Animation pioneer and legend William Hanna, who revolutionized television animation along with his partner Joseph Barbera, creating hundreds of enduring characters such as Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, the Flintstones, Scooby Doo, the Jetsons and numerous others, died Thursday at his North Hollywood home. He was 90.
Hanna, who friends said remained creatively active by writing poetry and music, had been in failing health for several months, according to Sarah Carragher, director of publicity at Warner Bros., which now owns Hanna-Barbera Studios. The cause of his death was not immediately determined.
Hanna and Barbera are regarded as the masterminds who forever changed the world of cartoons for the small screen with the development of less costly animation techniques. They launched the first prime-time animated TV series, “The Flintstones,” in 1960, which can still be seen in reruns and whose influence can be felt in shows such as “The Simpsons.”
For Hanna-Barbera Studios, the two men produced more than 3,000 animated half-hours of television and 150 different series. The studio also produced feature films, such as “Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear,” spun from some of its more popular characters.
Sarah Baisley, editor in chief of Animation magazine, said: “Most in the entertainment industry credit the two men with having engineered the possibility of TV series animation. They invented the system that really introduced animation for television.”
Mike Lazzo, senior vice president of programming and production for the Cartoon Network, which last year unveiled the Boomerang Network as a showcase for the Hanna-Barbera library, added: “Without Mr. Hanna and Mr. Barbera, TV animation would have definitely taken a different course. They were able to do limited animation without making the characters or the stories suffer. They created 30 years of comedy.”
Of the two, Hanna was considered the key force behind the physical production and timing of the cartoons, while Barbera would concentrate on stories and ideas.
“Many in the animation industry consider William Hanna to be a master of timing,” said Baisley, who worked for 13 years as head of publicity for Hanna-Barbera Studios. “He also was the first to farm out animation to other countries. He was always generous. People would write him from all over the country and ask to come see the studio. They would drop in, and he would give them a job. He loved to take others under his wing.”
Hanna, who originally trained to be an engineer, began his animation career during the Depression when he worked in the ink and paint department of Harman-Ising Studios. He moved to MGM’s cartoon division in 1937, where he met his future partner.
The two men created the battling cat-and-mouse team of Tom and Jerry, and turned out more 113 cartoons featuring the characters over the next 15 years.
Hanna said, “On the Tom and Jerrys, Joe and I would sit across a desk from each other and develop the story. Joe would do the storyboard and I’d do the timing and the direction of the animation. I would go over the scenes with the artists and tell them what I wanted out of the animation. We used to make one six-minute cartoon about every six weeks. . . . I enjoyed doing the Tom and Jerry cartoons, and if we had never done anything else, I would have been perfectly satisfied.”
Tom and Jerry were more than just stars in their own cartoons. They danced with Gene Kelly in “Anchors Aweigh” and “Invitation to the Dance” and with Esther Williams in “Dangerous When Wet.”
The Tom and Jerry cartoons won seven Academy Awards, more than any other series with the same characters.
When MGM shut down its cartoon arm in 1957, Hanna and Barbera founded their own studio, where the majority of their characters were born.
In a 1987 interview, Hanna reflected on the early days of the studio: “The early years were more fun to me than the later years. In the early years, I worked more in the creative areas--timing and directing. As the studio grew, I became more involved with administration.”
In the 1990s, Hanna was executive producer of 20th Century Fox’s feature “Once Upon a Forest” and Universal’s live-action version of “The Flintstones.” He also created two original cartoon shorts--"Hard Luck Duck” and “Wind-Up Wolf"--for the Cartoon Network, making his first solo directing efforts since 1941. He wrote his autobiography “A Cast of Friends” in 1996.
Baisley said Hanna was an avid yachtsman, and would often take employees out for cruises. When battling throat cancer in 1989, he complained that the treatments kept him from his barbershop quartet.
But his proudest achievement remained Tom and Jerry, she said: “He still loved them the best.”
Hanna is survived by his wife, Violet, a son and a daughter and seven grandchildren.
Freelance writer Charles Solomon contributed to this story.