Saturday, 11 August 2012

Random M-G-M Cartoon Clippings

The Tom and Jerry series at MGM couldn’t have been more successful. And it had a far-reaching effect. If directors Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera had flopped with the cat and mouse, do you think they’d have built up enough capital and fame to open their own studio in 1957 and set the course for made-for-TV animation?

Hanna and Barbera never got on-screen credit for the first short in the series in 1940, but that year, an Associated Press reporter ferreted out the information that they, and not Rudy Ising (credited on screen) were responsible. It’s intriguing to speculate who leaked the info to the wire service. Producer Fred Quimby’s re-hiring of Ising (and Hugh Harman) in October 1938 after MGM dumped the Harman-Ising studio the year before must have been uncomfortable at best. No doubt, Quimby would be quite happy to promote someone else over Ising, especially if he could imply that he discovered the Oscar-winning directors.

That’s more or less what he did in this AP column dated June 2, 1944.

‘Oscar’ Goes To Author Of Cartoon
(The producer of the Academy Award Winning Cartoon, “Yankee Doodle Mouse” writes today for Robbin Coons. This is the fifth in a series by award winners.)
HOLLYWOOD — Like Jennifer Jones and Paul Lukas, there were two other Hollywood stars who won an Academy Award this year. But little was said about them. Withal, each mail brings requests for their photos. They’re known from Teheran to Terre Haute — from Paraguay to Podunk.
>Success is theirs yet these stars work for nothing. They are never given a vacation — they never complain. Actually, they don’t even know the meaning of the word “temperament.” Neither are they ever bedecked in sable or ermine, nor do they attend the swank night clubs, albeit they were born in a bottle!
* * *
Yes, they emerged from an ink bottle, Feb. 10, 1940. Though christened “Tom Cat” and “Jerry Mouse” they are more familiarly known to millions of fans as just “Tom and Jerry.” Their introduction to the world was in the cartoon “Puss Gets the Boot.” Men, women and children laughed as the brash, bullying Tom tortured the meek mite, Jerry, through the early stages of the film, but the rascally rodent managed to master the situation before the end.
Were they gifted with vision, Tom and Jerry would see their prototypes in the men who direct them—Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. As is customary in cartoon production, humans first enact the roles of their pen-and-ink creations, thus aiding the animators who draw the animal characters. Hanna is the smirky, blustering Tom Cat. He stands before a mirror and muggs to his heart’s content. Barbara is the Jerry Mouse. With exaggerated facial contortions, he is submissive to Tom's harrangues—while the story is in preparation.
* * *
In reality, neither Hanna nor Barbera is an exhibitionist. Rather would you regard them as the type to inherit the earth, were you to meet them socially. The boys joined my cartoon staff in 1937 as story and layout men. Their ability was soon discernible and promotion to the directorial ranks followed.
We were all very proud of Tom and Jerry for the award—the first ever won in Academy competition with Walt Disney. Could they have made an acceptance speech, I’m sure they would have said, with typical Hanna-Barbera modesty, “Thanks, folks. It’s a great honor. I guess we were just lucky.”

Hanna and Barbera might have been modest, but Fred C. wasn’t. The way some newspaper stories read, you’d swear Quimby himself was at a light board crafting all those funny scenes. There was never a mention of guys like Irv Spence or Ray Patterson. Quimby loved leaving the impression he was a creative force. One 1957 review of “Invitation to the Dance,” the Gene Kelly experimental film that combined animation and live action, wrote “Kelly dances a nimble series with cartoon characters executed beautifully by Fred Quimby, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.” The words “Mike Lah” were nowhere to be found. Lah was the one apparently responsible for the serpent dance.

Quimby is not only creative but happy-go-lucky in this syndicated news story of July 7. 1947. By all accounts, neither term could be applied to him in real life.

Pair of Film Stars Win Academy Award But it Means No Raise in Pay for Them Because They Are Cartoon Characters
Central Press Correspondent
HOLLYWOOD — Not every Academy award winning star gets fame and fortune—and an oversized swimming pool.
You get a day by day account of the doings of the Ingrid Bergmans, the Greer Garsons, the Ginger Rogers, the Spencer Tracys and the Jimmy Cagneys.
But what about Tom and Jerry?
They are the heroes of an animated cartoon which won an Academy award for their bosses. Besides that, like Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto the Pup and Donald Duck, they have brought many a laugh to millions of youngsters—and oldsters, too.
Because they are “Oscar” winners, it is well to look behind the curtain to see how Tom and Jerry come into being as you see them on the nation’s screens.
The studio has been releasing cartoons for many years, but it was not until 10 years ago that a building devoted to this sole entertainment field was erected. Occupying 12,000 square feet, the two-story structure houses a personnel of more than 200 persons, each a specialist in his particular field, since cartoon production is a highly creative art.
Of this number, 110 devote their time to Tom and Jerry.
* * *
JUST LIKE Joan Crawford has Jerry Wald as her producer, Tom and Jerry have their guiding genius, too. He is Fred Quimby, a happy gentleman with a full head of hair and a sense of humor.
Tom and Jerry have their own directors as well. They are William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. Both are comparative youngsters but veterans in the cartoon field.
Like any other screen production, the first step in making a cartoon is writing the story.
Unlike any of the others, the authors do not bother with a manuscript. Instead, they rough out their stories in picture form, one panel after the other, and tack them up on a large board.
Quimby likes to be sure of the action, just like he might be if he had Humphrey Bogart or Errol Flynn, so frequently he has co-directors Hanna and Barbera go through parts of the action.
When the trio is satisfied, the animators enter the scene.
Animators take a look at the drawings—or story. Then they go to work making hundreds upon hundreds of separate pictures, each slightly different from the other. This is so when they are later photographed on a strip of film and run through a projection machine, they look as though they were moving.
This film—it is called a story reel in the trade—offers excellent opportunity for each member of the staff to study the story minutely.
It requires more than 16,000 drawings, each photographed separately, to complete an eight-minute cartoon.
* * *
HEAD ANIMATORS draw only the principal sketches, while their assistants, the “in-between workers,” complete the continuity of the scene.
For example, a sequence may require Tom to walk from one side of a room to the other. The head animator makes sketches of Tom as he enters and as he leaves. The “in-betweeners” then fill out the rest of the pictures.
As he works each animator constantly has in front of him master drawings of Tom and Jerry as well as all the other members of the cast. This is done so no artist will start drawing characters to suit his own ideas.
* * *
KEY MEN are those layout artists who plan the backgrounds and plot the action; the technical advisers and the musical director, who is not only a musician and composer but a man long experienced in cartoon procedure.
Sound technicians on cartoons must be the top of their trade. Split-second accuracy is required in giving sound to the little animated figures.
Then there are the people who give voice to the dialogue.
After all the pictures have been put on paper, a group of women artists trace them with water colors to celluloid. They become the finished product when they are photographed on regular movie film.
The cartoon producers admit they have a lot of problems. But, they have one big “break.” Their stars never are afflicted with temperament.

Hanna and Barbera got other mentions in the popular press during their MGM years, but not all that many. Disney got the P.R. by ably spinning each feature release into something new and, therefore, worth writing about. MGM was in the shorts business, and shorts weren’t exactly high in the box office food chain. Here’s a clipping from United Press dated April 16, 1949.

Censors Frown on Nudes—Even in Cat Cartoons
HOLLYWOOD, (UP)—A buxom movie queen lolling in bed isn't the only item that gets axed out of the movies. The long arm of the censors reached out to the love life and hip wiggles in the cartoons, too.
The two guys who create Tom and Jerry, the Oscar-winning cat and mouse, sigh they have to worry about slipping gags past the censors just like the big directors do.
“We have to be careful about Jerry kicking Tom in the backside. Those gags don’t get by so much any more,” says Joe Barbera, who writes and directs the cat and mouse series at M G M with William Hanna.
Tom and Jerry usually don’t wear a stich of clothes in their movies, unlike Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. But in “Springtime for Thomas” Tom had to crawl into trousers while he yowled his love to a lady cat.
Tom wears goatskin pants and Jerry a Robinson Crusoe outfit in their next movie. But Barbera and Hanna undressed them in a hurry so the 125 animators wouldn’t have to draw clothes in all the 15,000 “frames” that make one cartoon.
Once the Johnston office turned thumbs down on a scene in a cartoon, not of Tom and Jerry, which showed a dog sniffing at a man disguised as a tree.

There was, at one time, an event which brings back wistful memories to those old enough to remember called “The Saturday Kids Matinee.” Local theatres had special programmes for kids consisting of a bunch of old cartoons, some live-action shorts (usual the Three Stooges) and maybe an episode of a serial. TV eventually killed the concept. Alas!

Here’s a column from Madison’s Wisconsin State Journal of April 4, 1953, giving a free plug to a matinee. No doubt part of the information came from an MGM handout. Why else would Fred Quimby get credit?

TOM AND JERRY, funmakers from the MGM cartoon studio, will celebrate their 13th birthdays and their sixth “Oscar” award with two parties Monday at the Orpheum theater.
Tom and Jerry were “born” when Fred Quimby produced their first picture, “Puss Gets the Boot,” in 1940. They became stars at the film’s first showing, when a preview audience laughed long and applauded heartily.
With that sound in their ears, Quimby and Co-Directors William Hanna and Joe Barbera laid plans for a long-range future for the cat-and-mouse team.
So far, there have been 96 Tom and Jerry pictures, and 20 more are in various stages of production on the MGM drawing boards—which produce 11,200 different camera setups for each cartoon comedy. Each release plays about 22,000 bookings in the United States’ 15,000 theaters, figures which indicate many repeat bookings.
Last month. Tom and Jerry won their sixth “Oscar” with “Johann Mouse,” a Viennese caper with Tom playing Strauss music for Jerry’s dancing.
At Monday's parties, the Orpheum will show 25 Tom and Jerry cartoons — three hours of films. Cousin Henry of WISC will be master of ceremonies, and a big bir day cake will be on display in the theater lobby.
The parties will start at 10 a.m. and 1 p. m., with doors for the first one open at 9 a. m.

Fred Quimby was gone by 1955. So Bill and Joe don’t share the credit for their cartoons in this United Press story from somewhere in September 1955.

Cat, Mouse Hold Oscar Honor Record
HOLLYWOOD (UP) – Which performers have won the most Academy Awards?
Nope, not Bette Davis, Frederick March or any other living actor.
The champs are a cat and mouse—“Tom and Jerry.”
Those cartoon characters have copped seven golden statuettes — more than any performers in the business.
Behind this game of cat and mouse are a couple of easy-going, good-nntured guys named Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera who have worked together for 18 years. During that time they've turned out 125 “Tom and Jerry” rib-ticklers for MGM.
“We’ve been working across a desk all that time and never had a beef,” Joe said happily. “I don’t think there’s another team in town ,who can say that.”
“When we started out with Tom and Jerry, mice and cats were strictly passe,” Bill put in. “Thanks to Mickey Mouse and Felix the Cat.”
“Yeah,” Joe laughed. “Cartoonists were going crazy looking for other animals to use—giraffes, zebras, dodo birds and gosh knows what.”
“We decided to stick with the cat and mouse idea because you don’t have to waste time getting into the story. The minute the cartoon starts with the cat chasing Jerry the audience understands the situation”
“What’s more,” Bill added, “The mouse is the eternal ‘little guy’—getting picked on by everyone. Besides, mice and cats are known the world over. We never use much dialogue and foreign markets are as good as domestic releases.”
Barbera and Hanna take 18 months to turn out a single seven-minute picture.
“Of course,” Bill said, “we have several in production at once. Each film contains about 57,000 drawings, which means a total output of a million and a half individual drawings a year.”
How do cartoonists dream up their laugh-getters?
“We sit across from one another and kick around ideas until we get something of a story line. Then as we go along we make faces and expressions we want the characters to have—while one of us makes a face, the other pencils it down.”
“People think we're crazy when they come into the office. They find a couple of grown men making faces at one another and speaking in sound effects,” Joe said.

Within two years of this story, Hanna and Barbera followed Quimby off the MGM lot, along with the rest of the cartoon studio’s staff. The doors were bolted. Metro had become penny wise and pound foolish, deciding all it had to do was spend a few bucks making prints of old cartoons and watch the money roll in. It never counted on the huge windfall television could have provided from the sale of future MGM cartoons. It was a point gladly proven by another studio, one run by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.


  1. What a post! Thanks you!
    I don't like that Fred Quimby was extremely self-concerned. I wonder if another producers(Harman and Ising) have any chance to tell the publicity what they want(while at MGM)

    M. Barrier wrote in his book that Motion Picture Herald wrote about creation of Hanna and Barbera unit in september of 1939. Do you have that article by any chance?

  2. Hi, Sanek. No, I don't have access to trade papers (Variety, Hollywood Reporter, and so on), other than Boxoffice on-line and it's utterly unsearchable.
    I've seen next to nothing on Harman-Ising. To be honest, there wasn't a lot of media coverage on short subjects. Leon had a PR person (Rose Horsley) who managed to get in the occasional squib, especially with a couple of the news service columnists.

  3. Tom & Jerry's a cute, beautifully drawn cartoon w/ great music!