It seemed like a good day to dig up a little history about two of my favorite cartoon characters, Tom and Jerry! It turns out I was pleasantly surprised! Pretty interesting stuff, I think!
Tom and Jerry
First Produced: February 10, 1940 – August 1, 1958.
Inspiration: World War I / World War II
William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were part of Rudolf Ising’s film production unit at the MGM cartoon studios in the late 1930s. MGM hoped to become rivals to the established Leon Schlesinger Productions (under Warner Brothers) and Max Fleischer Studios (with Paramount Pictures) and capitalize on the newly rediscovered interest in animated shorts films. Despite having acquired Friz Freleng from Schlesinger Productions, their first project entitled The Captain and the Kids did very poorly and the studio was forced to streamline the department to save costs. Joseph Barbera, a storywriter and character designer, was paired with William Hanna, a production director, in the hope that working so closely together would prove more cost effective. In their first production meeting, Barbera suggested they try a cat and mouse scenario, and they sketched out the characters they would need to produce Puss Gets The Boot, released February 10, 1940.
In interviews, Joe Barbera later said, “We knew we needed two characters. We thought we needed conflict, and chase and action. And a cat after a mouse seemed like a good, basic thought.” The original story revolved around a blue and white domestic shorthair tabby cat named Jasper in his attempts to catch a house mouse named Jinx, whilst avoiding the African American housemaid Mammy (who would later become Tom’s owner). At this, savage Jasper was seen as a quadruped and had normal cat-like intelligence, contrasting with Jinx who was bipedal and had more human-like intelligence. Between them they would smash things and damage household furniture until the cat was literally throw out, leaving Jerry free to go on as he liked. Yet this seemingly light-hearted match had a dark side in that it was also supposed to boost civilian moral during the Second World War. February 10, 1940 also happened to coincide with the beginning of the Battle of Britain, when German fighters attacked a convoy off the coast of Dover. America wasn’t officially in the war at this stage, although support for the British “Tommys” was strong among Americans. Somehow the cat and mouse story had struck a cord.
Hanna and Barbera, oblivious to this, carried on making new short films such as Gallopin’ Gals (1940) and Officer Pooch (1941) and almost forgot about their cat and mouse characters. That was until Puss Gets The Boot narrowly lost an Academy Award to The Milky Way (1940) – another Rudolph Ising production – for the Best Short Subject: Cartoons of 1941. Skeptics at MGM were immediately silenced, and Fred Quimby, the production manager at the MGM animation studio, quickly pulled the pair off their current projects and commissioned the cat and mouse back into production. The first things to be changed were the characters names. In the book “Tom & Jerry: The Definitive Guide to their Animated Adventures,” Patrick Brion recalls an in-studio competition to name the pair by pulling suggestions from a hat. Animator John Carr won $50 for his suggestion to name them Tom and Jerry. Carr’s suggestion came from two ideas: firstly that a cat should be named Tom because of the association with the tomcat as a breed of cat. Secondly because the war-like antics between the two characters reminded him of the Tommies and Jerries fighting in the First World War – a situation which had recently somehow repeated itself.
The Midnight Snack appeared as their next short on July 19 1941, the same date Winston Churchill launched his “V for Victory” campaign. The characters would go on to appear in four or five short films a year – totaling 114 films by the time the MGM cartoon studio was shut down in 1957, with the last cartoons released in 1958. This resulted in Hanna and Barbera starting their own animation studio (now primarily aimed at low budget television shorts) called Hanna-Barbera Productions Inc. in 1957, although it would be some time before the studio made any money. MGM retained the Tom and Jerry license, and in a controversial twist decided to revive the series in the early 1960s using the Prague-based studio Rembrandt Films, with animator Gene Deitch and produced by company owner William L. Snyder. Czechoslovakia was a highly controversial choice given the fact it lay hidden behind the Iron Curtain, the Cold War was at it’s height, and the Cuban Missile Crisis happened during production. Both Samuel Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer were Eastern Europeans, from Warsaw and Minsk respectively
Sorry about the length of today's post, but some things need more than just a paragraph or two to talk about! And, as most history, it's much more interesting when you know all the details! Makes it a lot more fun!
Coffee in the kitchen this morning! I'll share the last of the Vanilla Pudding cake with ya!