Joseph Barbera (pronounced bar-BEAR-ah) was born in the Little Italy section of Manhattan,New York to Lebanese parents.
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Barbera started his career as a tailor's delivery boy. During the Great Depression he tried unsuccessfully to become a magazine cartoonist for a magazine called The NY Hits Magazine. In 1932 he joined the Van Beuren Studio as an animator and scriptwriter. He worked on cartoons such as Cubby Bear, and Rainbow Parades and also co-produced Tom and Jerry (a couple of boys, unrelated to his later cat-and-mouse series). When Van Beuren closed down in 1936, Barbera moved over to the MGM studios.
Lured by a substantial salary increase, Barbera left Terrytoons and New York for the new MGM cartoon unit and California in 1937. The following year he teamed up with William Hanna to direct theatrical short cartoons; Barbera was the storyboard/layout artist, and Hanna was in charge of the timing. Their first venture was Puss Gets the Boot (1940), the first Tom and Jerry film, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best (Cartoon) Short Subject.
Hanna and Barbera's 17-year partnership on the Tom & Jerry series resulted in 7 Academy Awards for Best (Cartoon) Short Subject, and 14 total nominations, more than any other character-based theatrical animated series. Hanna and Barbera were placed in charge of MGM's animation division in late 1955; however, this proved short-lived as MGM closed the division in 1957. They subsequently teamed up to produce the series The Ruff & Reddy Show, under the name H-B Enterprises, soon changed to Hanna-Barbera Productions. By using the limited animation techniques, Hanna and Barbera could provide programming for networks at reduced cost.
By the late 1960s, Hanna-Barbera Productions had become the most successful television animation studio, producing hit television programs such as The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Jonny Quest, and Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!.
Hanna-Barbera had been a subsidiary of Taft Broadcasting (later Great American Communications) since 1967. The studio thrived until 1991, when it was sold to Turner Broadcasting. Hanna and Barbera stayed on as advisors and periodically worked on new Hanna-Barbera shows, including the What-a-Cartoon! series.
Hanna-Barbera, received eight Emmys, including the Governors Award of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1988.
Their strengths melded perfectly, critic Leonard Maltin wrote in his book Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons. Barbera brought the comic gags and skilled drawing, while Hanna brought warmth and a keen sense of timing. Maltin wrote:
"This writing-directing team may hold a record for producing consistently superior cartoons using the same characters year after year - without a break or change in routine."
Hanna, who died in 2001, once said he was never a good artist but his partner could "capture mood and expression in a quick sketch better than anyone I've ever known."
After Hanna's death, Barbera remained active as an executive producer for Warner Bros. Animation on television series such as What's New, Scooby-Doo? and Tom and Jerry Tales. He also wrote, co-storyboarded, co-directed and co-produced the theatrical Tom and Jerry short The Karateguard in 2005, thus returning to his and Hanna's first successful cartoon format.
Barbera died at the age of 95 of natural causes at his home in Studio City, Los Angeles on December 18, 2006, ending a seventy-year career in animation. His wife Sheila was at his side when he died, and three children by a previous marriage also survived him: Jayne, Neal and Lynn. Cartoon Network put up a bumper in late December 2006 that showed Barbera in a black marker portrait. In the next scene, the words "We'll miss you" were written above the Cartoon Network logo. Adult Swim had a banner that said Joseph Barbera 1911-2006.