Animation pioneer Joe Barbera dies


Joe Barbera, half of the Hanna-Barbera animation team that produced such beloved cartoon characters as Tom & Jerry, Yogi Bear, the Flintstones and the Jetsons, died Monday, a Warner Bros. spokesman said. He was 95.

Barbera died of natural causes at his Studio City home with his wife Sheila at his side, the spokesman said.

With partner Bill Hanna, Barbera first found success in the late 1930s creating the fussin' and fightin' Tom & Jerry cartoons at MGM. The cat and mouse went on to win seven Academy Awards, more than any other series with the same characters.

Then, as founders and partners in Hanna-Barbera Studios, they discovered a whole new realm of success starting in the 1950s with animated TV comedies including "The Flintstones," "The Jetsons," "Huckleberry Hound and Friends" (the first animated TV series to receive an Emmy), "Quick Draw McGraw" (which introduced Yogi, Boo-Boo and Jellystone Park), "Top Cat," "Jonny Quest" and "Scooby-Doo."

Hanna-Barbera Studios would rake in eight Emmys, including the Governors Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in 1988, and Barbera and Hanna were elected to the ATAS Hall of Fame in 1994.

"Joe Barbera truly was an animation and television legend," Warner Bros. chairman and CEO Barry Meyer said. "From the Stone Age to the Space Age and from primetime to Saturday mornings, syndication and cable, the characters he created with (Hanna) are not only animated superstars but also a very beloved part of American pop culture. While he will be missed by his family and friends, Joe will live on through his work."

Warner Bros. Animation president Sander Schwartz added: "Joe's contributions to both the animation and television industries are without parallel. He has been personally responsible for entertaining countless millions of viewers across the globe."

Hanna, who died in March 2001, once said he was never a good artist but his partner could "capture mood and expression in a quick sketch better than anyone I've ever known."

Barbera was born March 24, 1911, in New York. He started out as a banker but soon turned his doodles into cartoons for Collier's magazine and then into a job as an animator. MGM hired him as an animator and writer in 1937; Hanna had recently joined the studio as a director and story editor.

The two first teamed cat and mouse in the short "Puss Gets the Boot." It earned an Academy Award nomination, and MGM allowed the pair to keep experimenting until the full-fledged Tom & Jerry characters were born.

Jerry was borrowed for the mostly live-action musical "Anchors Aweigh" (1945), dancing with Gene Kelly in a scene that became a classic. Tom & Jerry also appeared alongside Kelly in "Invitation to the Dance" (1956) and with Esther Williams in "Dangerous When Wet" (1953).

When MGM, concerned about the advent of television, eliminated the studio's animation department, the pair decided to make cartoons directly for the small screen and opened Hanna-Barbera Studios in 1957, eventually working out of an ultramodern building on Cahuenga Boulevard in Studio City designed by famed architect Arthur Froelich. Hanna-Barbera was one of the first independent animation studios to produce series television.

With "The Flintstones" in 1960, Hanna-Barbera created television's first animated "family sitcom." A parody of "The Honeymooners" that aired on ABC, it was the first animated series to air in primetime, the first to go beyond the six- or seven-minute cartoon format and the first to feature human characters.

"The Flintstones" ran for six years and went on to become the top-ranking animated program in syndication history, with all original 166 episodes now seen in more than 80 countries worldwide, according to Warner Bros.

"The Jetsons," which debuted in 1962, was the futuristic mirror image of "The Flintstones."

"It was a family comedy with everyday situations and problems that we window-dressed with gimmicks and inventions," Barbera once said. "Our stories were such a contrast to many of the animated series that are straight destruction and blasting away for a solid half-hour."

The show ran just one season on network TV but often was rerun, and the characters were revived in the 1980s in a syndicated show. Barbera said he liked the freedom syndication gave the producers, with none of the meddling from network executives.

"Today, Charlie Chaplin couldn't get his material by a network," he once said.

Another popular offering from Hanna-Barbera featured a cowardly Great Dane. "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?" bowed in 1969 and remained in production for 17 years; it maintains the title as television's longest-running animated series. Scooby-Doo has lived on with other series, two live-action/animated feature films and a series of direct-to-video movies. The Tom & Jerry characters have taken a similar path through TV, films and videos.

In 1981, Hanna-Barbera developed "The Smurfs," which went on the capture two Daytime Emmy Awards and a Humanitas Award in 1987.

After a sale to Taft Broadcasting in the late 1960s, Hanna-Barbera became a subsidiary of Great American Communications Co. In 1991 it was purchased by a partnership including Turner Broadcasting System, which used the studio's library when it launched Cartoon Network in 1992. Later, the Boomerang Network was created as a showcase for the Hanna-Barbera library.

During his 80s and into his 90s, Barbera continued to report to his office regularly, taking an active role in the creation of new Hanna-Barbera projects, according to Warner Bros. Barbera wrote his autobiography, "My Life in Toons: From Flatbush to Bedrock in Under a Century," in 1994.

He is survived by his wife Sheila, and his three children by a previous marriage -- Jayne, Neal and Lynn. Funeral arrangements are pending.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.