REMEMBERING JOSEPH BARBERA (1911-2006)

Joe Barbera
Caricature by Patrick Owsley

This post will be continually updated with stories and remembrances about Joseph Barbera (1911-2006). Send your memories to amid [at] animationblast.com or jbeck6540 [at] aol.com

* Animation historian/critic John Canemaker writes about Joe Barbera in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.

* Fred Seibert, the former president of Hanna-Barbera and founder of Frederator Studios, writes:

Thanks guys, as usual, for the thoughtfulness you put into recognizing all that made a difference in the cartoon world.

And jeeezz, did Joe make a difference.

Leave out all he did to make my childhood happier (and everyone else’s for that matter). Joe and Bill made almost 20 years of great feature shorts and then, at almost 50 years old, started a company that redefined the way the business worked forever –and I absolutely will not countenance an argument on the quality of the cartoons, no. That much joy in the world is quality enough for everyone– and kept themselves and most of the industry working for 40 years after. Hell, most of the industry is alive and well today because of the groundwork these two guys laid.

And Joe himself! Jordan Reichek said it right, there were many opinions about the man. But what self made man, a supremely creative man, a leader and an innovator, got somewhere without shaking a few trees?

Creativity? Jeeeez, again. So first he leads the creative effort on 20 years of basically silent films, almost no words of dialog from anybody. Then he goes and adds dialog galore, dialog in every frame, and the cartoons stay funny, relevant and saavy. No one else did it. No one.

So, I’ll say something I’ve said over and over to almost deaf ears. Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna were two of the greatest film comedians of the 20th century. Fine Chaplin, fine Keaton, fine Lloyd. But Tom & Jerry are stars in some of today’s most beloved films in the world, that’s right, today’s, while the others live on mostly in museums, libraries, and colleges. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, just sayin…

* Kevin Langley has posted a bunch of terrific vintage photos of Joe Barbera on his BLOG.

* Animation writer Paul Dini says that, “Mr. B. was in many ways, animation’s answer to Sinatra, a larger than life Italian who left his own mark on popular culture for several decades.”

* Animator Bert Klein writes:

I was working briefly at WB a year ago down the hall from Mr. Barbera. He was still coming into work and I was star struck whenever I saw him. I mustered up the courage to meet him and visited with him as often as I could while I worked there. I am especially grateful to his assistant Carlton for facilitating this. One day I brought in a copy of the short Boys Night Out which I made with Teddy Newton a few years back. I got over my nerves and played it for Mr. Barbera. He was a little tired that day, so it was hard to tell what he thought of our film (which is set mostly in a strip club). I left a copy with him. Some time has passed, and I saw Carlton again when he brought Iwao Takamoto to give a lecture to my CalArts class. I asked Carlton if Mr. Barbera liked the film. Carlton told me that he watched it over and over – probably about 17 times or so. His favorite scene was the one where the girl walks away jiggling with the dollar bill (which was animated by Eric Goldberg). It was an honor of a lifetime that Mr. Barbera liked it so much.

Photo of Bill and Joe
Bill Hanna (l.) caricatures Barbera,
and Barbera (r.) returns the favor.

* Animation writer Mark Evanier has some great memories and anecdotes about Joe on his blog NewsFromME.com.

* Joe Barbera was legendary for being able to sell anything. Here’s a story from an interview I did with Hanna-Barbera designer Iwao Takamoto about Barbera’s salesmanship abilities:

Sometimes a name, like THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, would start a design. Joe comes up with this great title, “Hillbilly Bears.” Everybody loves it. So he comes in and says he’s going to New York and asks if I can give him a family of bears – a mother, a father and this time a teenage girl and a little kid brother – which sounds like THE JETSONS. Anyway, all I know is that they’re bears and they’re hillbillies. So I do a lineup on that and he grabs it and takes it to New York, comes back and says, “I’m in trouble.” I ask, “Why?,” and he says, “Because they loved it. They loved the title, concept and designs. And we got the show. Now I don’t know what the hell to do with it.” So it works like that sometimes.

* Animation director Jordan Reichek writes:

Wow. What a gut-punch to get on Monday. Surely, not a surprise in a mortal sense. Joe was no kid. He lived a long, great life.

Joe outlived practically every contemporary in his world. Talk about getting the last word! He navigated the rough seas of the animation racket for almost eighty years…successfully. He dripped with style and moxie, putting those gifts to great use. He transformed popular culture. He made a bundle in the process.

Many have opinions about this man. Some good. Some, well, he was a controversial figure to be sure.

I loved what was the Hanna-Barbera studio. So many wonderful things grew from it’s existence, it’s hard to think of what our world in animation would’ve been without it. Joe was a big part of that. Now, he’s gone.

Just a week ago, I was talking with my pal, Will Finn about how great it was that here we are, in 2006, sharing the planet with someone as historically significant to animation as Joe. Losing Ed Benedict a couple of months ago was a similar situation. Both of these men had a connection to our field that cannot be replaced. With Joe’s passing, animation history is quickly moving from a living history to a distant one.

I hope we all can look back on the teriffic legacy this man leaves behind, understand the torch is passed onto us and raise a large glass of vino to one of the greatest figures in popular animation.

joebarberawide.jpg

* Animation legend Floyd Norman writes:

The last of animation’s superstars to be sure. Joe Barbera was special to work for. Not to mention all the funny ideas he inspired for my gag wall at the studio. In a way it was sad to see these guys grow old. I sure miss the days when they ran their studio the old fashioned way. Barbera the ultimate pitchman, and taskmaster Bill getting the work done.

The funny thing is — and others I’ve talked to agree — these guys were even great to fight with. I stormed out of Hanna-Barbera one afternoon because of a major disagreement. Yet, I have only the highest respect for Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. No doubt, these guys weren’t angels. But, they were saints compared to the bandits running today’s studios.

I’ll miss Joe Barbera’s flash and dazzle, and his super salesman attitude. He made you feel proud to be in the animation business, even if our product sometimes left a lot to be desired. Gone are the days when making cartoons was fun.