The last time I saw Joe Barbera, he was attending his 95th birthday party at Warner Bros. Animation in Sherman Oaks, and voice actors and artists were wishing him many happy returns. TAG President Emeritus Tom Sito remembers him:
Joe Barbera -- 1911-2006
Monday December 18th saw the death of Joe Barbera, one of the few surviving animation artists of Hollywood's Golden Age and with Bill Hanna, who died in 2001 at age 90, partners in one of the biggest cartoon studios in film history. He was 95 and he slipped away at home surrounded by family and friends.
Joe Barbera was a child of immigrants from Flatbush Brooklyn who rose up the ranks from ink and paint to become one of the best gagmen in animation history. He labored at Fleischer's, then Van Bueren and Terrytoons, before moving out to LA to get a job at MGM. There he met westerner Bill Hanna and the two formed one of the great teams in animation history. Joe would come up with the jokes and staging and Bill would time out the cartoon. MGM was struggling to find its identity when in 1940 Bill and Joe created the team of Tom & Jerry for the short Puss gets the Boot.
They put together an legendary team of artists. The Tom & Jerry series became one of the great series in film history and the first non-Disney shorts to win the Oscar.
Laid off by MGM in the studio build-down in 1957, Hanna and Barbera set up on their own above a storefront and tackled the problem of how to produce animation in large quantities for television. They created the limited animation system and their first series Ruff & Ready premiered on TV in 1959. Hanna & Barbera became the most successful studio in TV history, producing hit show after hit show - Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, Top Cat, Scooby Doo, Penelope Pittstop, The Banana Splits, JabberJaws, The Smurfs and many, many, many more!
By 1979 Hanna & Barbera was up to 2,000 employees, doing 12 series, commercials and features. It was called the General Motors of Animation. Yet no matter how big it was, Bill still liked to run production and time sheets, and Joe did the sales and development of new projects. Joe was never above rolling up his sleeves and working with his development artists into the night and weekends.
Joe never lost his humanity, never forgot where he came from and who helped them make it. The original MGM guys could still call them Bill & Joe while it was Mr Hanna and Mr Barbera to the rest of us peons. One of the old animators liked to hobble up the hill from the studio to the Oak Crest Market to buy a bottle of bourbon for lunch. Joe left instructions with the market to never charge him, just keep a tab and at the end of the month Joe would pay it, no questions asked.
That was Joe. No matter how successful he got, he never lost his humanity nor his humility. As an elder statesman after the merger of Turner and WB, Joe still came to the office and was shy about his age. Joe ended his memoir My Life in Toons, with an anecdote about Mel Blanc, and I think it is appropriate. Mel Blanc said: "I've known Joe for over thirty years, and in that time I never knew one person say one bad thing about him."
So say we all. Adieu, Mister Barbera. So long, Joe.