Cartoon fans make definitive statements all the time, if I may be permitted to make a definitive statement. Just check any animation message board and you’ll see endless lists of “favourites,” polls, or pontifications about which character/director/studio is so much superior than the others.
So, let’s check the latest mail. Aha! This definitive statement comes from a reader in Springfield, Virginia—
“Pixie and Dixie are great characters but not as great as Tom and Jerry.”
Well, dear reader, it appears you are incorrect, and we cite as our source none other than the creators of all of them.
This column was published on January 3, 1959.
Jobless, Two Men Turn To Cartoons
By CHARLES WILBECK
A year and a half ago MGM’s creators of the Tom & Jerry cartoons, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, decided to do new cartoons for TV.
“MGM closed their cartoon shop, Disney stopped making animated shorts, and there we were—out of a job,” said Joe Barbera, recalling the black day, “So we thought about TV. Where else could we go? We figured it was possible kids might get tired of old guys in clown outfits being real friendly, and then turning on old, old cartoons.”
The reason for the movie animated cartoon demise was high costs and low rentals, Also, it takes a cartoon about two years to get back its initial costs.
The giant octopus confronting the two unemployed geniuses was how to make cartoons quickly—Hanna and Barbera only did eight Tom & Jerrys a year for MGM—and cheaply for the TV mill.
Scoffed at Idea
Old hands in the industry, tiny as it is, scoffed at Hanna and Barbera for thinking of the idea. One pro offered to lay a thousand to one against its success. H & B are considered two of the sharpest men in the business, but the idea still seemed too drastic to most.
“The costs came from all the drawings — the hand work,” said Barbera generalizing somewhat. “We figured we could cut down on the animation by planning. We call our TV cartoons ‘planned animation.’ For instance you want to show Huckleberry Hound about to go out on a chase, and you have him going into a closet, putting on an overcoat, walking out. You can get the same effect by cutting from Huckleberry outside the closet talking to another character to Huckleberry in the closet with his coat on. Time-consuming drawing is cut in two.”
The two men cut the animation down to the point where they felt it wouldn’t be missed and where a reasonable TV budget might he reached. Then they talked MGM movie director George Sidney into helping out with backing, and hustled over to Screen Gems, Columbia Pictures TV subsidiary, with budget and drawings. After five minutes of talking Barbera had an offer.
It has been a year and three months, or 170 cartoon shows, since Hanna and Barbera’s first effort appeared on TV. They now have two series running, Ruff and Reddy and Huckleberry Hound, during the dinner hour in 180 cities. Their technicians are currently dubbing the shows in Spanish and French for foreign markets. .
“I think we’ve proved our point,” says Barbera. “It’s possible to make cartoons for profit on TV. No one else is doing it yet, but they will.”
Of course the two men have only been working practically seven days a week to turn out the huge quantity, using a staff of about 20, and farming out animation segments. Both still appear in good health. Barbera even sports a tan, probably from his drawing-board lamp.
“I think our cartoons are better than our fancy Tom & Jerry movies,” says Hanna, who claims he isn’t punch-drunk or prejudiced. “We use close-ups, our shows are easier to watch, and we let the viewer use a little imagination.”
“We are coming up off the floor,” Barbera chimed in. “We’re even getting calls from ad agencies and cartoonists. UPA (makers of “Mr. Magoo”) has looked at our work and thinks we’re on the right track.”
Following Hanna and Barbera may save UPA, which had a charming series on TV for a few months, but its costs were so high as to make future programming impossible.
It’s an encouraging Hollywood story. Not only because of the kids who get to look at new material, but it’s the first note of hope for the dying cartoon industry. Others like UPA may take the hint and the animators, artists and story men who are now doing other things may have a chance to go back to the drawing board again.
So as the e-mailman benignly strolls to his next cyber-destination, let us consider the comment he has delivered. As for whether Tom and Jerry are really better than Pixie and Dixie, there’s no question there’s great comic movement and timing in the old theatricals. But, to be honest, I’ve laughed more at Mr. Jinks than Tom. And both cartoons got saddled with an annoying little duck guest star. So perhaps we’ll just say they’re two different types of characters and animation, and leave it at that.