Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Don Jurwich

It’s sad to receive word about Hanna-Barbera veterans passing away, and we’ve heard from reader John Semper, Jr. that layout artist Don Jurwich died yesterday (July 13th) in Westlake Village at age 87.

Jurwich attended George Washington High School in South Los Angeles in the early ‘50s, drawing cartoons for the student newspaper. He wasn’t one of the H-B originals in 1957 but he was around then. In an interview with the Animation Guild, he revealed he began his career in the mid-‘50s at Graphic Films, a small commercial studio in Los Angeles run by ex-Disney artist Les Novros. His co-workers included Ted Parmelee and Paul Julian, who had both recently been at UPA. (He had called Disney about work and he was told he wouldn’t make enough to support a family). Jurwich was painting backgrounds on films for the U.S. Air Force and one on smog being made by Julian.

He bounced around freelancing at other industrial studios in the city—Ray Patin, Film Fair, Quartet Films—mainly doing layouts and backgrounds on commercials, but also found employment with Jay Ward on the Rocky and His Friends series under George Singer. Unfortunately, the drinking water in Mexico City didn’t quite agree with him and he had to return to the U.S.

Don decided he wanted a regular job and heard Hanna-Barbera was hiring, so that’s where he ended up for a time. Among The Flintstones episodes he laid out were “Adobe Dick” (1964) and “Fred’s Flying Lesson” (1965). His experience at the time was “wonderful in some ways. It [the studio on Cahuenga] was a big bull-pen with just partitioned cubicles, and you could hear everybody. And so everyone was joking and carrying on and talking and yelling across.”

Iwao Takamoto was in charge of the layout/background department then. Don said “He was another brilliant guy...never disciplined the department ever. He would correct your work but he just let everyone run crazy. It was great fun.”


Don did some more bouncing: over to Format Films to write a couple of Roadrunner and Coyote cartoons released by Warner Bros.; back to Jay Ward for George of the Jungle (he said the artists were disappointed it lasted only one season and felt ABC was out to cancel the show); and finally back at Hanna-Barbera, where he enjoyed his work on Tom and Jerry Kids and Droopy: Master Detective. (Note: This is not a post about lists of cartoons; you can read and post lists on other sites).

Jurwich revealed he was surprised to find out his duties as a producer at Hanna-Barbera involved voice directing. “I came to the office one day and they said ‘Hey, you’ve got to do a Captain Caveman today’,” and found he had to direct Mel Blanc. Don decided to ask him during a break about working with Warner Bros. and Jack Benny. Surprisingly, Mel began ranting “They never gave me a nickel! They never gave me any credit!” Jurwich cut the conversation short and didn’t ask about Benny.

In later years, Jurwich corrected storyboards and worked closely with Joe Barbera. When it came to cartoon story, “It was his life. That’s what he loved to do,” Don remembered. “For all the limited animation that we did, I think a lot of it was character-driven, and I think that worked a lot. And Joe was good at that. He could develop characters.”

The studio was pretty busy, and once the cartoon was in the pipeline, it buzzed through. “There just wasn’t the time [to make big adjustments along the way],” Jurwich recalled. “Once you got a script that was okay, you put in the storyboarding, maybe...you’d punch up the storyboards a bit; you had some time there. Then it went into layout and animation.

To give you an idea about the workload, “When I was there one season on The Smurfs, I did 13 ninety-minute shows. And a Christmas special,” he revealed. “I would have to read a lot of scripts on the weekends, but I did it usually at home because I was a single parent at that time. And the Scoobys, we used to do not just 13 half-hours, we used to do 24 half-hours. And later when we were doing the Tom and Jerry Kids show and Droopys [in the early ‘90s], I think over four years we did over 200, seven-minute cartoons. That was another grind.”

And all this was after Jurwich had recovered from a heart attack caused, he believed, by stress dealing with network people, promising them one thing then finding Bill Hanna had countermanded him without telling him.

He stayed through the sale of the company and the move from the famous building on Cahuenga Drive to Sherman Oaks and developed some cartoons with Jerry Eisenberg. One was “Stinky Stegosaurus” and another was “Yoink! of the Yukon.”


Donald Lee Jurwich was born on New Year’s Day 1934. We send our condolences to his family. You can hear the complete interview referred to above at this site.

5 comments:

  1. And don't forget Don's independently produced feature length cartoon: "Once Upon A Girl" (1976)!

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  2. RIP Don, and condolences to your family.

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  3. RIP to artist-writer Don Jurwich.Condolences from me,too.

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  4. Very sad to hear. Another great one's passing. RIP Don.

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  5. This is irrelevant to this post, but what do you think about the upcoming HBO Max cartoon Jellystone! featuring Hanna-Barbera characters? I wouldn’t be too surprised if you haven’t heard of it, though. I think it looks pretty awful, to be honest.

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