Saturday 13 January 2018

Bill and Joe Tell Their Story, 1956

By March 1956, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera had reached the pinnacle of their success. At least, that’s what they thought.

Fred Quimby had retired from the producer’s office as the MGM cartoon studio and the two of them were now in charge. Little did they know that a year later, they would be finishing up the last of their cartoons for the studio after management told them to shut down the animation plant. And even littler did they know that they would move out and create a television cartoon production empire, making them wealthy and famous beyond any expectations.

This story was published in Good Housekeeping magazine with the aforementioned cover date.

What’s fascinating to me is the story that Joe and Bill never really told. The M-G-M cartoon studio, prior to the success of Tom and Jerry, was rife with nasty politics. New York animators and the West Coast animators didn’t get along, as animator George Gordon once revealed. People were going into other people’s offices trying to force firings. Managers Milt Gross and Harry Hershfield quickly came and went. Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising, two guys who were more or less fired by M-G-M, returned to the studio to produce beside some of their former staff that had been poached (such as Bill Hanna). Friz Freleng, who strikes me as a man who wouldn’t take crap from anyone, hightailed it back to the comparative safety of the Schlesinger studio. Considering this political climate, how did a demoted director and an ex-storyman from Terrytoons convince anyone to allow them to put together a cartoon for theatrical release? Was this another case of back-room studio politics? Whatever the answers, the cartoon world was better for it. And imagine what TV animation might have been like if Hanna and Barbera hadn’t got together.

Other than Fred Quimby, you’ll look in vain for other names in the story.

Mr. TOM and Mr. JERRY
Meet the men who do the thinking for those crazy cartoon characters

Hollywood Editor
Once upon a time there was a certain cat, and also a certain mouse, both of whom are now famous practically everywhere as Tom and Jerry of the movie cartoons, But 18 years ago, they were only nebulous ideas in the minds of two Hollywood cartoonmen named Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. How these gentlemen happened to create Tom and Jerry, and build them to star status in the studio hierarchy of M-G-M, is one of the more pleasant Hollywood success stories.
Hanna and Barbera are now producing all M-G-M cartoons. As a team, they have masterminded some 200 Tom and Jerry cartoons. They have also produced cartoon features such as the currently popular, more seriously conceived Good Will to Men and the animation sequences that are found occasionally in M-G-M feature pictures. But Tom and Jerry are their number one stock in trade, and have been from the moment the public first glimpsed a cheerfully malevolent Tom chasing an opportunistic little Jerry in a cartoon called Puss Gets the Boot.
Prior to the Tom and Jerry era, both Hanna and Barbera were employees of the M-G-M cartoon department, Barbera as a sketch artist and Hanna as an idea-and-production man (i.e., one who supervises the photography and the subsequent physical preparation of cartoon film). Barbera is a former Brooklyn boy who once aspired to be a boxer and became, instead, a Wall Street bank teller who drew cartoons in his spare time. After he was laid off in a personnel cutback, he became an animator at a cartoon studio, and a short while later a member of M-G-M’s cartoon staff. At this point he met Hanna, a former engineering student who had started his career as an inker of cartoon frames and was now an idea man for cartoon stories and gags.
Assigned to work together on a number of small projects, the two young men found themselves in perfect harmony. “It simply turned out that we thought alike, and we still do,” they say. They decided to form an unofficial partnership and produce a new kind of cartoon. At first they searched for a single new character to use as the basis of a new production. They considered and rejected dozens of ideas. Suddenly the word “partnership: struck them, and straightaway they decided to create not one, but two new cartoon characters. What better than a cat and a mouse? They would provide good basic conflict to start with—a cat after a mouse, a big bully getting the worst of it and the little hero emerging triumphant. Such a combination contained fundamental story elements, and so Tom and Jerry were born.
Their first appearance in Puss Gets the Boot immediately captured public fancy and ran for six weeks in Los Angeles at its first theatre billing. Neither Bill nor Joe missed one night of that run! The studio was delighted with the success of Puss, but prophesied that the characters would last about three pictures only. They were mistaken.
Now working on Tom and Jerry cartoon number 212, Barbera and Hanna have added during the years many other characters to share the camera with them. There is the little French mouse who was seen in the Oscar-winning The Two Mousketeers, and the lovable duckling in That’s My Mommy. Their latest two are the bulldog father and son, Spike and Tyke, now on their way to stardom.

It’s noticeable, in talking to the producers, that both Hanna and Barbera regard their pen-and-ink children as living, breathing entities. In discussing the small canary seen in several cartoons, Barbera said casually, “We plan to use the canary again. She works well with Jerry.”
How are these cartoons created? Like any other picture, they begin with a story. Hanna and Barbera sit facing each other at two large desks that are pushed together. There they talk over an idea, enlarging it gradually into a full story line. But unlike other motion pictures, the cartoons have no script written in advance. Instead, as the points of the story unfold in discussion, Barbera roughly sketches action on small note pads. (More than once he jumps to his feet to demonstrate a fancy step or some bit of action. Once, for a memorable three days, he was crippled by a strained shoulder, the result of showing how Jerry should emerge from a hole!)
He and Hanna pass these rough sketches back and forth across the desk to each other, sometimes with a minor correction, more often just as they are drawn. For an average Tom and Jerry cartoon Barbera does some 400 quick sketches, depicting the key points of the plot. They serve as a preliminary guide for the subsequent detailed sketching and photographing of thousands of frames for the final cartoon film.
Like most creative men, Barbera and Hanna worry constantly about their stories. They are usually 20 or 30 ideas ahead, conceived from things they see, or hear, or dream.
The Oscar-winning The Two Mouseketeers opened a new field of foreign backgrounds for Tom and Jerry. Their creators got the idea from one of the studio’s swashbuckler films, but the penciled notes lay in a drawer several years until one day they both heard a six-year-old girl speaking French. Voilà, a French mouse! They had their story.
Hoe came into the office one day enthusiastically describing his new dishwasher and washing machine. Bill got the idea of a mechanized cat. Result: Push-button Kitty.
The cartoon crew has also worked closely with the feature-picture producers, inserting novelty sequences in which human actors dance with cartoon characters. Anchors Aweigh pioneered in this field. In it Tom and Jerry danced with Gene Kelly. More recently, the Sinbad the Sailor sequence in Invitation to the Dance shows Kelly dancing with the amorous Dragon and other specially created characters.
Barbera and Hanna’s latest production, Good Will to Men, which they worked on with Fred Quimby, is far from their usual comedy. It is the culmination of a long-term desire, and though it is early to predict, I believe it might very well add another Oscar to their collection. Its cast consists entirely of mice plus one wise old owl. It focuses a penetrating spotlight on Man, on his apparent desire to destroy both himself and his neighbor.
Tom and Jerry gets letters from friends all over the world. Because they rarely speak beyond an “ouch” or “oops,” they meet no language barriers wherever they go.
Since their birth, Tom and Jerry have gradually and subtly changed in appearance. Tom started out as a rather disreputable creature, mangy in appearance, with tufts of hair poking out here and there. Every two years, Hanna and Barbera tack up master drawings of Tom and Jerry and study them. Then Joe redesigns them. Right now the 1956-57 models show a cuter Jerry, with larger eyes and a smaller tail. Tom is more streamlined, with an even naughtier Machiavellian look.
But one thing always remains the same. Unlike so many story lines, cat always meets mouse, cat always chases mouse, but can never gets mouse!

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