Catholic cartoon pioneer Joseph Barbera dies at 95

By Catholic News Service

LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Joseph Barbera, half of the Hanna-Barbera animation team that first found its fortune in cartoon shorts for theaters then struck gold anew in television, died Dec. 18 of natural causes at his home in Los Angeles. He was 95.

In a 1993 interview with Catholic News Service, Barbera said his talent in art was first noticed by the nuns who taught him in a Catholic grade school in Brooklyn, N.Y. The nuns kept him busy doing classroom art until his mother complained that the pictures were taking precedence over his other studies.

Barbera joined MGM in 1937. He and partner William Hanna, who died in 2001, created the cat-and-mouse duo Tom and Jerry in 1940. They produced more than 100 cartoons for the MGM studio over a 20-year period. Between 1943 and 1953, they garnered seven Academy Awards for animated shorts.

When MGM disbanded its animation department in 1957 because of the growth of television, Hanna and Barbera cast their lot with TV, immediately winning an Emmy Award for children’s programming in 1958 with the “Huckleberry Hound Show.”

Following that initial success, the Hanna-Barbera team stayed in great demand by TV networks for nearly a generation. Not only did they produce seemingly countless hours of Saturday morning and weekday after-school cartoons, they also hit the jackpot in prime time.

“The Flintstones” ran 138 episodes, the longest prime-time run by an animated series until it was surpassed by “The Simpsons.” Hanna-Barbera also produced “The Jetsons,” “Top Cat” and “Jonny Quest” for prime time.

Baby boomers recognize a clutch of other familiar characters created by the team for TV: Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, Magilla Gorilla, Secret Squirrel, Atom Ant, Wally Gator, Lippy the Lion and Hardy Har Har, Peter Potamus, Yakky Doodle, Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks (a copycat of sorts of their original Tom and Jerry characters), Space Ghost, Josie and the Pussycats, and Scooby-Doo.

With the TV success of his shows, some characters even starred in movies; among the films were “Hey There It’s Yogi Bear” and “The Man Called Flintstone.” Barbera also had a hand in the 1973 animated film adaptation of “Charlotte’s Web.” “Tom and Jerry — the Movie,” a feature-length treatment of the characters that launched Hanna and Barbera’s Hollywood career — reached theaters in 1993.

Later, Scooby-Doo and the Flintstones had great box-office success with a series of live-action movies.

In his 1993 interview with CNS, Barbera said he was proudest of the animated Bible stories he produced. “It took me 17 years to get it done,” he said, trying to overcome producers’ doubts that the Bible cartoons would “cause too many problems.” Barbera said he “would keep going out every year, for 17 years, and they rejected me year after year.”

He eventually took the Bible series straight to home video, and “The Greatest Adventure: Stories of the Bible” took in about $20 million in sales in their first seven years on store shelves.

His talents were not limited to animation. Barbera directed or produced hundreds of cartoons and TV episodes, wrote scripts and lyrics and composed some songs for his shows as well.

He is survived by his wife, Sheila, and three children from a previous marriage, Jayne, Neal and Lynn. No details on funeral arrangements were announced.

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