Wednesday 14 December 2011

Bill and Joe and Tom and Jerry and Ruff and Reddy

This post isn’t intended to be a history of the start-up of the Hanna-Barbera studio or Ruff and Reddy, let alone a definitive one. Such would require more time to flesh out than I’m prepared to spend, and more space one would tolerate for a simple blog post. And Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera both wrote books giving their recollections of how it happened anyway.

Hanna bragged about being an unequivocal Hugh Harman-Rudy Ising loyalist, sticking with them when they left Leon Schlesinger in 1933 for half-starvation and then MGM—until Fred Quimby made him an offer four years later and he walked out on them. Barbera was enticed by Quimby through a couple of intermediaries to forsake Paul Terry’s studio in New York and come to MGM. The two teamed up as directors (as Barbera remembered it, “I said to Bill: ‘Why don't we try a cartoon of our own?’”) and came up with the first Tom and Jerry cartoon Puss Gets the Boot, released in February 1940. Neither Hanna nor Barbera are credited but, remarkably, their identities were revealed in an Associated Press story less than three months after the cartoon was released. The only version I’ve found has no byline.

Introduce New Cartoon Technique
Hollywood. May 4—(AP)—A very entertaining cartoon making the making the rounds deserves some belated attention. It’s [sic] title is “Puss Gets the Boot.”
We here get so accustomed to seeing the “credits” at the beginning of pictures, looking for names of neighbors and fellows we have met, that when there are no names we are curious and a little disappointed.
The credits for “Puss” are conspicuous by their absence. At the beginning, it says a man named Ising produced the picture for M.G.M., but more than one person wondered who conceived the characters and the plot and directed the story. I was one. And, in addition, told it with such simplicity that it will not confuse children—nor bore adults.
The answer is a pair of young fellows Joe Barbera, who used to work in a bank in New York, and Bill Hanna, who started his film career as a janitor in a cartoon studio the day after he got out of high school.
From now on, because Puss is so good, Joe and Bill are a team of producers and they will have their names in large letters on every moving picture they make.

Office politics weren’t in short supply at the MGM cartoon studio in the late ‘30s and they waft from this story. Ising and Hugh Harman were re-hired by MGM only as a last resort after being fired and it seems clear Fred Quimby decided, or was told, to line up some potential replacements as soon as he could. This newspaper story would certainly be a slap in the face to Ising and a tacit but public message that a new, rising team had arrived—and was responsible for “his” work.

Seven Oscars and 14 Academy Award nominations later, things couldn’t have looked better for Hanna and Barbera. Or the MGM cartoon studio. From Boxoffice magazine of June 4, 1955:

MGM to Double Output of Cartoon Department
HOLLYWOOD—Concurrent with its projected upsurge in feature film production, MGM is doubling the output and personnel of its cartoon department and henceforth will turn out 18 pen-and-ink subjects annually, all in CinemaScope and Technicolor.
Hal Elias, associated for 18 years with the production and distribution of MGM short subjects, has been upped to manager of the cartoon division, headed by Fred Quimby, who is leaving on an extended vacation.
At the same time Joseph Barbera and William Hanna, writer-director team on the “Tom and Jerry” series, were promoted to full producer status and will supervise all of the 18 planned cartoons. Nine will be in the “Tom and Jerry” group, six will star “Droopy” and the balance will be adapted from published works.

According to Barbera’s autobiography, Quimby made his vacation permanent after announcing his retirement to the studio staff in early 1956.

But MGM was in turmoil. Trade papers reveal a merry-go-round of top-level executive changes and shareholder unrest. And then came a phone call to Hal Elias. At least, that’s how Bill and Joe remember it. Boxoffice explains what happened in its issue of December 22, 1956:

MGM Halts Production Of Cartoons Temporarily
While much of the industry’s limelight during recent weeks has been directed toward Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, its executive personnel and its future program, Leo’s cartoon department is getting set for a complete shutdown—not because the mighty Metro is going to stop the production of animated subjects, but due to the fact that the studio reportedly has a two-year backlog of shorties, and the front office brass considers that a halt should be called while some of this finished celluloid is absorbed by the market.

Barbera once mentioned another reason; old MGM cartoons could be re-released (and had been since November 1947) and make the studio 90% of the profits of new cartoons, with only the cost of printing and distribution to worry about. MGM had been booking a compilation of shorts (live action and animated) called the Tom and Jerry Cartoon Festival only several months earlier, complete with promotional manual for theatre owners.

So Hanna and Barbera got together and formed their own company. And they either went to, or got an offer from, the man who directed Anchor’s Aweigh (1945), for which Hanna and Barbera supplied animation of Jerry dancing with Gene Kelly. From Boxoffice of July 13, 1957:

George Sidney Organizes Cartoon Production Firm
Columbia executive producer George Sidney has announced plans to branch out into the production of cartoons with the formation of H.B. Enterprises, Inc., under which banner he will make feature cartoon films for theatrical consumption as well as shorter television and industry products.
Associated with Sidney in the organization are former MGM cartoon toppers William Hanna and Joe Barbera, who created, wrote and directed all the “Tom and Jerry” cartoons.
The new project has no connection with George Sidney Productions, releasing through Columbia and which already has made “Jeanne Eagels” and “Pal Joey.”

Sidney’s percentage of the action was not disclosed.

So we have six and a half months between the time of the announced shutdown of the MGM cartoon studio and the formation of H-B Enterprises. When did Ruff and Reddy get created? Joe Barbera recalled in his interview with the Archive of American Television:

We went over, finally, to Screen Gems. In the meantime, I had sat home one time and I did a story, I boarded it, and I created a dog and a cat, called ‘em Ruff and Reddy. And my daughter Jayne who’s 12 years old, she put the color on them.

Barbera created it? It just may be the idea germinated months before the MGM announcement and Joe Barbera didn’t have a thing to do with it.

Keith Scott’s wonderful book The Moose That Roared reveals that Bill Hanna entered into a partnership with MGM’s other cartoon director—Mike Lah, who was married to Hanna’s wife’s twin sister—in a company called Shield Productions. As a side note, a third partner was MGM background artist Don Driscoll, a buddy of Ed Benedict’s who had been working on CinemaScope remakes of old Tex Avery cartoons. Scott’s book says Shield was working on resurrecting the first real made-for-TV cartoon, Crusader Rabbit. But there was more than that. Shields had several shows in production. Guess what one of them was? The U.S Government Catalog of Copyright Entries shows the following:

Ruff and Reddy, 2 v. © Shield Productions, Inc.; 25May56; A238905-238906.

But these weren’t actual cartoons. What was copyrighted was two volumes in book form. So were these synopses of cartoons? Unless someone actually goes through the records, we won’t know. What is clear is the idea of Ruff and Reddy—and all we have is the name and nothing else—was in Bill Hanna’s head before he found out the MGM studio was closing and that it was tied in with a cartoon house separate and apart from Joe Barbera.

Shield ran into trouble over the rights to Crusader Rabbit when the company was three months into production. That apparently ended Shield Productions. But it didn’t end Ruff and Reddy, which Hanna used to kick off his new company with Barbara. Dick Bickenbach told historian Mike Barrier that he roughed out the animation for the titles of the show the last two days he was at MGM, though no date or even month is revealed.

So, we’re back at July 1957. Days after Sidney came on board, he brokered a deal with Screen Gems, Columbia Pictures’ TV arm. The meeting resulted in an option for five, five-minute cartoons at $2,700 apiece for the first two, $2,800 each for the second two and $3,000 for the last one. And somewhere on the way, Columbia’s Harry Cohn got a chunk of the company (20% as Joe Barbera remembered it).

With capital in hand, H-B Enterprises moved into the old Chaplin studio on Highland Avenue. Then, according to Barbera’s book, Cohn mistook a pencil test for a real cartoon and ordered Mitchell to stop production for good. But Barbera goes on to say Roger Muir, the producer of The Howdy Doody Show at NBC in New York,

Heard about ‘Ruff and Reddy’ [Barbera doesn’t disclose how] and wanted us to use the cartoons much as we had originally planned—as bookends [on a new puppet show] between which hoary old theatricals would run. Muir’s offer kept us alive, and Screen Gems went ahead with the deal. Now we had to swing into production full tilt.

But the Saturday Evening Post of December 2, 1961 has a far more lacklustre version in an article on the studio:

Screen Gems, Columbia Pictures TV subsidiary, gambled $10,000 to see some sample cartoons about a dim-witted dog named Ruff and a frisky cat named Reddy. Almost immediately Screen Gems sold the samples to NBC as a series and Hanna-Barbara Productions was in business.

It’s uncanny how all contemporary stories about the studio speak of instant success, while Barbera’s recollections later in life feature a multitude of tales about a studio and characters being rescued at the last minute from more melodramatic endings than Penelope Pitstop.

Whatever the case, the NBC deal was done by early-ish November, when newspapers and trade publications started mentioning the show. From Oscar Godbout’s Hollywood news in the New York Times of November 11:

It looks as though N. B. C.’s “Gumby” show on Saturday morning may be supplanted by a pair of space-traveling animals. The network has purchased a new cartoon series, “Ruff and Reddy,”—a cat and a dog—from Screen Gems. The four-minute films will form part of a half-hour children’s program. The animated films depicting the adventures of the characters on the “Aluminum Planet of Muni-mula,” will be seen beginning next month. Each comprised of “Ruff and Reddy” installments and two first-run cartoons from the Columbia Pictures studio film library.

A Billboard story out of New York on November 18 mentioned a start date of Saturday, December 21 but the first Ruff and Reddy aired the Saturday before (December 14th), 10:30 a.m. in the East, 9:30 a.m. in the central states and 9 a.m. on the West Coast, though, if TV listings are to be believed, KRCA in Los Angeles ran something else and didn’t air the show until the 21st. The Billboard story called the studio “B&H Productions” and one newspaper referred to “Fred Hanna and Joe Barber.”

There were 12 adventures in all, each in 13 parts running about 3½ minutes. I’m loath to copy what fill-in-your-own-blank internet sites say about when each aired, but it appears the cartoons aired in first-run over the course of three seasons. They were copyrighted as follows:

September 15, 1957 (H-B Enterprises): Series ‘A’, Planet Pirates; Series ‘B’, Pinky the Pint-Sized Pachyderm; Series ‘C’, Westward Ho Ho Ho; Series ‘D’, Treasure of Doubloon Lagoon; Series ‘F’, Egg Yeggs; Series ‘G’, Scary Tale of a Canyon Trail.
September 15, 1958 (H-B Enterprises): Series ‘H’, Fantastic Phantom; Series ‘I’, Missile Fizzle; Series ‘L’, Dizzy Deputies; Series ‘M’, Spooky Meeting at Spooky Rock.
September 15, 1959 (Hanna-Barbera Productions): Series ‘N’, Sky High Guys; Series ‘O’, Misguided Missile.

There were no series ‘E’, ‘J’ and ‘K’. ‘E’ was used for Pixie and Dixie production numbers, ‘J’ for cartoons in the Quick Draw show and ‘K’ for the Huckleberry Hound half-hours.

Huck debuted in 1958 and Quick Draw in 1959, so it appears Ruff and Reddy was still in production when those two series were being animated. Quite a load, considering Loopy De Loop first appeared in theatres in fall of 1959.

The only credits I’ve ever seen on the cartoons are Hanna’s and Barbera’s.

Both Bill and Joe told how they hired many, or most, of the people who worked with them at MGM. That’s not quite the case. Credited artists at Metro in the last year were Lew Marshall, Ken Muse, Jim Escalante, Carlo Vinci, Irv Spence, Bill Schipek, Ken Southworth, Herman Cohen, Dick Bickenbach, Bob Gentle, Fernando Montealegre, Roberta Greutert, Don Driscoll (who remade backgrounds from old Avery cartoons for CinemaScope) and Ed Benedict, along with director Mike Lah. Escalante, Spence, Southworth, Cohen and Driscoll seem to have moved on. It’s unclear whether Schipek was with H-B Enterprises at the start. Lah fit in some animation and layouts for the new studio while working at Quartet. Of course, none of the uncredited assistant animators (Lefty Callahan, Joe Finck and a chap named Jerry Eisenberg among them) were needed. But uncredited background artist Art Lozzi was found a place. Brightman carried on supplying material for Walter Lantz cartoons. There was no expensive orchestra; Scott Bradley’s services were replaced by a sound cutter working with production library music. And Barbera recalled sound and camera work was originally sub-contracted. A random viewing of a handful of the cartoons in the first season shows some familiar artists at work—Vinci, Muse, Lah and Benedict among them. Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon worked on the first two Ruff and Reddy seasons, but whether they were responsible for the two adventures in the 1959 season (26 cartoons in all), or Warren Foster and Mike Maltese were (they were writing the other H-B cartoons that season) isn’t known. And it’s well-known that Daws Butler and Don Messick, who had freelanced at MGM, did all the voices on the new series.

There’s one puzzling thing in all this. Hanna’s book relates “NBC signed up to a five-year contract to produce and develop additional (italics mine) cartoon series for television,” presumably as a result of Ruff and Reddy. But what happened? The studio did nothing of the kind. Within that five year period, it created three half-hour shows for Kellogg’s (Huck, Quick Draw, Yogi), another set of cartoons for syndication (Lippy the Lion, Touché Turtle, Wally Gator) and three prime-time half-hours for ABC (Flintstones, Top Cat, Jetsons). What about the deal with NBC? Joe Barbera’s later books and interviews are completely silent on it. Steven H. Scheuer, in a syndicated column from May 11, 1958, mentions “NBC has a ten-year option on Ruff ‘N Reddy and evidently plans to continue running the show on Saturday morning” but nothing at all about that five-year contract. I’ve not researched contemporary trade publications to see if it was mentioned. It’s hard to believe Hanna was mistaken. It’s easier to believe something fell apart, the deal was torn up and Barbera couldn’t figure out how to spin this into a good-publicity cliff-hanger so he simply ignored talking about it. In any case, it’s something for historical diggers to solve.

Ruff and Reddy is not a great show. Shows goes overboard with his cheesy rhyming couplets and titles in his coy attempt to be amusing. It’s a far cry from the smart-ass dialogue Warners cartoons that smart kids could watch the same morning. Reddy is an ignorant blow-hard far too impressed with himself and who thinks fists solve anything. Audiences are supposed to cheer for that? Ruff seems to spend most cartoons either running from something or saying “Reddy’s in trouble!”; a co-star should have a bit more to him than unwavering earnestness. And why is the cat named ‘Ruff’? Wouldn’t it make more sense for that to be the dog’s name?

Elements of Ruff and Reddy were borrowed by Hanna and Barbera for later cartoons, mainly some secondary character designs and Reddy’s North Carolina hound-dog voice (Daws Butler made Huck sound a little more laconic so the two don’t quite sound the same). But Ruff and Reddy’s true accomplishment was it sparked the Hanna-Barbera empire. And, for that, it deserves a bit more than being a footnote in television history.


  1. Nice trip down the memory archive. I kind of put Bill and (especially) Joe into the same category as Mel Blanc, Walter Lantz and Bob Clampett when it came to recounting their histories -- all came out of the period where nobody in the media and film history world really cared about the back story of how cartoons were created and made, so that embellishing stories and/or claiming credit for something that wasn't yours really didn't seem like a big deal, since the same ones who didn't care were never going to call you on it.

    As for Ruff & Ready, unless you viewed them contemporaneously, they were pretty hard to find after the early 1960s. I ran into them after already being immersed in the Huck/Yogi/Quick Draw period, and while it's easy to spot the similarities in the character design and the rhyming couplets, you watch it and you keep wondering "When are the funny parts going to arrive?" I think it was probably this on top of Season 1 of the Huck show that convinced Hanna-Barbera they needed to upgrade their story department by early 1959.

  2. When it came to rhymes, Charlie Shows was no Ted Geisel.
    I don't think H&B intended R&R to be funny, like it did with Huck and Yogi. It was a kids' adventure with a bit of humour (I imagine the kids' radio serials had as much to do with R&R's structure as anything).

  3. You're right about the target audience, and if I had seen them in the order they were created, I probably wouldn't have gotten that disappointed feeling.

    But if you see the Huck and Yogi shows first and then come upon R&R, you're expecting the style and design similarities to also mean the shows' goals are similar. However, the first show was designed more with the idea of what kids would like; the later shows seem to have followed the Hollywood theatrical cartoon credo more of doing things the staff found funny (which also made sense for the early evening time slots the shows were placed in, which were more likely to attract adults and children).

  4. And that's why Hanna and Barbera had the good sense to bring in the two best theatrical cartoon writers. Shows' little rhymes were really forced and childish at times.
    Then, again, the impression I get is Barbera had a large hand in writing Huck's first season but when Foster and Maltese came in, they were entrusted with more responsibility for plots and characters (witness how Maltese, Gordon and Barbera came up with Toot Sweet, the French flea).

  5. My theory is that Ruff n' Reddy was a cartoon remake of the I LOVE A MYSTERY radio shows of the 1950s,written by Carlton E. Morse and starring the adventurers Jack, Doc and Reggie. Doc and Reddy have very similar voices and tend to be the daring, but not-too-bright type. Jack was a lot like Ruff, down to earth and full of common sense. Reggie, the stuffy but nice British guy, has his counterpart in Professor Gizmo, who isn't British, but as brilliant as Reggie could be at times. I think Jim Boles as Doc Long is the closest to Reddy, and Daws could have been doing an impression of Boles as Doc. Mark Kausler

  6. I once asked Bill and Joe how they managed to get RUFF AND REDDY on the air so quickly. They freely admitted that they did developed it while working at MGM. Since the animation department's fate was sealed, no one there cared HOW they spent their time!

  7. Just thought I'd add that "K" was (also?)used for the "Loopy de Loop" series of theatrical cartoons.

  8. Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera:
    May their memory be eternal!