William Denby “Bill” Hanna (July 14, 1910 – March 22, 2001) was an American animator, director, producer, voice actor, and cartoon artist, whose film and television cartoon characters entertained millions of people for much of the 20th century. Hanna graduated from Compton High School in 1928. He briefly attended Compton City College but dropped out at the onset of the Great Depression.
After working odd jobs in the first months of the Depression, Hanna joined the Harman and Ising animation studio in 1930. During the 1930s, Hanna steadily gained skill and prominence while working on cartoons such as Captain and the Kids. In 1937, while working at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Hanna met Joseph Barbera. The two men began a collaboration that was at first best known for producing Tom and Jerry and live action films.
In 1957, they co-founded Hanna-Barbera, which became the most successful television animation studio in the business, producing programs such as The Flintstones, The Huckleberry Hound Show, The Jetsons, Scooby-Doo, The Smurfs, and Yogi Bear. In 1967, Hanna–Barbera was sold to Taft Broadcasting for $12 million, but Hanna and Barbera remained heads of the company until 1991.
Hanna and Barbera won seven Academy Awards and eight Emmy Awards. Their cartoons have become cultural icons, and their cartoon characters have appeared in other media such as films, books, and toys. Hanna–Barbera’s shows had a worldwide audience of over 300 million people in their 1960s heyday, and have been translated into more than 28 languages.
William Hanna was born to William John and Avice Joyce (Denby) Hanna in Melrose, New Mexico. He was the third of seven children and the only boy. When Hanna was three years old, the family moved to Baker City, Oregon, where his father worked on the Balm Creek Dam. It was here that Hanna developed his love of the outdoors. His interests also included sailing and singing in a barbershop quartet. Hanna studied both journalism and structural engineering at Compton City College, but had to drop out of college with the onset of the Great Depression.
After dropping out of college, Hanna worked briefly as a construction engineer and helped build the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. He lost that job during the Great Depression and found another at a car wash. His sister’s boyfriend encouraged him to apply for a job at Pacific Title and Art, which produced title cards for motion pictures. While working there, Hanna’s talent for drawing became evident, and in 1930 he joined the Harman and Ising animation studio, which had created the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series. Despite a lack of formal training, Hanna soon became head of their ink and paint department. Besides inking and painting, Hanna also wrote songs and lyrics.
Hanna was given the opportunity to direct his first cartoon in 1936; the result was To Spring, part of the Harman-Ising Happy Harmonies series. Hanna was among the first people MGM hired away from Harman-Ising to their new cartoon studio. The seriescaptain and the kids did not do well; consequently, Hanna was demoted to a story man and the series was canceled. Hanna’s desk at MGM was opposite that of Joseph Barbera. Hanna and Barbera worked alongside animation director Tex Avery, who had created Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny for Warner Bros. and directed Droopy cartoons at MGM.
In 1940, Hanna and Barbera jointly directed Puss Gets the Boot, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best (Cartoon) Short Subject. The studio wanted a diversified cartoon portfolio, so despite the success of Puss Gets the Boot, Hanna and Barbera’s supervisor, Fred Quimby, did not want to produce more cat and mouse cartoons. Surprised by the success of Puss Gets the Boot, Hanna and Barbera ignored Quimby’s resistance and continued developing the cat-and-mouse theme.
By this time, however, Hanna wanted to return to working for Ising, to whom he felt very loyal. Hanna and Barbera met with Quimby, who discovered that although Ising had taken sole credit for producing Puss Gets the Boot, he never actually worked on it. Quimby then gave Hanna and Barbera permission to pursue their cat-and-mouse idea. The result was their most famous creation,Tom and Jerry. Quimby accepted each Academy Award for Tom and Jerry’s without inviting Hanna and Barbera onstage.
The first offering from the Hanna Barbara company was The Ruff & Reddy Show. They soon established themselves with two successful television series: The Huckleberry Hound Show and The Yogi Bear Show. A 1960 survey showed that half of the viewers of Huckleberry Hound were adults. This prompted the company to create a new animated series, The Flintstones. The company later produced a space-age version of The Flintstones, known as The Jetsons. Although both shows reappeared in the 1970s and 1980s, The Flintstones was far more popular.
By the late 1960s, Hanna–Barbera Productions was the most successful television animation studio in the business. The Hanna–Barbera studio produced over 3000 animated half-hour television shows. The Hanna–Barbera studio also produced Scooby-Doo (1969–1986) and The Smurfs (1981–1989). The company also produced animated specials based on Alice in Wonderland, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cyrano de Bergerac as well as the feature-length film Charlotte’s Web.