William Hanna

Active - 1936 - Present  |   Born - Jul 14, 1910 in Melrose, New Mexico, United States  |   Died - Mar 22, 2001   |   Genres - Children's/Family

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Biography by Hal Erickson

The son of a construction superintendent for the Sante Fe railway stations, William Hanna was obliged to move around quite a bit as a youngster. Influenced by the preponderance of professional writers on his mother's side of the family, Hanna gravitated towards the creative arts in high school. He played saxophone in a dance band, then majored in journalism and engineering at Compton (California) Junior College. While looking for work in the early stages of the Depression, he landed a backstage engineering job at Hollywood's Pantages Theatre. Hanna's brother-in-law, who worked for a Hollywood lab called Pacific Title, tipped him off to a job opening at the Harman-Ising cartoon studios. From 1931 onward, Hanna contributed story ideas to Harman-Ising's Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series, produced on behalf of Leon Schlesinger and Warner Bros. He also wrote the music and lyrics for several of the catchy tunes heard in these animated endeavors. When Harman-Ising moved to MGM, they took Hanna along as a story editor. And when MGM formed its own animation department in 1937, Hanna was hired by department head Fred Quimby.

It was while under the MGM banner that Hanna formed a copacetic (and, as it turned out, lifelong) partnership with cartoon director Joseph Barbera. While both men did a little bit of everything in their cartoon collaborations, Hanna regarded himself as the director and story man, while Barbera preferred to work out the various gags. Hanna-Barbera's most lasting contribution to the MGM operation was their "Tom and Jerry" series, which earned seven Academy Awards over a 20-year period. In 1957, MGM disbanded its cartoon unit, whereupon Hanna and Barbera formed their own company for the purposes of turning out TV animation. No one who has been born after 1950 needs to be reminded of the vast Hanna-Barbera TV output: Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Jonny Quest, The Banana Splits and Scooby-Doo constitute but the tip of the iceberg. Busy as they were with their TV commitments, Hanna-Barbera occasionally found time to return to theatrical-feature work, including A Man Called Flintstone (1966), Charlotte's Web (1972) and Heidi's Song (1982). Even after selling their studio, both Hanna and Barbera remained active in the cartoon field; as recently as 1993, Hanna served as co-producer for the animated feature Once Upon a Forest. Though he's received a multitude of industry honors, it is said William Hanna is proudest of his 1985 "Distinguished Eagle Scout" award from the Boys Scouts of America, an organization with which he'd been associated since 1919.

Movie Highlights

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  • With partner Joseph Barbera, built an animation empire, creating such classic cartoons as Tom & Jerry, Scooby-Doo, Yogi Bear, the Jetsons, the Flintstones, Jonny Quest, the Smurfs, and many, many others.
  • In 1930, began working at the Harman-Ising cartoon studios, providing story ideas, music and lyrics for the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series, and becoming an MGM story editor and director when Harman-Ising moved to that studio.
  • In 1937, MGM formed its own animation department led by Fred Quimby, who hired Hanna and teamed him with Barbera.
  • Melded animation with live-action films, such as when Jerry the mouse danced with Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh (1945) and swam with both cartoon co-star Tom and aquatic actress Esther Williams in Dangerous When Wet (1953).
  • Earned multiple Oscar awards and nominations, prompting a promotion to head of MGM's animation department; when that department was shuttered in 1957, Barbera and Hanna were free to build their company, Hanna-Barbera Productions, for animated TV series.
  • Developed a production technique called "limited animation" that made cartoons more efficient to produce on a larger scale, thereby facilitating the creation of their weekly series.
  • His Emmy-winning cartoon The Last of the Curlews (1972) became the first ABC Afterschool Special.