The Smurfs (1981–1989). The company also produced animated specials based on Alice in Wonderland, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cyrano de Bergerac as well as the feature-length movie Charlotte's Web.
As popular as their cartoons were with 1960s audiences, they were disliked by artists. Television programs had lower budgets, and this economic reality caused many animation studios to go out of business, putting many people in the industry out of work. Hanna-Barbera was key in the development of pioneering animation techniques, which allowed television animation to be more cost-effective, but often sacrificed artistic quality. Hanna and Barbera had first experimented with these techniques in the early days of Tom and Jerry. To reduce the cost of each episode, shows often focused more on character dialogue than detailed animation. The number of drawings for a seven-minute cartoon decreased from 14,000 to nearly 2,000, and the company implemented innovative techniques such as rapid background changes to improve viewing. Critics criticized the change from lush, detailed animation to flat characters with repetitive motion. Barbera once said that their choice was to adapt to the television budgets or change careers. The new style did not limit the success of their animated shows, enabling Hanna-Barbera to stay in business, providing employment to many who would otherwise have been out of work. This new style of character animation, known as limited animation, paved the way for future animated characters such as Homer Simpson and those in South Park. The television animation techniques and story methodology of the team are now legendary.
In 1966, Hanna-Barbera Productions was sold to Taft Broadcasting (renamed Great American Communications in 1987) for $12 million. Barbera and Hanna remained at the head of the company until 1991. At that point, the company was sold to the Turner Broadcasting System for an estimated $320 million, which itself merged with Time Warner, owners of Warner Bros., in 1996. This began a close association with the Cartoon Network. Barbera and Hanna continued to advise their former company and periodically worked on new Hanna-Barbera shows, including the The Cartoon Cartoon Show series and hit silver screen versions of The Flintstones (1994) and Scooby-Doo (2002). In the Tom and Jerry cartoon The Mansion Cat (2000) Barbera voiced the houseowner.
After Hanna's death in 2001, Barbera remained active as an executive producer for Warner Bros. Animation on direct-to-video cartoon features as well as television series such as What's New, Scooby-Doo? and Tom and Jerry Tales. He also wrote, co-storyboarded, co-directed and co-produced The KarateGuard (2005), the first theatrical Tom and Jerry short in more than 45 years. His final animated project was the direct-to-video feature Tom and Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale (2007).
Most of the cartoons Barbera and Hanna created revolved around close friendship or partnership; this theme is evident with Tom and Jerry, Yogi Bear and Boo Boo, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, Ruff and Ready, The Jetsons family, and the friends in Scooby-Doo. These may have been a reflection of the close business friendship and partnership that Barbera and Hanna shared for almost 60 years. Although their professional strengths, weaknesses, and personalities meshed perfectly, Barbera and Hanna travelled in completely different social circles. Hanna's circle of personal friends primarily included other animators; Barbera had an affinity for Hollywood's celebrity society—Zsa Zsa Gabor was a frequent visitor to his house. Their division of work roles complemented each other but they rarely talked outside of work since Hanna was interested in the outdoors and Barbera liked beaches and good food and drink. Nevertheless, in their long partnership, in which they worked with over 2000 animated characters, Barbera and Hanna rarely exchanged a cross word. Barbera said: "We understood each other perfectly, and each of us had deep respect for the other's work." Hanna once said he was never a good artist but his partner could "capture mood and expression in a quick sketch better than anyone I've ever known."
Barbera and Hanna were also among the first animators to realize the enormous potential of television. Leonard Maltin says the Hanna-Barbera team "held a record for producing consistently superior cartoons using the same characters year after year—without a break or change in routine their characters are not only animated superstars, but also a very beloved part of American pop culture". They are often considered the only rivals to Walt Disney in the art of making animated cartoons.
Barbera and Hanna had a lasting impact on television animation. Cartoons they created often make greatest lists. Many of their characters have appeared in film, books, toys, and other media. Their shows had a global audience of over 300 million people and have been translated into more than 20 languages. The works of Barbera and Hanna have been praised not only for their animation, but for their music. The Cat Concerto (1946) and Johann Mouse (1952) have both been called "masterpieces of animation" largely because of their classical music.
In all, the Hanna-Barbera team won seven Academy Awards and eight Emmy Awards, including the 1960 award for The Huckleberry Hound Show, which was the first Emmy awarded to an animated series. They also won these awards: Golden Globe for Television Achievement (1960), Golden IKE Award—Pacific Pioneers in Broadcasting (1983), Pioneer Award—Broadcast Music Incorporated (1987), Iris Award—NATPE Men of the Year (1988), Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association ward for Lifetime Achievement (1988), Governors Award of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (1988), Jackie Coogan Award for Outstanding Contribution to Youth through Entertainment Youth in Film (1988), Frederic W. Ziv Award for Outstanding Achievement in Telecommunications—Broadcasting Division College—Conservatory of Music University of Cincinnati (1989), stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (1976), several Annie Awards, several environmental awards, and were recipients of numerous other accolades prior to their induction into the Television Hall of Fame in 1994. In March 2005 the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and Warner Bros. Animation dedicated a wall sculpture at the Television Academy's Hall of Fame Plaza in North Hollywood to Hanna and Barbera.
In 1992 Barbera met with Michael Jackson, an avid cartoon fan, in an unsuccessful attempt to arrange for him to sing in Tom and Jerry: The Movie. Barbera drew five quick sketches of Tom and Jerry for Jackson and autographed them. Jackson autographed a picture of himself and his niece Nicole for Barbera with the words: "To my hero of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, with many thanks for all the many cartoon friends you gave me as a child. They were all I had.—Michael"