The Birth of Stars

A cat, large, gray and devilish, a Machiavellian glint in his yellow-irised eyes, and a mouse, small, brown, cherubic yet cheeky, chase each other around a kitchen, demolishing the ice box, ironing board, plate rail, a whole sink full of dishes and littering the floor with egg shells, dripping yolks and oozing jam.

The kitchen battle wages on, its final outcome unknown to the participants. But to the people watching in the warm darkness of the theater, there is little doubt as to the identity of the victor - it will be the little mouse.

For the cat and mouse are Tom and Jerry, and this, of course is a Tom & Jerry cartoon.

The ever-dueling duo have chased each other from the Hollywood Bowl to Hungary to out space and back, and fifty years after their movie debut, are still going strong. Vintage Tom & Jerry cartoons still play at the cinema, on television, and are packaged for sale or rental on videotape.

Born in Hollywood, Tom and Jerry have captured the delight, and the laughter, of audiences around the globe, garnered enough Academy Awards to make any movie star selfishly smug, and starred in motion pictures, television and comic books. (p9)

And, Tom and Jerry have very definite personalities. Tom is a fiendish opportunist, always anxious to ingratiate himself with the powers that be, whether housekeeper, dog, or even, on occasion, mouse; while Jerry, the impish schemer, is happy minding his own business until cornered, piqued or generally provoked. (p16)

To discover their secret, one must turn back to the place of their creation, the MGM main lot in Culver City, California. Here, in a round-cornered, two-story, cream-colored stucco building containing a rabbit warren of rooms for animators, layout artists, in-betweeners, ink and paint girls, cameramen and movieola machines, Tom and Jerry leaped magically to life. (p 21)

The Fred Quimby Years

Fred Quimby, producer for not only Tom and Jerry but the entire MGM cartoon divisions. Since 1937 he had ridden herd on a zany cast of cartoonists of whom he understood little, having, unfortunately for a cartoon producer, no sense of humor to call upon.

Common belief on the main lot was that Quimby had won his producer's title due to long years of service as a top salesman in New York, from whence he came. Indeed, he knew nothing of animation and, as Irv Spence recalls, cartoons "were a strange thing to him."/

Cast in the role of high school principal opposite the animators' boyish enthusiasms, he acted as liaisons between them and the front office, usually it seemed, turning down requests for bigger budgets, raises and special dispensations of funds.

But under his stewardship, Tom and Jerry sailed along like a flagship on a balmy sea. Not burdened with the need to deal directly with the cantankerous corporate minds in the administration arena, Hanna and Barbera were free to exercise the creativity that made Tom and Jerry the "Gold Dust Twins" of MGM.

After 18 years at the helm of the Cartoon Department, Quimby retired, and here was where the storm clouds began to glimmer. (p 83)

Quimby's retirement in no way hampered the creative flow of the Tom and Jerry cartoons, but his leaving signaled the beginning of the end of an era, the Golden Age of Hollywood, in the worlds of both action and animation.

And the world was already beginning to change. Television, that great engulfing box with knobs and the convex screen, was already gulping up huge chunks of the theatrical audience, allowing them to be entertained on dark evenings without ever leaving home. (p 84)

Box office receipts fell, and then plummeted. Movie studios began to worry, and then to panic. New techniques were put into operation, among them CinemaScope, which widened the theater screen to provide a presumably more encompassing view of the world.

Cartoons, too, were forced to submit to the CinemaScope rage. Tom and Jerry's first such outing was Pet Peeve, in 1954. (p 85)

The Gene Deitch Years. 1961-1962

In 1957, MGM, without warning to the crew, closed down their Cartoon Division, putting Tom & Jerry in cartoon limbo, and Hanna, Barbera and staff without a job. They oversaw the finishing touches on the cartoons that had been in mid-production when the blow came, and one imagines them sleepwalking through the studio like people in shock.

"We didn't have anything to do," recalls Bill Hanna. "We saw the rest of our cartoons through, but we knew they weren't going to pick them up."

At that time, cartoon production at other studios were limited and no one was doing any hiring. At the eleventh hour, when their contract was at an end, Joe and Bill conceived of selling a new cartoon series to television. They created Ruff and Ready, selling it to Screen Gems, a division of Columbia Pictures. There, with a limited budget ($3,000 for a 5 minute cartoon, instead of the $45,000-65,000 from MGM) they had to use every gimmick and shtick they new about the business to make the characters move around. Thus, Limited animation was born. Limited animation meant "You can hold the body (meaning that the body remains static) and put the arms on separate levels (separate cells), the mouth, the eyes, everything. You can blink the eyes and not move anything else. If the body held and you reach out for something, only the arms move."

Then, with the dawn of the 1960's came a new lease on life. MGM had decided that its "Gold Dust Twins" might still be viable properties after all, and Gene Deitch was signed to produce 13 new shorts.

Deitch's credits included a stint as artistic director of Terrytoons, where he created the critically acclaimed "Tom Terrific," a sparsely but imaginatively drawn series for the "captain Kangaroo" children's TV program, and "Munro," a theatrical short for which he won an Oscar.

He had recently moved self and studio to Prague and his Czechoslovakian animators had only half a dozen Tom & Jerry cartoons to use in familiarizing themselves with their new characters.

In contrast to Hanna, Barbera, Irv Spence, Ken Muse and the other animators at MGM, who collectively were Tom & Jerry, the Eastern European team never stood a chance of continuing the old magic.

Although they managed to retain the basic look of the characters - if you bumped them on the street you'd probably recognized them -- they didn't act like Tom and Jerry. Jerry, whose winsome looks contributed a great deal to his charm, was glossed over, somehow giving the impression of being viewed through the wrong end of a telescope, and Tom had lost the irrepressibly devious quality that gave personality to his movements, becoming instead just another character dashing across the screen.

Despite all this, there were likeable elements; however, the overall cartoons fell short of the originals on which they were based. Deitch's contract was not extended beyond the first 13. (p 93-98)

The Chuck Jones Years 63-67

When Warner Brothers closed its cartoon doors in 1963, MGM jumped in and offered Chuck Jones the opportunity to animate new Tom & Jerry s for theatrical release. Jones was a veteran, and very talented, animator, having been intrinsic to the development of Warner's stars Bugs Bunny, daffy Duck and their brethren.

He set to work, making his first task a remodel of the famous duo. Tom was given Boris Karloff eyebrows that enhanced his diabolical demeanor, and in many poses bears a strong resemblance to Bugs himself, with a tail and cropped ears. Jerry received larger, more winsome eyes, larger ears, and a sweeter expression.

The Tom & Jerry logo received a facelift, too, with the old title frame replaced by a spiffier 1960s one and new, tinkly music signature. Even Leo, the MGM lion, who had appeared at the beginning of every cartoon since the studio's beginning, was replaced in mid-roar by Tom meowing and hissing into the camera.

But these ware the only differences between the vintage Tom & Jerrys and Jones'. Graphically stylish and brightly colored, the latter veered toward poses and personality. Much like Bugs' plots, they often started out strong and got sidetracked by other ideas. Although this style fit other Jones formats, Tom & Jerry were not the same without a solid story behind them.

After 34 such cartoons, MGM in 1967 stopped production. Believing there was no future in theatrical cartoons, the studio chose not to renew its contract with Jones, and Tom and Jerry were again relegated to the dusty archives of the studio library. (p 98-102)

The Return of the Kings

Eight years later, in 1975, Hanna and Barbera, the original Tom & Jerry men, came up with the notion of casting their old friends in a new series for Saturday morning television.

It was a difficult sell. Network executives, while laughing heartily during the screening of the old cartoons, feared that they were too violent and would be panned by parents' groups. As a compromise, Hanna-Barbera agreed to revamp the characters (again!).

Tom and Jerry had always been backstage buddies, and in their latest incarnation they were pals on-screen as well, spending their cartoon hour in friendly competition, solving mysteries and helping others.

In 1989, Hanna-Barbera started production on a new Saturday morning television series, "Tom & Jerry Kids," featuring the cat and mouse as children. (p 102-3)


The information contained here is a brief synopsis of information contained in the book:
Tom and Jerry: 50 years of Cat and Mouse, by T.R. Adams from Crescent Books, a Random House Company, NY, 1991 ----- ISBN #0-517-05688-7.   If you want to get more information, check the book out at your local library, this book is, unfortunately, out of print.
to Top