Friday, 25 December 2020

No Time Clocks

Joe Barbera seems to have had an obsession with time-clocks.

Maybe he had a bad encounter with one at MGM or Van Beuren. Whatever the case, he mentioned in a number of interviews about the time he was promoting that new TV show The Flintstones that Hanna-Barbera did not have time clocks.

Well, of course they didn’t. They had people working from home in 1960. How were those people going to punch a studio time-clock?

Ol’ Joe was a master story-teller, on the screen at MGM and his own studio, and in print. Here’s a New York Daily News story from December 4, 1960. Joe has already begun the “we were underdogs” stories about the studio. They make for good newspaper copy.

One note: by the time this article saw print, Hanna-Barbera Productions had already moved to the window-less bunker at 3501 Cahuenga at Broadlawn where they resided for several years until the building we’re all familiar with was built. And, from what I understand, it didn’t have time clocks, either.


Here’s a Hollywood Success Story
Three Years Ago, Two Cartoonists Were Jobless, But Now Their TV Films Earn Millions
By BEN GROSS

Three years ago, two Hollywood cartoonists, Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, were out of jobs and their prospects slimmer than those of a beginner challenging Charles H. Goren to a bridge game. Today, they head the world's biggest cartoon production company, with four series on the air, bringing an income of $3,500,000 a year from TV and $20,000,000 annually from merchandising sales.
The phenomenal rise of these artists-businessmen—a modern version of those antique Horatio Alger tales—has been marked by the creation of the Emmy-winning "Huckleberry Hound" (seen on WPIX, Thursdays, 6:30 P. M.), "Ruff ‘n’ Reddy," "Quick Draw McGraw" and their newest entry, "The Flintstones." The latter, telecast over ABC-TV, Friday nights at 8:30, has been hailed by both critics and public as one of the few innovations television has given us during this season. It is the first half-hour cartoon situation comedy series, depicting in terms of action tinged with satire the adventures of a Stone-Age family.
They Were Down
Fred Flintstone works as a dino (a dinosaur-powered crane) operator. His mate is a typical housewife. Their best friends are neighbors Barney and Betty Rubble. Both husbands bet on dinosaur races and are enthusiastic members of the YMCA, the Young Men's Cave Association. Although the couple live during primitive times, through their words and actions, they manage to comment wittily on the foibles of today.
I wanted to learn how it was possible for two workers in Hollywood's never-never land to achieve so much-within the span of only 36 months. So Joe Barbera, a former New Yorker, had dinner with me in the movie capital's swank Four Trees Restaurant and told his story.
"My partner, Bill Hanna, and I were really down three years ago," he said. "We were working at MGM where we had created those popular Tom and Jerry cat-and-mouse cartoons. Then, suddenly, in 1957, that company decided to discontinue the production of all such features. Movie business was at an alltime low.
"I can tell you we were terribly discouraged. So I applied for a job with Walt Disney and was turned down. We didn't know it at the time, but these setbacks gave us the biggest breaks of our lives.
Time and Money-Saver
"You see, we had devised an entirely new method of producing cartoons for the movies and TV. It's called 'planned animation' and it's both a tremendous time and money-saver.
"So we drew up a memo outlining our system and sent it to MGM. But we never heard from them, just as Disney failed to answer my letter."
"What did you do then?" I asked.
"Well, we wore out shoe leather calling on film companies, advertising agencies and sponsors with our new idea but everywhere we were turned down. 'Your idea is impractical," we were told. "To put on a cartoon situation comedy series would require good animation; good animation is too expensive, and your method calling for limited animation is too shoddy.' "
But finally on July 7, 1957, one TV film producing outfit, Screen Gems, decided to take a chance on the two young men. So their firm, Hanna-Barbera Productions, was born. That year, over NBC-TV, their first series, "Ruff ‘n’ Reddy," the story of a frisky cat and dim-witted dog, went on the air. That began a story of success seldom equalled in the history of Hollywood.
"But just what is your new method? What is this 'planned animation'?" I asked.
"It too technical for the average reader to understand," said Barbera, "but, basically, it involves making fewer drawings for a filmed cartoon. For example, when we did the first ‘Tom and Jerry’ at MGM, we made only 1,400 drawings instead of 17,000 which would have been required under the usual system. The cost was only $200 instead of $20,000.
Only Two-Man Team
"This method would enable a movie studio to turn out 52 half-hour features in only nine months against only 48 minutes of cartoons during an entire year, if old methods were used.
"Bill Hanna and I are the only two-man team in the film industry. We do every phase of the work. It would require 12 to 21 persons employing other systems to equal what the pair of us achieve."
Bill and Joe practice their craft at their plant, made up of three old buildings once used by Charlie Chaplin for his silent films. It is, at first glance, a disorderly place, a collection of offices, some without doors, through which men and women wander seemingly without aim.
"We now have 150 employes," Barbera told me. "Some work some at home. We have no time clocks; we issue no memos; Bill and I are always at home to employes who wish to consult us . . . and we have a profit sharing plan, in addition to paying the highest salaries in the industry."
Barbera promised that the same pleasant conditions would prevail when their studio moves soon into a new plant. "You see, having had a tough struggle myself, I have an appreciation of what people trying to make a living are up against."
Oddly enough, neither Hanna nor Barbera started as artists. The former, born in Melrose, N. M., came to Hollywood as a structural engineer and then finally drifted to a movie company.
Orchard St. Boy
Barbera, born on Orchard St. on New York's lower East Side, March 24, 1911, grew up in Brooklyn, where he attended Erasmus Hall High School. He took a course in banking, studied at Pratt Institute and in Manhattan’s Art Students League. For a while he worked as an accountant for the Irving Trust Co.
And while there, he began sending cartoons to magazines, many of which sold. Then he heeded the call of Hollywood, finally landing at MGM, where he teamed up with Hanna.
"Although I was sidetracked for a while, I really made up my mind to become a cartoonist when I was 19 years old," he told me. "One memorable day, long ago, at the Roxy Theatre in New York, I saw a Disney cartoon.
"Believe it or not, it impressed me so much that I collapsed. So the next day I wrote a letter to Disney, telling him I wanted to be a cartoonist; but never heard from him. I was terribly disappointed and that is why, whenever possible, I try to encourage young people."
Some Advice
"Speaking of the young ones, how can they break into cartooning today?" I asked.
"First of all, they should take a good course," Barbera said. "Then, they should draw, draw and keep on drawing. Next, they should apply for a job. And remember: Never take 'no' for an answer. Make a pest of yourself. One guy did this to me and just the other day I hired him."
"How much can a good film cartoonist make?" I wanted to know.
"A top animator or artist can get $500 a week. The average one earns about $225," said Barbera. "During the last few years the film cartooning business has declined. And today we are desperate for talent."

Addendum: Bryce Malek saw the time clock note and passes along this memo from Mr. H and Mr. B.

3 comments:

  1. Well that story is not entirely true. There was a time clock in the 3400 building on Cahuenga Blvd. I went on staff at HB in 1983. The time clock was in the stairwell behind the door to the lobby on the first floor. There were no time cards because it wasn't used. It had been there for a long time before I was working in the studio. In the early 90's there was a rumor going around the studio that we would have to start using the time clock. That turned out to be false as Bill Hanna put out a memo that we would not using the time clock. No one really kept track of when you came in or left the studio. As long as you met your deadline you were o.k. Joe says there was profit sharing. If that really existed it was long gone by the 1970's. If you knew Joe then you knew he had a way of embellishing the facts. I enjoyed my time at HB right up to when we all left that lot to go to Warner Bros. in the late 1990's. HB was never the same after that.

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    1. Hi, Robt. The impression I get from people who worked at 3400 at the time was everyone were kind of like family, despite the size of the operation.
      I didn't know about 3400 so I left out a clock reference. There was no clock at 3501, where the studio was from mid-1960 to 1963.

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  2. “Despite Hanna and Barbera's stream-lined technique, it requires more than seven months to produce just one half-hour of "The Flintstones" series.”

    Wow! If that’s true, then I have even more admiration for what H-B was able to accomplish than I have had up to this point. How did they manage to keep up with the demands of television? They must have produced an entire season a year in advance.

    That bit about profit-sharing reminds me of your interview with Jerry Eisenberg a few years ago, in which Jerry said that Lew Marshall told him Bill Hanna promised him and other animators a piece of the action, but didn’t keep his word.
    https://yowpyowp.blogspot.com/2011/03/jerry-eisenberg-part-five-bobe-spence.html

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