Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Harvey

The picture to the right tells more about the future of animation than you may realise.

It is of the Terrytoons staff and was taken between late February and mid June 1936. Late February is when George Gordon was installed as head of the animation department. Mid June is when a number of animators arrived from the defunct Van Beuren studio, thus they are not in the photo. A bunch of them would get together and create television animation history. They included Carlo Vinci, Dan Gordon and Joe Barbera.

The three of them would get credits on theatrical and television cartoons. But there’s someone in crowd who worked along side them and never, ever got a screen credit (that I have been able to discover), yet he played an important role in animation. He’s in the middle of the middle row, with the moustache. He’s Harvey Eisenberg.

Harvey died 50 years ago today.

He began life in animation as an inker. The Gordons, Barbera, Jack Zander and others left Terrytoons in 1937 to help start the new MGM cartoon studio. Harvey joined them (Vinci arrived much later). Before long, he was the layout artist on Barbera’s Tom and Jerry cartoons, including “Mouse Trouble,” the first of seven Oscar winners for the Hanna-Barbera unit. Below is a snippet of his misspelled entry from the 1940 Census. His home was at 1123 Wooster Street in Los Angeles and MGM paid him $1,920 annually.


He left animation in 1946 and concentrated on cartoon characters in books and comic books. Well, let’s say he left animation temporarily. After his old compadres Hanna and Barbera opened their own studio in 1957, they called in Harvey to lend a hand when needed. He was responsible for the storyboard for “Yogi’s Birthday Party” (1961), where Yogi Bear was, for the first time, featured in the entire half hour of his own. He drew the presentation boards used to sell “Top Cat” (also 1961). And he was directly involved in the creation of one of top shows in TV animation history. Here’s how Iwao Takamoto described it in his book. John Mitchell was the sales chief at Screen Gems (Columbia Pictures’ TV subsidiary) and called some shots at Hanna-Barbera; Bill Hanna recollected Mitchell was the man who pushed for the studio to go into prime time.

[John] Mitchell was the catalyst for getting the show on the air, but the idea was born out of a rap session between Bill, Joe, Harvey, and probably a couple other people, all sitting together and kicking around thoughts and ideas. The directed had come down to put a family show on in the nighttime, and Joe was thinking of a format similar to “The Honeymooners,” involving two different couples. After tossing it around for a while, it was Harvey who finally arrived at the thought that maybe a stone-age family might work. He made a sketch of a caveman and showed it to Joe, but Joe, according to the story, was lukewarm about the idea. When Mitchell got a quick look at the sketch, though, he said: “This is it! This is what we’re going to do!”
Harvey Eisenberg had more to do with the Hanna-Barbera characters than this. After leaving MGM, he plunged head-first into comic book art. When H-B decided to syndicate its new “Flintstones” and “Yogi Bear” series in newspaper comics, Gene Hazelton was placed in charge, but Harvey was brought in to do the Yogi Bear weekend cartoons. You’ve enjoyed them on this blog. But you can read to the right that someone in the New York Times book review section in 1951 wasn’t endeared with his work, at least when it came to something else. There has to be a dissenter in every crowd, I suppose.

It’s tempting to say that if medical science in the 1960s was like it is today, Harvey Eisenberg would have lived a long life. But the fact is a series of heart attacks felled him and he died in hospital at the age of 53.

Incidentally, if you looked carefully at the Census returns, you would have spotted the name “Jerome.” Jerry Eisenberg went into the animation business in the mid-1950s and carved out a nice career, a good portion of which was spent at Hanna-Barbera. Jerry is such a fun and friendly guy to talk to. I’ll bet his dad was, too.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting this tribute to one of my idols, Harvey Eisenberg. As good as his Hanna-Barbera designs and comics were, I feel his most beautiful and funny drawings were in the Tom and Jerry comic books of the late 1940s. No one ever drew Tom or Jerry's faces or poses better. Harvey's style was as essential to MGM cartoons and the H-B studio as Freddy Moore's style was iconographic to Walt Disney cartoons.

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  2. There are two of the first Flintstones daily strips (from 1961), both drawn by Harvey Eisenberg (the "Carl Barks from Hanna-Barbera") - great part of them was drawn by Gene Hazelton, more two of them which were drawn by Dick "Bick" Bickenbach, and the two first Sunday pages, also drawn by Harvey Eisenberg -, which I've found in the Ger Apeldoorn's blog (http://allthingsger.blogspot.com), in a topic whose link is the following: http://allthingsger.blogspot.com/2009/04/meet-flagstones-tuesday-comic-strip-day.html.
    Enjoy to check it!

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