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William Hanna

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Also Known As: William Denby Hanna,Billy Hanna,Bill Hanna Died: March 22, 2001
Born: July 14, 1910 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Melrose, New Mexico, USA Profession: Director ... producer director executive animator composer lyricist story editor screenwriter structural engineer
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BIOGRAPHY

One half of the most celebrated animation-producing duos in history, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera's company, Hanna-Barbera Productions, created some of the best-loved animated television programming of the 20th century and beyond, including "The Huckleberry Hound Show" (syndicated, 1958-1961), "The Yogi Bear Show" (syndicated, 1961-62), "The Flintstones" (ABC, 1960-66), "The Jetsons" (ABC, 1962-63), "Jonny Quest" (ABC, 1964-65), "Super Friends" (ABC, 1973-1986) and "The Smurfs" (NBC, 1981-89). With Barbera, Hanna began his career with the Oscar-winning Tom and Jerry animated shorts for MGM. When the company shuttered its animation division, the duo launched their own company, striking pay dirt almost immediately with "Huckleberry Hound" and "The Flintstones," their first primetime series. Hanna-Barbera's cartoons, driven largely by bright, simple artwork, clever writing, and memorable characters, led the television animation field until the 1980s, when financial difficulties resulted in their sale to a variety of companies. They rebounded in the 1990s as part of Turner Broadcasting's Cartoon Network, for which they oversaw such cutting-edge cartoons as "The Powerpuff Girls" (1998-2005) before Hanna's death in 2001. William Hanna's vast output of animated fare over the course of his six-decade career contained so many beloved characters and shows that his position as one of the dominant forces in American animation was assured for eternity.

Born July 14, 1910 in Melrose, NM, William Denby Hanna was the third of seven children and the only son of construction superintendent William John Hanna and his wife, Joyce. His father worked on both the railway and water and sewer systems in the western states, which required him to move the family on frequent occasions. During his first years, Hanna moved from Oregon to Utah to California, eventually settling in Watts, CA in 1919. There, he cultivated a number of skills, including music, art and writing that would come into play during his career in animation. He studied journalism and structural engineering at Compton City College, but was forced to drop out at the onset of the Great Depression. Hanna subsequently found work as an engineer on the construction of the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, but the country's economic spiral also cost him that job. At the encouragement of his sister's boyfriend, he applied for a job at Pacific Title and Art, where his talent for art, though formally untrained, earned him a job at the Harman and Ising animation studio, which produced the "Looney Tunes" and "Merrie Melodies" shorts for Warner Bros in conjunction with Pacific Title and Art. The studio became a separate entity from the title company in 1933, and Hanna joined them in their new capacity as animation producers for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Hanna earned his first directorial credit on the 1936 animated short "To Spring" shortly before MGM wooed him to their own in-house animation division. There, he met and forged a close relationship with artist Joseph Barbera, with whom he worked alongside the legendary animation director Tex Avery. In 1940, they co-directed "Puss Gets the Boot" (1940), which concerned the pursuit of a clever mouse by an energetic if easily foiled cat. The project was nominated for a Best (Cartoon) Short Oscar, which marked the beginning of the long-running and wildly successful Tom and Jerry series. For the next 17 years, Hanna and Barbera worked almost exclusively on the series, which netted 14 Academy Award nominations and won seven between 1943 and 1952. The characters' popularity also translated into appearances in some of MGM's live-action films, most notably "Anchors Aweigh" (1945) and "Invitation to the Dance" (1955), both with Gene Kelly. Though Hanna and Barbera were the series' creators and chief architects, the shorts were credited to their supervisor, Fred Quimby, who accepted each of its Oscars without inviting the animation pair to the stage. Eventually, Hanna and Barbera would replace Quimby as heads of MGM's animation division. Unfortunately, their ascent preceded the studio's decision to close the department in 1957. MGM had been steadily losing revenue to television, and found that licensing their old material was more cost effective that creating new cartoons. Hanna and Barbera quickly launched their own short-lived company, Shield Productions, with animator Jay Ward, creator of Rocky & Bullwinkle. After this entity folded, Hanna and Barbera launched their own production company, initially called H-B Enterprises, which was soon redubbed Hanna-Barbera Productions.

Hanna's talent for story construction and connections to top artists was key in the creation of their first series, "The Ruff & Reddy Show" (NBC, 1957), which concerned a cat and dog voiced by Daws Butler and Don Messick, who would go on to provide the voices for nearly all of Hanna-Barbera's programs. Though only a modest success, "Ruff & Reddy" proved that Hanna-Barbera could produce quality animation for television on a small budget, and soon led to their first substantial hits, "The Huckleberry Hound Show," which also featured a segment devoted to a scheming bear named Yogi, who starred on his own syndicated series from 1961 to 1962. The program became the first animated series to win an Emmy for Best Children's Program in 1959, and was quickly followed by "The Quick Draw McGraw Show" (syndicated, 1959-1961). When Hanna and Barbera discovered that nearly half of the viewing audience for "Huckleberry" was comprised of adults who were drawn to the show by its wry humor, they decided to expand their efforts to a primetime animated series.

The result was "The Flintstones," a parody of "The Honeymooners" (CBS, 1955-56) that concerned the comic adventures of a Stone Age family. A Top 30 hit during its first three seasons on air, it was followed by a futuristic variation on the same premise called "The Jetsons." Both programs proved extremely popular in syndication, while "The Flintstones" would enjoy three decades of spin-offs and theatrical features while reaping considerable financial rewards through numerous product tie-ins and licensing efforts. By the end of the decade, Hanna-Barbera was unquestionably the most prolific and successful television animation studio in the business, with such series as "Top Cat" (ABC, 1961-62), "Wally Gator" (ABC, 1962-63), "Jonny Quest," "Space Ghost" (CBS, 1966-68) and the live-action "Banana Splits Adventure Hour" (NBC, 1968-1970) populating the airwaves. One of their most enduring characters, the mystery-solving Great Dane Scooby-Doo, would premiere during this period with "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!" (CBS, 1969-1972), and like "The Flintstones," would be revived in various iterations over the next three decades.

These and other Hanna-Barbera series followed a basic story formula that revolved around a close partnership between two or more friends, often with divergent personalities, as seen in the relationships between Yogi Bear and Boo Boo, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, Scooby-Doo and Shaggy and countless others. The friendship (or friendly competition) between the characters was seen as reflective of Hanna's own relationship with Barbera, which remained close and unchanged for nearly six decades. Part of the reason for their successful collaboration was due to the fact that both men rarely socialized with each other outside of their work; Hanna preferred the company of other animators and loved the outdoors, while Barbera could be frequently seen with other celebrities at fine restaurants or upscale locations. Regardless of their different interests, both men worked together in harmony, complementing each other's strengths while balancing their respective weaknesses. Their compatibility was often seen as the key to the longevity of their business. Despite stiff competition from other television animation companies like Filmation, Rankin-Bass and Ruby-Spears, Hanna-Barbera continued to reign as the dominant producers of TV cartoons in the 1970s. A combination of shows featuring new characters like "Hong Kong Phooey" (ABC, 1974) and "Josie and the Pussycats" (CBS, 1970-72) with established characters from their catalog like "The New Scooby-Doo Movies" (CBS, 1972-74) and new programs featuring characters from the past like "The Tom and Jerry/Grape Ape/Mumbly Show" (ABC, 1975-76), helped to secure their position within the industry. One of their greatest successes of the decade was "Super Friends," which showcased DC Comics' iconic stable of superheroes, including Superman and Batman.

Hanna-Barbera also experimented with theatrical and made-for-TV features during this period, earning hits with the feature-length adaptation of "Charlotte's Web" (1973) and the Emmy-winning ABC drama "The Gathering" (1977). But their grip on the market weakened in the 1980s, due in part to the success of Filmation's "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" (syndicated, 1983-85) and financial difficulties on the part of their parent company, Taft Broadcasting, which had purchased them in 1966. As a result, Hanna-Barbera was forced to outsource much of their animation, which affected the quality of their product. They enjoyed some success during this period, most notably with the Emmy-winning "Smurfs," a joint effort with Belgian companies Dupuis Audiovisual and SEPP International S.A. But the end of the decade found the company on the auction block as a result of the debts incurred by Great American Broadcasting, which had purchased Taft Broadcasting in 1987. Most of Hanna-Barbera's animation staff moved to Warner Bros. during this period, leaving the company as a shell of its former self.

In 1991, Turner Broadcasting and the Apollo Investment Fund purchased Hanna-Barbera in a joint venture for $320 million. Former MTV executive Fred Seibert was put in charge of Hanna-Barbera, which soon changed its name to Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, with Hanna and Barbera remaining as co-chairmen. Seibert hired a host of up-and-coming animation talent, including Craig McCracken, Seth McFarlane and Genndy Tartakovsky, to produce a slate of new programming, while re-launching established brands like Tom and Jerry and "The Flintstones" in new series. Feature-length versions of "Tom and Jerry" (1993) and a trio of animated films, including "The Pagemaster" (1993) and "Cats Don't Dance" (1993), were box-office failures, but Hanna-Barbera's product received a sparkling new showcase with The Cartoon Network, which launched in 1992. The company's vast library of animated work was introduced to a whole new audience, while new programming, including "The Powerpuff Girls," "Dexter's Laboratory" (Cartoon Network, 1995-2004) and "Johnny Bravo" (Cartoon Network, 1997-2004) established Hanna-Barbera as a viable production house in the 21st century. New direct-to-video movies featuring Scooby-Doo and revived series for "Jonny Quest" and Tom and Jerry, as well as live-action versions of "The Flintstones (1994) and "Scooby-Doo" (2004) also continued to reach viewers.

In 1996, Hanna-Barbera became part of Time Warner as a result of the merger between the company and Turner Broadcasting. Two years later, their lot on Cahuenga Boulevard in Studio City was closed, and operations were moved to the Warner Bros. Television Animation division in nearby Sherman Oaks. Hanna and Barbera continued to supervise Warner Bros. animated projects until Hanna's death from throat cancer on March 22, 2001. Barbera would remain a fixture of the company until his own death in 2008. At the close of their careers, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were among the most honored animation producers in Hollywood, with seven Oscars and eight Emmys to their name, as well as a 1960 Golden Globe, the 1988 Governor's Award from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and several Annie Awards, among countless other tributes. In 2005, a wall sculpture at the Television Academy's Hall of Fame Plaza was dedicated to Hanna and Barbera.

By Paul Gaita

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