Monday, December 18, 2006

An American Icon Passes On

In these troubled times, we can use more humor, even if that humor is sometimes aimed at children. Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna kept two or three generations of Americans laughing with their Hanna-Barbera cartoon productions.

CNN has the AP story on the passing of Joe Barbera at 95:
Joe Barbera, half of the Hanna-Barbera animation team that produced such beloved cartoon characters as Tom and Jerry, Yogi Bear and the Flintstones, died Monday, a Warner Bros. spokesman said. He was 95.

Barbera died of natural causes at his home with his wife Sheila at his side, Warner Bros. spokesman Gary Miereanu said.

(snip)

The partners, who had first teamed up while working at MGM in the 1930s, then went on to a whole new realm of success in the 1960s with a witty series of animated TV comedies, including "The Flintstones," "The Jetsons," "Yogi Bear," "Scooby-Doo" and "Huckleberry Hound and Friends."

Fred Flintstone's version of Ralph Kramden from The Honeymooners was my favorite even if it was a little decadent to have a cartoon character selling Winston cigarettes (did the tobacco companies ever give up trying to sell cigarettes to children?). In its day, The Flintstone was considered a show for the entire family in prime time, the only cartoon I'm aware of in that era that made it to the big leagues, so to speak. Ralph Kamden seemed to live in the late 1930s when the economy was still tight for most Americans but The Flintstones was proof that anyone could make the middle class in the 1960s. Cartoons are ridiculous of course but they were great fun. Hanna-Barbera's Fred Flintstone, loud and noisy as he was, seemed more in tune with America's optimism than Archie Bunker who appeared in the more circumspect 1970s.

Because we lived in the Los Angeles area and had a knack for getting around, my middle brother and I once ran into one of the main cartoonists for Hanna-Barbera. We were down in a marina and he was on a very large boat; we quickly got permission from our parents and later we sat around a table with him as he first did a caricature of my brother on a surf board with Huckleberry Hound just behind him. It took him less than two minutes. He turned to me and very quickly decided to put me on a skateboard whizzing by Yogi Bear ducking out of the way and yelling, "Whoa, that was close!"

Silly, I know. But you remember these things and it can't get any more American.

Humor is still alive and well but increasingly we find it in places like Jon Stewart's The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. But I still have a soft spot for those long ago Hanna-Barbera productions.

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