Jul 14, 2007

William Hanna Animation Pioneer

He didn't start out to be an animation pioneer, he was just looking for a job during the depression.

William Hanna was born in Melrose New Mexico July 14, 1910. His father was a construction supervisor for the Santa Fe railroad which meant the family went where Santa Fe needed construction.

The Hanna's finally settled in Los angeles where Bill became active in the boy scouts. In college he majored in Engineering and when the depression hit, he quit school to take a job building the Pantages theater in Hollywood . Through his brother in law, Hanna heard about a job at the Harmon Ising animation studio. He started there painting cels and within a year was head of the tracing and painting department. Soon he was contributing gags to the cartoons and writing music and lyrics.

Hanna moved to MGM when they started their own animation studio and that's where he met Joe Barbera. The two collaboated on a few cartoons before they got the idea for Tom & Jerry. By 1955 the pair were running MGM's animation department but 2 years later, MGM decided they didn't need any more new cartoons and closed up animation.

Not wasting any time, Hanna & Barbera started their own studio and instead of competing in the ever shrinking field of movie theater cartoons, they decided to try their luck with the new medium of television.

You would think that cartoons for TV was a no-brainer but that wasn't the case in 1957. Getting someone from a network to say yes to a cartoon was a hard sell. Hanna & Barbera had come up with the comedy team of Ruff & Reddy and the story of getting the show on air is left for another time, but luck and persistance paid off and the comedy duo aired on NBC. The rest is history.

While the animation and story of Space Ghost doesn't hold up as well as the classic Tom and Jerry cartoons of Hanna's early years, Saturday mornings would not have been as much fun wiithout Hanna Barbera cartoons. The studio constantly created original comedians and heroes I could call my own and that was important. As an adult I wince at the plot holes and endless use of the same animation cycles in Sampson and Goliath or Jonny Quest, but the kid in me still remembers the thrill of the theme songs and the rapt attention I paid to every adventure.

Those slightly smarmy shows [okay, okay, they aren't just slightly smarmy, they're reeeeeeally smarmy] are an indelible part of my childhood and I treasure the memories of many Saturday mornings sitting in front of the idiot box. While there's no telling what kind of things Hanna could have created as an engineer, I'm selfishly thankful he decided to paint a few cels.

Hanna died from throat cancer in 2001.

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