Hanna-Barbera was originally formed in 1957 by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, formerly of MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer).
William Hanna was born in Melrose, New Mexico on July 14, 1910. Hanna initially focused on a career as a structural engineer but after the Depression forced him to leave college, Hanna turned to his talent to drawing. In the early 1930s, Hanna began working as an office clerk and cel washer for the Harman-Ising studio, which produced animated cartoons for Leon Schlesinger Productions. Hanna followed Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising to MGM in 1937 and in the following year, was assigned to work with fellow animator Joseph Barbera to create a cartoon about a cat and mouse.
Joseph Barbera was born on March 24, 1911 in New York City’s Little Italy, though he was raised in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Before pursuing a career in animation, Barbera worked in a variety of fields, including scriptwriting, banking and amateur boxing. Barbera drew cartoons for magazines in his personal time while working as an accountant and he began working for Van Buren Studios in New York as a writer and animator in 1932. When Van Buren Studios closed four years later, Barbera began working for Terrytoon Studios before being drawn to California by an offer from MGM’s animation department. He moved to MGM in Culver City, California in 1937, where he would soon be paired with fellow animator William Hanna.
Puss Gets the Boot, Hanna and Barbera’s first collaborative project, earned the pair an Academy Award nomination and also introduced the characters that served as precursors to Tom and Jerry. Tom and Jerry was enormously successful, nominated for 14 Academy Award and winning a record-breaking seven of them, along with the adoration of fans both young and old.
When MGM closed its animation unit in 1957, Hanna and Barbera formed their own production company. As the predominant animation studio from the late ‘50s until Hanna’s death in 2001, Hanna-Barbera was responsible for classic cartoon series, like The Flintstones, The Jetsons, The Yogi Bear Show, The Smurfs, and Scooby-Doo, making the idea of Saturday morning cartoons famous. Regardless of their reputation of taking on more work than they could handle, Hanna and Barbera have earned seven Oscars and eight Emmys for their cartoons, plus a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Purchased by TBS (Turner Broadcasting System) in 1991, Hanna-Barbera would again change the way cartoon animation related with its young audience. Creating wild and imaginative cartoons for the Cartoon Network, like Dexter’s Laboratory, Cow and Chicken, Johnny Bravo, I am Weasel, and The Powerpuff Girls, H-B created an entirely new, wacky kind of cartoon that was intensely heightened in imagination. They produced Saturday morning cartoons and after-school specials for more than 30 years on all three major U.S. networks.
William Hanna died in 2001, and Joseph Barbera followed in 2006, but the characters and cartoons they created continue to resonate and remain beloved icons of American culture and animation history.
The Flintstones (1960-1966)
Running from 1960 to 1966, The Flintstones was an animated cartoon produced by Hanna-Barbera featuring a man, Fred Flintstone, with his friends and family living in a city called Bedrock during the Stone Age. The underlying creativity of the show was the achievement of constant puns from pairing modern ideas and technology with this idealized and adapted Stone Age setting. It was also greatly influenced by the contemporary series, The Honeymooners, which aired on the DuMont Network.
The fantastic Stone Age of The Flintstones mixed prehistoric cavemen with Cretaceous period dinosaurs and Ice Age wooly mammoths. Combining these characters proved comedic, parodying contemporary culture, especially through the use of these creatures. The characters used modern technology (cars, telephones, or television sets) but they were made completely out of rock, powered by animals and dinosaurs. Fred’s crane was a brontosaurus attached to ropes and levers. Their car was made out of wood and animal skins but was propelled by their own feet. Their dishwashers and various other appliances contained tiny animals behind a curtain, doing the work by hand. Even their camera contained a tiny creature, etching the “photo” (really a stone tablet).
Fred Flintstone was the protagonist of the show, supported by his wife, Wilma, daughter Pebbles, and pet “dog” (a purple dinosaur) called Dino. His best friend Barney Rubble with his wife, Betty and son, Bamm-Bamm were their nextdoor neighbors. Fred’s lifestyle paralleled the modern 1960s man, from working all day at the factory to dealing with life at home.
There were two versions of the credits, an instrumental version from 1960 and a lyrical version beginning in the third season. The third-season credits are the most famous, opening and closing with the beloved lyrics, “Flintstones… Meet the Flintstones… They’re the modern Stone Age family… From the… town of Bedrock… It’s a place right out of his-tor-y,” one of the most adored cartoon theme songs of all time.
Since 1966, more than 11 spin-off animated series have been aired on network television. Like The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show and Fred and Barney Meet the Shmoo, adults and children have been enjoying these prehistoric characters for more than 50 years. Totaling 166 episodes in six seasons, this animated 1960s situation comedy left a legacy of merchandise, live-action films, theme parks, and reruns that are still being aired today. The children’s chewable vitamins introduced in tandem with the show in the 1960s are still being sold today, the most popular Flintstones product. The Flintstones was the first prime-time animated series to last more than two seasons, holding that record until The Simpsons took over in 1992.
The Jetsons (1962-1963, 1985, and 1987)
Expanding upon the studio’s success with The Flintsones, Hanna-Barbera used the same format of a typical suburban family, but this time placed them in the future as The Jetsons. George Jetson lives in Orbit City with Jane, his wife, and their children, Judy and Elroy. Rounding out the cast is Rosie, the robot maid from U-Rent-a-Robot Maid Service, and the talking pet dog Astro. In the later seasons from the ‘80s, Elroy finds Orbitty, a cute and friendly alien, on a field trip to Mars and he becomes a family pet.
Together they tackle typical issues that families experience accompanied with futuristic technology. At work, George is recruited to test an indestructible jacket for Spacely Space Age Sprockets; for a physical, George is given capsules that transmit from inside his stomach. In another instance, George receives a ticket for driving 750 mph over the speed limit in a 1,250 mph zone. Like The Flintstones, the show’s theme song is instantly recognizable, and became a pop hit in 1986.
The vision for the show was to maintain at a fast pace. The Jetsons instantly change clothes and there was a rule amongst the animators to never show the characters walking. Instead they travel by moving walkways, even Astro takes his daily walk on a treadmill outside.
When The Jetsons initially aired, it wasn’t a big hit. The show was scheduled to run at the same time as two other family shows well-liked by audiences. Once the first season ran in syndication on Saturday mornings, it became a favorite among children and their families. Additional episodes were added in 1985 and 1987.
In The Art of Hanna-Barbera, Joe Barbera recounts, “That show was ahead of its time. Recently, we received an article pointing out that many of the things in The Jetsons exist today.” Even as we inch closer and closer to a Jetson-like world every year, the stories and dynamics of the show still resonate with new generations.
Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (1969-1973, 1976-1991)
The animated series, Scooby Doo, was created by Hanna-Barbera in 1969 and is still airing its original and adapted versions to this day. The show is centered on Shaggy and his talking dog and friend, Scooby-Doo. Their gang, dubbed “Mystery, Inc.,” also includes Fred, Daphne, and Velma. They travel in their “Mystery Machine” (resembling a 1970s psychedelic van) that takes them to their various crime-solving, spooky locations. The show also became famous for its animated chase sequences with upbeat pop soundtracks.
Originally aired on CBS from 1969 to 1973, the idea for the show was brought to Hanna-Barbera by Fred Silverman, executive for CBS’s children’s programming. He had a new concept in mind, similar to The Archie Show – basing his idea on a teenage rock group where the kids would solve mysteries in between gigs. Hanna and Barbera sent his idea to their head writers and designer and the resulting show was prepared. Initially titled Mysteries Five, the proposed show would star five teenagers (Geoff, Mike, Kelly, Linda, and W.W.) with their dog, “Too Much.” The characters got themselves into spooky situations, dragging their cowardly Great Dane on mysteries involving werewolves, zombies, and other monsters. By the time the show was finally ready to be presented, it had gone through more changes. The characters were merged and renamed and Silverman renamed the show to Who’s S-S-Scared? This version of the show was rejected by CBS for being too spooky. Going back to the drawing board, “Too Much” and Shaggy were pushed to the center of the show. Possibly inspired by Frank Sinatra’s vocals, “doo-bee-doo-bee-doo,” “Too Much” was renamed to Scooby and the show became, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! which was approved by CBS for 1969-1970 season.
Each episode was based on a similar plot pattern where the gang travels to a mysterious city where people need help. With some kind of spooky monster terrorizing the people, Mystery Inc. agrees to find clues and get to the bottom of it all. The episodes always end the same way, with Fred developing some kind of trap to catch the creature and Velma explaining what was really going on – a criminal pretending to be a monster to keep people away from what he or she was really doing, which was another crime entirely. Daphne usually gets kidnapped or is subjected to some form of danger, while Shaggy and Scooby wander around looking for food, since they’re always hungry. There was a heavily implied aura of 1970s teenage behavior with Shaggy and Scooby, living out of a flower-powered van and constantly having the munchies.
In 1976, ABC took over the show, annually changing it by combining it with other Hanna-Barbera series. A handful of new episodes were created in the original Scooby-Doo style, combined with Dynomutt and Laff-A-Lympics. Through 1991, the Scooby characters were adapted into other series, adding new characters. Hour-long specials and animated feature spin-offs became popular, translating into books, board games, and live-action feature films.