60 years ago this month, William Hanna & Joseph Barbera
were riding high. Following the retirement of their longtime boss / nemesis,
Fred Quimby, Bill & Joe were finally fully in charge of MGM's animation
division. And these two were genuinely looking forward to extending their studio's
Oscar-winning streak (From 1940 - 1957, seven cartoons produced by MGM's animation
unit wound up taking home the Academy Award for Best Animated Short. To put
this in perspective: During this same period, only two shorts produced by Walt
Disney Animation Studios managed to win Oscars).
But all of that changed on April 1, 1957. This was when MGM
executives - as they were going over the books in the face of increasing
competition from television - realized that re-releasing old cartoons would be
far more profitable for their Studio than producing new ones. Which is why -- with
a single phone call to the business manager of MGM's animation unit -- Hanna,
Barbera & 44 of the industry's very best animators suddenly found
Which was scary unto itself. But then when you factor in
that - about this same time - most of
the other movie studios in Hollywood were either severely cutting back on the number
of new animated shorts that they produced each year and/or shutting down their
animation units entirely (again largely because TV's impact) ... Well, this was a
very frightening time for anyone who worked as an animator.
But Bill & Joe ... Rather than griping about how -- thanks
to the boob tube, these two just been kicked out of the studio that they'd
called home since 1939 ... Hanna & Barbera saw television as an opportunity.
Which is why - by early July of that same year - they'd rented out Charlie
Chaplin's old Hollywood studio. And with the help of veteran MGM director George
Sidney, these two launched a brand-new animation studio, H-B Enterprises.
And as "Hanna-Barbera: The Architects of Saturday Morning"
(i.e., the multi-media exhibit that celebrates these two television animation
pioneers which is running at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA now
through May 29th) illustrates, Toontown was never ever the same after Bill &
Joe set up shop at the corner of Sunset & La Brea.
How so? Well, Hanna-Barbera really hit the ground running
back in the Summer of 1957. Thanks to George's connections at Columbia
Pictures, Bill & Joe were able to quickly land a production deal with
Screen Gems (i.e., Columbia Pictures' television division). They then began
pitching animated series ideas to network executives all over town. By November
of that same year, NBC had agreed to buy 50 episodes of "Ruff and Reddy."
And - if you can believe it - the very first episode of "The
Ruff and Reddy Show" was on the air by December 1957. Think about that timeline
for a moment. MGM's animation unit was shut down on April 1st of
that year (Though Hanna & Barbera and their staff still had to complete the
12 shorts that - at that time -- were in various stages of production before
they were then be allowed to pack up their animation desks & decamp from
Culver City). H-B Enterprises wasn't even announced in the Trades 'til July 8,
1957. And less than six months later, Bill & Joe's first TV show was on the
Mind you, one of the main reasons that Hanna-Barbera was
able to churn out animation for television so quickly were those 18 years that
Bill & Joe had previously worked for MGM. Over those nearly two decades, these two
had become something of a well-oiled machine. Largely because - as Jayne Barbera
explained in the Foreword she wrote for the "Architects of Saturday Morning"
catalog - her Dad was the one who ...
" ... came up with an endless number of new characters and new
ideas. (Whereas) Mr. Hanna thought in terms of schedules and production and ... how
to get the finished product on the air or into the theater on time and on
Of course, not all of the ideas that Jayne's Dad dreamed up
made it to the small screen just as Joe had originally pitched them to network
executives. As you wander the gallery space at the Norman Rockwell Museum,
you'll get to see a very different take on Wilma & Fred Flintstone ...
... as well as a version of the Jetsons that seems to have
been heavily influenced by that long running 1950s sitcom, "Father Knows Best."
If you're a baby boomer like me ... Well, I have to admit that
it's a trifle bizarre to see so many of the toys that you played with as a
child now under glass as part of a museum display.
Photo by Jim Hill
But at the same time, I have to admit that - as I was
scoping out all of this now-over-50s-years old "Flintstones" merch - I spied
this plastic prehistoric play telephone and immediately thought "Wow, I wish
that I'd had one of those when I was a kid."
If you grew up in front of a television back in the late
1950s / early 1960s, I know that you're going to love "Hanna-Barbera: The
Architecture of Saturday." Not just because this exhibit can answer questions
that may have dogged you since childhood. EX: Who animated Darrin & Samantha for the opening
titles of ABC's "Bewitched" back in 1964?
Answer: That would be Ed Benedict - the MGM vet who
eventually became the primary character designer at Hanna-Barbera. Which makes
Ed the guy who came up with Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, and Yogi
Bear's signature looks.
Another fun aspect of this exhibit is that it shows you how
television animation was made & sold back then. Take - for example - this
dramatic drawing which was used to pitch CBS executives on "The Perils of
Mind you, that "Wacky Races" spinoff only ran for a single
season on the Tiffany Network. But another Hanna-Barbera production (which
debuted on CBS on the exact same day as "The Perils of Penelope Pitstop." September 13, 1969 to be exact) went on to become a hugely popular franchise
for this animation studio.
But back when Joe first began pitching this show to network
execs, it wasn't called "Scooby Doo, Where Are You!" But - rather - "Who's
Let me blunt here: While it was admittedly cool to get to
see all of this great, rarely-seen artwork from the Hanna-Barbera archives
(Things like animation cells that were used in the production of "Top Cat" 's
title sequence ...
... or early concept drawings that showed H-B artists
genuinely struggling as they tried to come up with Yogi Bear & Boo-Boo's
character design) ...
... you want to know the best part of "Hanna-Barbera: The Architects
of Saturday Morning"? You come away from this exhibit at the Norman Rockwell
Museum with a renewed appreciation of all that William Hanna & Joseph
I mean, when you actually think about what these two guys
went through back in April of 1957 (How - with just a single phone call - their
decades-long association with MGM was over. Kaput). This was the sort of
career-ending body blow that would have crippled lesser men. Forced them to
abandon show business entirely.
But that didn't happen to Hanna & Barbera. In less than
six months' time, Bill & Joe had not only set up a brand-new studio, they
also sold and then produced their first animated series for television. That
seriously has to be one of the greatest comeback stories in Hollywood history.
William Hanna (L) and Joseph Barbera look at a drawing of HuckleberryHound, one of the first characters they created for television animation.
"Hanna Barbera: The Architects of Saturday
Morning" was developed in partnership with Warner Bros. Consumer Products and
has been sponsored, in part, by Keator Group, LLC, and the Max & Victoria
Dreyfus Foundation. It's running at the Norman Rockwell Museum now through May
This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Monday, January 30, 2017