Wednesday 18 February 2015

Let’s Start a Cartoon Studio

Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera didn’t just wake up one day and open a cartoon studio. I would hope everyone reading here knows the basic story—Bill and Joe weren’t shy in telling it over and over in the media—how they were (A) unemployed after MGM closed its animation division, but (B) went on to fame and fortune by creating a studio to make cartoons for TV.

Variety chronicled many of the developments from steps A to B. Let’s give you a little bit of Hanna-Barbera pre-history from the pages of the Show Biz Bible. I wish I had the daily Hollywood Reporter for the same period to see how its news stories compared.

Our story starts in 1955. Producer Fred Quimby leaves on an extended vacation (Variety, May 31), leaving Hanna and Barbera in charge of producing 18 cartoons in the pipeline. They begin hiring people (Variety, October 12) for a second unit that will be under Mike Lah. Quimby, quietly, retires from the studio. But we’ll hear from him later.

February 16, 1956
Carlo Vinci Joins Cartoonery at Metro
Metro cartoonery yesterday hired Carlo Vinci as an animator. Initial assignments are on new Tom & Jerry and Spike and Tyke segments, under co-producers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.

June 4, 1956
Metro is allocating an additional $100,000 annually to its cartoon division to enhance its new training program.
According to Hal Elias, business manager of department, current demand for animated shorts both in domestic and foreign market, and the scarcity of trained men in this field, has cued the Culver lot to intensify its training program. This also includes a production upbeat to 16 cartoons per year. Previously, Metro turned out nine.
In the past nine months, 25 staffers have been added to Metro's cartoonery. In addition to Elias, department heads include William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, who write-direct-produce, and director Michael Lah.
Both Hanna and Barbera are also training their men in the making of cartoons especially for television. Pair claim, while there are no present plans for the filming of cartoons for tv, they are readying for any eventuality.
Average Metro cartoon, which runs around seven minutes, is budgeted at between $30,000 and $70,000 and takes as long as 14 months to complete. Most popular of the Metro cartoon series are "Tom and Jerry," "Droopy" and "Spike and Tyke."
Considering the future for both Hanna and Barbera, it’s significant that MGM staffers were being trained to make TV cartoons. Unfortunately for all those new hires, they would be unhired very shortly because MGM hired someone else: efficiency consultants.
December 13, 1956
MGM Cartoonery Prod'n Hiatus; 2-Year Backlog
Metro's cartoon department production is grinding to a halt, with no additional cartoons planned at this time after completion of the 12 now in process.
Studio has a two-year backlog of the briefies. Current batch—for the "Tom and Jerry," "Droopie" [sic] and "Spike and Tyke" series—will take another six-to-eight months to complete.
Contracts of MGM's two cartoon producers, Joseph Barbera and William Hanna, are up in the spring. Pair, however, have not been notified of any terminations of their services.

February 20, 1957
Metro's Knick Beer Com'ls
Knickerbocker Beer inked as the first account for Metro TV's newly-organized film commercial division. Deal, set via Warwick & Legler for Jacob Ruppert, calls for a series of 10 one-minute commercials. Films will be shot at Metro's studios.
Metro's Barbera and Hanna, creators of the Tom and Jerry cartoon characters, will handle special animation version of Knickerbocker trademark.

April 1, 1957
As part of its program to streamline studio operations, Metro will dissolve its cartoon production department in several weeks. Hal Elias, manager of the department; Joe Barbera and William Hanna, joint production toppers, and 44 cartoonists have received notices that the department will be discontinued as soon as it finishes the balance of 12 cartoons scheduled for this year. Continuing the pruning process is in keeping with recommendations made by Booz, Allen and Hamilton.
[story goes into pink-slippings at other departments at MGM]

April 5, 1957
MGM Teleblurbing For Standard Oil
MGM's cartoon department will create a series of six teleblurbs for Standard Oil of Indiana, under a pact just signed between the firm and Metro's tv department. Two of vidplugs will be fully animated and four partially cartooned. The Metro cartoonery is currently working on a teleblurb series for Ruppert Brewery and a third project, for Schlitz, was inked last week in Chi.
One wonders what happened to all those commercial accounts after the MGM studio closed. It could be that Hanna and Barbera did them for MGM on a freelance basis. Or perhaps their studio ended up with the contracts. According to a later edition of Variety, the H-B studio animated Schlitz beer ads. The Schlitz account was the one where Hoyt Curtin was signed to write a jingle and was first introduced to Bill Hanna, resulting in his hiring by Hanna-Barbera to write themes and, later, underscores (Curtin was musical director at another commercial studio, Raphael G. Wolff).

It would appear the studio was caput by the end of April as the staff was moving on.

May 8, 1957
Animation Inc. has signed former Metro cartoonery employes Lew Marshall, Edith Vernick, Bill McGovern and Mark Letherman as staffers.
Marshall went on to work for Hanna-Barbera for many years. It’s been presumed he was part of the original staff. Vernick had spent a number of years working for the Fleischers. Letherman later toiled for Larry Harmon on the Bozo the Clown cartoons and died on February 10, 1961, age 35.

Finally we come to the birth of H-B Enterprises on July 7, 1957. It was reported in Variety. While everyone knows Hanna and Barbera today, they weren’t the big wheel behind the studio.

July 8, 1957
Geo. Sidney Prexy Of New Cartoonery
George Sidney, Columbia exec producer, and William Hanna and Joe Barbera, ex-MGM toppers, have formed a cartoonery, H. B. Enterprises, Inc.
Firm has plans for eventual theatrical cartoon features, but will do teleblurb and industrial animation work at present. Sidney is prexy, Hanna and Barbera veepees. Quarters are at Kling studios [see photo to right]. New outfit has no connection with George Sidney Productions, through which he makes pix for Columbia release.
Hanna and Barbera were first associated with Sidney in making of MGM's "Anchors Aweigh." Pair also made Metro's "Tom and Jerry" cartoons.
Sidney couldn’t have been a better choice for Hanna and Barbera to hit up. He had clout. At the time, he was president of the Directors Guild of America. He had long roots in Hollywood; his uncle was a star in silent films. More importantly, he may have been one of the few people who was tight with Columbia boss Harry Cohn. The Cohns and Sidneys used to take vacations together. And Columbia’s Screen Gems subsidiary was hunting for TV product, including cartoons (Joe Barbera related in his autobiography how Cohn wasn’t happy with a deal signed with cut-rate cartoon producer Sam Singer in early 1957). It worked out all around. Sidney and Cohn got a chunk of Hanna-Barbera, Screen Gems got a nice percentage of the lucrative merchandising rights to H-B characters, and installed its sales (John Mitchell) and promotional (Ed Justin) gurus to make sure its investment was paying off.

Hanna and Barbera might have had some competition for business and its staff from an unexpected source—their former boss. Witness this Variety story.

April 17, 1957
Quimby to Open Indie Cartoonery
Fred Quimby, who organized Metro’s short subjects, program and cartoon department before he retired in December, 1955, after 30 years with MGM, is opening his own cartoon company.
Outfit will do commercials, both animated and live action, and also tv animation sequences. Vet animator, who copped eight Oscars for his Metro cartoons and developed such characters as Tom and Jerry, Barney Bear and Droopy, has now developed a new method of presentation for commercials, he said.
Quimby reports some of his old staffers from Metro will join him.
What was the method? Who were the staffers? We’ll never know. The weekly edition of Variety regurgitated the same story two weeks later and that was the last anyone apparently ever heard of Quimby’s proposed cartoon studio. Quimby died in 1965 after surgery upon returning from a three-month trip to Europe.

So Hanna-Barbera was off and running. The concept of Ruff and Reddy would be sold to NBC by early November 1957. Yogi, Huck and Mr. Jinks were in development around the same time. An empire was building. So much for MGM’s efficient consultants.

My thanks to Thad Komorowski for help in dredging up these articles.


  1. Booz Allen Hamilton was most recently in the news in 2013, as a result of the NSA document scandal, which took an Avery-sized mallet to the company's reputation. Too bad Bill, Joe and most of the rest of the MGM cartoon staff didn't live long enough to see it.

  2. I knew nothing of the HB Productions origins. Fascinating stuff. I love seeing the picture of their studios. I always drove by it on Cahuenga Blvd. going from the valley into Hollywood.

  3. 2/19/15
    That photo shot of the former H-B studio; that was later bought by Herb Alpert & Jerry Moss in 1964 for location of A&M Records. When the label was sold to Universal/Seagram's in 1997,the building was sold to Brian Henson of Muppets Incorporated, where it currently resides today.