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Joseph Barbera, Legendary Animator, Dies

Animator Joseph Barbera, half of the legendary duo of Hanna-Barbera has died. Barbera, 95, created a host of cartoon characters, from the Flintstones to the Jetsons and Tom and Jerry.

After founding their animation studio together, Hanna and Barbera went on to create iconic characters that live on today, from Yogi Bear to Scooby Doo.

Joe Barbera was born March 24, 1911, in New York City. He tried his hand at many professions that included banking and illustrating magazines before stumbling into animation. In 1937, he moved to Hollywood to join the fledgling MGM animation unit. It was there that Barbera meet Bill Hanna.

Media critic Leonard Maltin says the two made a natural team.

"When you are dealing with 24 frames a second, a gag has to be timed to the split second," Maltin says. "Bill Hanna had that skill. Joe Barbera's great strength was gags... no one was faster or more inventive or more precise than Joe Barbera."

Hanna and Barbera's first MGM cartoon, Puss Gets the Boots, was released in 1940. It was not only a hit but it was the first cartoon featuring a cat named Tom and a mouse named Jerry.

Hanna-Barbera went on to work exclusively on the Tom and Jerry series for the next 17 years, until MGM closed down the animation unit in 1957.

"There they are with seven Academy Awards on their shelf and a smooth-running machine," says Maltin, "a wonderful staff of designers, artists and animators and background painters -- and they are all out of work, overnight."

Of the time, Barbera said, "I found myself in a position to go out and sell, and sell the new cartoons we were creating."

In 1957, Hanna-Barbera formed their own production company and sold their first new cartoon, Rough and Ready, to television.

With full sound available, the pair needed voices for their work. In the person of Daws Butler, Hanna-Barbera found many: The actor became the voice of most of their classic characters, including Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw and Elroy Jetson.

For the next three decades, Hanna-Barbera produced a long string of uninspired but popular cartoon shows, including Scooby Doo, Where are You? and The Smurfs.

Their work also included several successful motion pictures, like an animated version of Charlotte's Web and a live action Flintstones film. Barbera continued to work after Bill Hanna's death in 2001. And in 2005, at the age of 94, Barbera directed his first Tom and Jerry theatrical short since 1957.

Together, Hanna and Barbera were pioneers who forged the way for shows like today's The Simpsons and South Park.

Independent producer Joe Bevilacqua is producing a documentary on Hanna-Barbera.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Bevilacqua