Joseph Barbera, who was born 100 years ago today, and Ub Iwerks, who would be turning 110, shared a common birthday, the same profession (animation), and both became half of partnerships which forever changed the history of animated entertainment.
Barbera (pronounced Bar-Bear-Ah) was half of the enormously successful Hanna-Barbera Productions team that in 30 years brought over 3000 half-hour episodes of animated programming to television. Their roster of shows included The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Yogi Bear, The Huckleberry Hound Show, and Scooby-Doo.
Born on this date in 1911 in Manhattan to Sicilian immigrants, Barbera discovered a penchant for drawing early in life, and for many years worked for animators in New York. In 1937, he was lured to California by MGM where he sat next to a young Californian animator named William Hanna.
The two would develop the Tom and Jerry franchise in 1940, and would oversee the production of 114 shorts featuring the cat and mouse team over the next 17 years. Along the way, the animated duo would be nominated for 14 Academy Awards, winning seven, and appear in some noted live-action films, like Anchors Aweigh with Gene Kelly.
After the MGM brass abruptly closed down their animation division in 1957, Hanna and Barbera created their own company, with Hanna getting top billing by winning a coin toss.
The two men had quite different personalities. Hanna was a homebody, but Barbera liked the nightlife, and included several celebrities among his roster of friends. But together they formed the rarest creature in business: the perfect partnership. It was said that in all the decades they worked side by side, that hardly a cross word ever passed between the two men.
The name Ub Iwerks isn’t well known outside of animation circles, but it should be, as he is largely responsible for the creation of a character you may have heard of named Mickey Mouse.
Ub, a child of German immigrants, was born in Kansas City ten years to the day prior to Barbera, and like his younger colleague, would later form a partnership with another young animator that would alter popular culture.
The animator in question was, of course, Walt Disney, who worked with Iwerks at the same commercial art firm in Kansas City. In 1920, the two formed a partnership called Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists, which, had it succeeded, may have made Iwerks a household name.
Instead, the firm dissolved and Walt migrated west to create animation, eventually bringing Ub out to work at Disney Brothers Productions, of which Iwerks received a 20% share of the partnership.
Walt and Ub formed a successful animation team, with the visionary Disney creating stories, and the machine-like Iwerks bringing Walt’s vision to life by creating as many as 600 drawings a day!
The men first struck gold, or at least thought they did, with the character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. But after Oswald was lost in an ownership dispute with Universal, the two men collaborated on a new character named Mickey Mouse, born of a combination of Walt’s vision and Ub’s steady hand.
Disney and Iwerks, like Hanna and Barbera, had very different personalities, with charismatic Walt contrasting sharply with Ub, who had a serious disposition and was shy around women.
The success of Mickey brought an end to the Disney-Iwerks collaboration, as Ub – chafing under the workload and lack of credit he felt he was getting from Walt – left to form his own animation studio, which folded a few years later.
Iwerks would eventually return to Disney, but as a worker, not a partner, having sold his 20% share of the Disney empire back to Walt, thereby costing his heirs billions in future equity.
Joseph Barbera and Ub Iwerks, through talent, hard work, and (at least for a time in Ub’s case) successful partnerships, created some of the world’s most beloved animated characters, leaving behind legacies of laughter.
Thanks, guys and “Happy Birthday” to you both.