Joseph Barbera: Italian of the Week

“My biggest kick comes from the individual fans I run into. Middle-aged men ask me when we’re going to do more Johnny Quest cartoons…Parents look at me like I’m somebody pretty important, and say, We were raised on your characters, and now we’re enjoying them all over again with our children.”
Joseph Barbera


Joseph Barbera was born March 24, 1911, in the Little Italy neighborhood of New York City. He was the son of Vincente and Francesca, both immigrants from Sicily. He grew up in Brooklyn and had many interests in high school. Joseph tried his hand at theater, drawing, and boxing. He even won the lightweight championship at his high school and considered it as a possible career. He had once said, “In those days, boxing was very glamorous and romantic. You listened to fights on the radio, and a good announcer made it seem like a contest between gladiators.”
His interest was short lived and Joseph started his career as a banker on Wall Street. After two years behind a desk, he decided to follow his passion of drawing.

After several unsuccessful attempts to break into the animation business, Joseph finally landed a job at Terrytoons Studio (the company behind characters Mighty Mouse and Heckle & Bill_Hanna_Joseph_Barbera_1965Jeckle) in 1936. A year later MGM offered him a position at its new animation unit, and he was assigned a desk across from future collaborator William Hanna. The two had an immediate connection and released a cartoon short “Puss Gets the Boot” in 1940. The story was about a cat and a nameless mouse; they would later be named Tom and Jerry. The two continued to collaborate on projects at MGM and their work won seven Oscar Awards.

In 1957 MGM dissolved its animation studios. Joseph and William decided to go at it on their own and created Hanna-Barbera Productions. Their most popular shows were The hanna-barbera-cartoonsFlintstonesYogi BearScooby-DooThe SmurfsHuckleberry HoundThe Jetsons and more recently Dexter’s Laboratory and The Powerpuff Girls. The company also worked on commercials and opening credits for various shows (including Bewitched). Joseph and William stayed as head of their studio until 1996 when they stepped down and worked as advisors.

Joseph Barbera continued drawing and producing animation until his death in December 2006. His cartoons continue to inspire and entertain audiences worldwide.

Sources: NPR, Biography, ANB, The Big Cartoon Database, An Interview with Joe Barbera

4 thoughts on “Joseph Barbera: Italian of the Week

  1. I always enjoy stories of other Italian Americans. Most work in obscurity and don’t get the credit they deserve. A lot of talent came from Italy and enriched America!

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