Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Life of Joe Barbera in Four Drawings

We’ve brought you several old newspaper columns based on the tale of the Tom and Jerry guys who had been kicked out of MGM but now were creating wonderful TV cartoons loved the world over and becoming wealthy through commercial tie-ins. H-B’s PR people must have had the story down pat. Here is it again. What’s different about this syndicated feature is it also includes drawings credited to Joe Barbera.

Barbera could draw. Several of his single-panel efforts were bought by magazines in the early ‘30s. He had animated at the Van Beuren Studio in New York (I’m waiting for the wizards who are able to do this sort of thing to identify his animation in, say, a Molly Moo Cow short) then moved to Terrytoons before heading west and joining MGM where he gave up animating to write for Friz Freleng. Then, after a bit of staffing turmoil, came a partnership with Bill Hanna and a certain cat and mouse.

The feature writer is Harvey Park. He was based in New York, but I don’t know which syndicate employed him. This ran in newspapers on the weekend of January 28-29, 1961.

Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera Make a Mint

AN ORIGINAL painting by one of the old masters brought a fantastic $750,000 at auction a few years ago. Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, a couple of animation artists, will gross over 40 million dollars this year and will not be represented by any museum in the world.

Naturally the work of men like Rembrandt and Picasso will live longer than the Hanna-Barbera creations, but the current generation of American youngsters will remember Huck Hound and Quick Draw McGraw with the same fondness and nostalgia their parents reserve for Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. This may not bring immortality to Hanna-Barbera any more than it will to Disney, but how many cakes of soap and party tablecloths carry Rembrandt’s self-portrait.

Joe Barbera, the New York-born half of the team, came East recently to visit his old haunts. Barbera studied at the American Institute for Banking and, for a short time, worked as an accountant with a New York bank. “I’m going down there tomorrow morning to visit some of my old buddies,” he explained. “A few of them have made good and hold jobs like chief clerk and assistant manager and even vice president. Not bad for 25 years.” Barbera disclaimed any intention to buy the bank and give it to Yogi Bear as a birthday present.

I asked him to draw the story of his life in a four-panel cartoon and I’m convinced the accompanying pictures are a fraud. His mother, who still lives in Brooklyn, would not have bawled him out for marking up the walls because he wasn’t that interested in drawing as a boy. He wanted to be a writer and still admits to a driving ambition to write a play for Broadway.

Success Record
As far as being expelled from college goes, Joe Barbera has a record for success and people who know him are convinced that if he had stayed with banking it would be known as the Barbera Trust Co. today.

“It may not be exactly my life,” said Joe with a smile as he finished the final frame, “But maybe it’s my partner’s.”

This season Hanna-Barbera have jumped into a night-time programming with The Flintstones (7:30 p.m. Friday, ABC-TV), one of the season’s few hits. I frankly told Joe that I was disappointed in the program and found it less imaginative than Huck Hound or Quick Draw McGraw.

“I know exactly what you mean,” said Barbera. “You don’t consider it ‘adult.’ But we never said it would be. That was all part of a publicity buildup. It was designed for early evening entertainment and the central characters are adults instead of animals. But nowhere in the format did we promise people an animated New Yorker magazine. We’d love to try it, but it would run about one week.”

Proud of Series
Barbera is actually quite delighted by its success. He personally supervises the writing and prefers all his story-line writers to be animators. “A man who draws will always write about situations that lend themselves to animation,” he explains.

Hanna and Barbera met some 24 years ago when they were both working for MGM. They created a series called “Tom and Jerry” and they stayed with MGM for 125 cartoons, and seven Academy Awards. In 1957 they left MGM and tried to crash into TV with their revolutionary ideas for creative TV cartoons within the limited budget of the medium. Screen Gems finally decided to take a chance with them and the results have been phenomenal.

I went home that night and found my wife preparing for our daughter’s fourth birthday party. The paper tablecloth with Huckleberry Hound; the hats had Yogi Bear on them; the paper plates had both Huck and Yogi; and for favors there was an assortment of Huck soap and a group of Hanna-Barbera dolls.

I guess next year no kiddy birthday party will be complete without a big bowl of Fred Flintstone 100-proof punch.

Though Barbera had an ability to quickly draw story sketches during his years co-directing at MGM, he didn’t design the characters (Harvey Eisenberg perhaps?). And when the TV animation studio started he had Ed Benedict, Bick Bickenbach and Dan Gordon do that for him. So if those cartoons are Barbera’s work, it’s remarkable to my admittedly untrained eye how much they look like Bickenbach’s style, right down to the shape of the letters ‘e,’ ‘y’ and ‘g’ in the third panel, drawn the exact same way in the “Except Yogi” handwriting in the famous opening of The Yogi Bear Show.


  1. Great article. So, we're seeing Joe's own " storyboard " in a way-Ha! Makes you wonder what would have happened if Joe had pursued banking, or writing for the " legitimate " theater. I had read that Daws was very interested in commercial art before going the direction he did. How different things might have been.

  2. It's interesting that while the story came out in early 1961, Joe's drawings already are displaying a little more of the design style you'd see in the Hanna-Barbera cartoons starting later that year and continuing on through the mid-60s (mom bears a little resemblence to Wilma in Panel 1, but the other panels look more like the more streamlined designs that would show up in the ensuing seasons of "The Flintstones" along with "Top Cat", "The Jetsons" and the H-B New Cartoon Show and "Magilla Gorilla" than the designs that the studio had been using in the Huck and Quick Draw shows or in Season 1 of "The Flintstones").

  3. Great post. Now I've only seen a handful of Joe's drawings but I didn't think these looked like his work. Maybe the partner he speaks of is Bickenbach 'cause that isn't Hanna's story either.

  4. This is a great article, but I'm a bit confused by writer Harvey Park's comment that he found the Flintstones to be "less imagninative" than the Huck and Quick Draw shows. Even more confusing is Joe Barbera's reply to him, "I know exactly what you mean. You don't consider it 'adult'." So...does that mean that Mr. Park found Huck and Quick Draw to be more "adult" than the Flintstones? I doubt that. Can anyone explain this?

  5. Love the music clips. I mean, I really love them. Keep them coming!!!!!

  6. What intrigued me, Mark, and I was going to touch on this in a post next month, is Barbera blew off all the ads about "adult" as just publicity, ie. BS.
    The take I'm getting is the reviewer viewed 'The Flintstones' as a standard sitcom with a gimmick; a show any child could understand, whereas Huck and Quick Draw featured light satires on the banality of popular TV genres (and Foster worked in a commentary about television itself on occasion) with some dialogue aimed more at parents watching.

  7. For a minute there, I thought these looked more like Dick Bickenbach's drawings. Anyhow, these show that Barbera was quite a talented fellow himself and that he could actually draw well.

    Is it true that Bill Hanna couldn't draw at all? I know he wasn't necessarily an artist.

  8. Someone can correct me, but it seems to me Hanna wrote in his book he did some Joe jobs (pun not intended), washed cels and then moved into the ink & paint dept. at Harman-Ising and was running it before they left Warners for MGM.
    The drawings in this story still suspiciously look like Bick. He loved those little noses. Compare the drawing of the head of the woman on the left to Snow White in Snow White Bear.

  9. Small nit. The weekend was January 28-29, 1961. January 30 was a Monday, and that was the day that the "Yogi Bear Show" premiered. It was also a good day for cartoon buffs to be born, too. So I hear.