Unless you have been living under a rock the last 18 hours, you have probably heard that Joe Barbera, of Hanna-Barbera animation fame, died yesterday at age 95 from natural causes. Tributes have been flooding animation and cartoon websites and blogs like Cartoon Brew, Drawn! and others. Clearly the man was a well respected legend in the animation business.
Having little or no experience in the animation field other than a viewer’s enjoyment of the good stuff, I have next to no personal knowledge of Barbera’s history or contributions to animation as an art form. I think it’s a testament, however, to the longevity of his work that my kids, who are growing up in the internet age of the 21st century, instantly recognize H-B characters like The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Tom and Jerry and The Jetsons when these characters where mainly 1960’s creations and have not had the marketing power behind them of the Bugs Bunny’s and Mickey Mouse’s of the world. Catching reruns of these cartoons wasn’t easy before specialized cable channels like the Cartoon Network and Nick came along. Back when I was a kid, it was Saturday mornings that introduced me to Hanna-Barbera and dozens of other animated gems.
Kids today have no idea what we post Baby Boomer’s Saturday mornings were like in the late 60’s and throughout the 70’s and 80’s. “Saturday Morning Cartoons” were an absolute staple of the growing up experience. In the 70’s after school TV was mostly reruns of Gillian’s Island, I Dream of Jeannie and other 60’s sitcoms. Cartoons were for Saturday Mornings, and the networks hyped their Saturday morning line-ups as much as they do “Must See TV” today. This was the kid’s time in front of the tube, where every station had cartoons from 8:00 am to noon. Even the commercials were fun… all for toys, breakfast cereals and more toys. Every kid looked forward to Saturday mornings. Not all the shows were cartoons… there were live action shows as well, from cheesy Superhero fare like Shazam! and Isis to sci-fi stuff like The Land of the Lost to comedy like H.R. Pufnstuf (I always had a special place in my heart for the surreal Sid and Marty Kroft shows).
There were The Superfriends and other relatively new or original program cartoons, but many of the cartoons were reruns of shorts from the various animation houses, repackaged and combined to try and make them seem fresh. Of the short, humorous variety there were several distinct styles or “kinds” of cartoons… and everyone had their favorites. There were Warner Bros. Loonie Tunes and Merry Melodies, Hanna-Barbera’s stable with Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, Snaggletooth, The Jetsons, etc., DePatie-Freleng‘s Pink Panther, Instector Clouseau and the Ant and the Aardvark, Jay Ward‘s Rocky and Bullwinkle, Fractured Fairytales and Mr. Peabody, and Walter Lantz‘s Woody Woodpecker, among a few others. It was always obvious within a few seconds for any kid which “kind” of cartoon they were watching, whether the character on screen was familiar or not. The animation styles that all looked the same to the average adult were like night and day to us kids. I used to get into arguments with my friends over which cartoons were the best. I was always a big Warner Bros. guy, especially the Freleng and Merrie Melodies stuff, where as some of my friends were Rocky and Bullwinkle fans. None of us knew the names of the creators… this was usually all for fun, as we enjoyed them all no matter what.
Even to a layman like myself the significance of Hanna-Barbera’s The Flintstones, being a prime time cartoon of enormous success, in not lost. It ran for six seasons from 1960-66, and was the first cartoon featuring original programming to air in prime time. That doesn’t seem like a big deal in these day’s of The Simpsons, but back then it’s success was a real triumph for animation. There would be no Simpsons today if not for Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera and The Flintstones. It was a very different world back then, and airing a prime time cartoon show was daring and farsighted. If you don’t believe how very different the world was back in those days, wrap your mind around this little blast from the past:
Yep, The Flintstones’ main sponsor the first few seasons was Winston Cigarettes, and back in the 60’s no one had any problem with cartoon characters pitching tobacco products. Different world indeed! Interestingly, once Wilma became pregnant with Pebbles in the series Winston pulled their sponsorship, and Welch’s Grape Juice became the main sponsor.
I’ll be visiting plenty of blogs and reading about the accomplishments of Joe Barbera, and I hope you will also. The man obviously left a legacy we all should know about and appreciate. Check out Mark Evanier‘s comments, stories and articles on his terrific blog, which I often plug because… well… it’s so damn good.
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