Old MCN Blogs
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Joe Barbera was more Jetson than Flintstone

I went into my lunch with Hanna-Barbera expecting to hate them, but after a bottle of wine and Joe and Bill’s loud, unembarrassed rendition of The Flintstones theme song, I was won over.
That’s Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, the lifelong friends and animation partners who gave us Tom and Jerry, Scooby Doo, The Jetsons, the Flintstones, Yogi Bear, and too many more to mention. Barbera died yesterday at age 95. (Hanna died in 2002.)
They had taken me to lunch at a fancy Italian restaurant on Central Park South, back when they were spring chickens — 77 years old apiece — and launching their own home-video company. I expected to dislike them for the very reason they were so long-lasting and successful in the industry: they invented “limited animation,” a time- and money-saving way of making cost-effective animation for television by reducing the number (and quality) of animation cels per second of running time. The effect on the eye is of less lush, less fluid animation, although kids raised on it probably don’t see or know the difference.
Yes. But. The genius of Hanna-Barbera was in adapting the medium they had worked in for so long, but which was dying, to the medium of the future — television. It was their flexibility, foresight, and risk-taking that gave them staying power in an industry that was gradually phasing out Old School animation anyway. Legendary mogul Harry Cohn himself had canned the duo after walking out of a “pencil test” of their animation, bellowing: “Get rid of ’em!”
“At the height of our careers, we were out in the cold. What were we going to do, work at a hamburger stand?” said Barbera, working up a lather worthy of a cartoon character, let alone someone born in Little Italy and raised in Flatbush. “We had kids in school. We went to every agency, every studio. TV had no money. The entire industry was out of work.”
That’s why these feisty guys turned out to be more Jetson than Flintstone, imagining and even creating a future where none existed, leaving behind the safety of Bedrock. And look at today’s TV animation — the deliberately sketchy, ragged-looking South Park and The Simpsons are the hip grandchildren of Hanna-Barbera’s prescience.
The two men were full of life in a way you can only wish for fellows who built their reputation on the Oscar-winning, feral chases of Tom and Jerry. “Flintstones, meet the Flintstones, they’re the modern Stone-Age family,” boomed Barbera, who wrote that ditty. Hanna, with a less outsized personality, nevertheless chimed in, trying to recall some of the stickier lyrics: “Through the courtesy of Fred’s two feet … no, no, that can’t be right …”
“I’ll never forget this humiliating evening,” Barbera joked, pretending to slump dejectedly in his chair.
Actually, I’m the one who’ll never forget it. I went in ready to chide these mavericks on “ruining” animation, only to come out, a bottle of wine and a song later, chastened to have met two guys were were, like another character we know, smarter than the average bear.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon