Sunday 20 May 2012

Bitesized Biographies #4 - William Hanna

Hanna (left) with Barbera (right) with two of their creations, Tom and Jerry.

A few weeks ago we ran a poll on our Facebook page asking you who you wanted our next Bitesized Biography to be about, the results were a 50/50 split between the two halves of Hanna-Barbera: William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. Hanna-Barbera, not that I need explain as I'm pretty sure everyone has seen some of their shows at some point in their lives - or you've led a deprived childhood - was the animation studio that created some of the most famed and beloved cartoon series of all time. The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Top Cat and Wacky Races are just some of the huge shows that Hanna-Barbera churned out during their over 30 year history, as well as later helping create shows like Dexter's Laboratory for Cartoon Network.

So to follow the order that the studio's name suggests, we're starting our poll influenced Bitesized Biographies with William Hanna.

Born on 14th July, 1910 in Melrose, New Mexico, to parents William John and Avice Joyce Hanna, as the third child, of seven, and the only boy; William Hanna had a love of creativity, music and the outdoors (themes that manifested themselves in several Hanna-Barbera shows) from an early age. His father was a construction superintendent for the Santa Fe railway stations, a job which lent itself to moving home rather frequently.  The aforementioned love of music originated in the position of saxophonist for Compton High School's dance band, and, far removed from these humble beginnings, Hanna's musical talents would eventually result in him writing the famed theme song for arguably Hanna-Barbera's best known creation, The Flintstones.

Originally Hanna had been studying Journalism and Engineering at Compton College, however, due to the financial pressure of the Depression, he was forced to drop out and seek a job. In the long run, the Depression may have been a good thing for William Hanna, as it led him a step closer to his true calling: animation.

After a string of unsuccessful jobs, Hanna applied for a position at Pacific Title and Art. After only a short amount of time with the company, Hanna's talent at drawing became evident, and his brother-in-law, who also worked at Pacific Title and Art, notified him of a job opening at the Harming-Ising cartoon studio. Harman-Ising was the studio who had created the Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies series, so now Hanna  was doing what he was destined to do: creating cartoons. And Hanna quickly ascended the ranks of the animation world, after being hired in 1930, by 1931 he was contributing to story ideas, and writing the lyrics for several of the series's catchy tunes. When Harman-Ising left their deal with Warner Bros. in favour of producing their cartoons for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Hanna was one of the animators chosen to follow them. Here Hanna was given the opportunity to direct his first cartoon, in 1936, a short film called To Spring. However, when MGM decided to sever ties with Harman-Ising in 1937 and set up their own animation studio, they lured Hanna across; recognising his talent and great knack for storytelling.

MGM was the start of great things, as, because great things often come down to small events, Hanna's desk was opposite the one of Joseph Barbera. Very quickly the creative sparks started and the two recognised ideal partners in one another, and, in 1939, (ironic that a year marred by horrendous war also marked the coming together of two figures who would help craft the imagination and dreams of children for decades to come) the two began a partnership that would last for half a century. One year later in 1940, Hanna and Barbera co-directed their very first cartoon, Puss Gets the Boot. The short film was the very beginning of one of the most famed cartoon duos of all time, Tom and Jerry; how apt that a newly formed creative duo would so soon bring to life a beloved duo on screen. The short was so well received that it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Subject: Cartoon (since renamed Best Animated Short Film), although it lost out to fellow MGM cartoon The Milky Way. It was telling of MGM's cartoon success that they were the first studio apart from Disney to win the award, in almost a decade of the award's existence.

Tom and Jerry would from here go on to appear in over 100 short cartoons, winning 7 Academy Awards, and garnering Hanna and Barbera an extreme amount of respect and accolade within the animation world. However, although Hanna and Barbera's stock was on the rise, by the late 50s, MGM's was not, and in 1957 it disbanded its cartoon studio.

After leaving MGM, the duo decided to intensify their creative partnership; they had found such success at MGM creating cartoons together, why not create a company? With this simple idea in mind, in 1957, Hanna-Barbera Productions was born. Although both contributed in equal measure to the studio's eventual success, Hanna considered himself more of a director and story kind of guy, whereas Barbera was the go-to-guy for comedy. With a creative pairing like few others, Hanna-Barbera's first show, The Ruff & Reddy Show - which detailed the friendship and carryings-on of a cat and dog duo - was created in December that year. However, it was the series created shortly thereafter that established Hanna-Barbera Studios as a household name, The Huckleberry Hound Show, The Yogi Bear Show, and then The Flintstones. The latter of which marked Hanna-Barbera's ascension to the top of TV animation, inspiring such shows as The Simpsons and many others.

The Jetsons, Scooby Doo, The Smurfs and many more are just some of the fantastic creations to come out of Hanna-Barbera before its acquisition by Turner Broadcasting in 1991, later marking a partnership with Cartoon Network.

William Hanna passed away on 22nd March, 2001, at the age of 90, after losing a battle to throat cancer. Although it's been over a decade since he left us, Hanna (and indeed Barbera) and his contribution to animation, cartoons and the childhoods of oh so many, will never be forgotten. Though we have lost his amazing character, we will always have the characters that he created.

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