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‘Hanna and Barbera: Conversations’ (Book review)

Edited by by Kevin Sandler and Tyler Solon Williams
Published by University Press of Mississippi

 

Hanna and Barbera Conversations is a new book from the University of Mississippi Press, “the scholarly publishing agency of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning.”

As such, one might expect another rant from me about the types of books that overanalyze pop culture in ways pop culture doesn’t need to be analyzed in at all!

But wait!

This book is different. In fact, what it is is a collection of more than 40 previously published pieces on Joe Barbera, Bill Hanna, and/or various aspects and associates of their cartoon empire.

These pieces date back to 1944, with the most recent ones coming from 2021.

Because of the anthology nature, of course, the collected works are not all of the same quality. Familiar names amongst the authors, though, include revered cartoon expert Michael Barrier, my Facebook friends David Olbrich, Marc Tyler Nobleman, and Stu Shostak, John Culhane, John Stanley (not the cartoonist), John Canemaker, and Scott Shaw!

The most surprising person for me to encounter here is George Palmer, with a piece originally published in The Cincinnati Enquirer in 1969. Probably unknown to most readers of this book, George Palmer was a bit of a local legend here in the Cincinnati area. He had been the city’s first major anchorman on television news before I was born but settled into a career as a newspaper columnist and reporter. He was also a bit of an eccentric, who always wore safety goggles when he was outdoors, going to his car in the parking lot.

My first job, in the mid-1970s, was assisting my parents as night janitors of The Cincinnati Enquirer’s branch office and the part of the job I hated the most was emptying George Palmer’s ashtrays! He always had two on his desk and they were always completely filled! But I digress…

Anyway, having grown up enjoying everything from Ruff ‘n’ Reddy to Top Cat, Peter Potamus, and eventually Space Ghost and Mighty Mightor, Joe and Bill were definite favorites of mine. When Cincinnati’s Kings Island amusement park opened, there was a “Tunnel of Love” type boat ride that was in reality a Tunnel of Hanna-Barbera.

At 12, I was too old for it. It was in the little kids’ section of the park, actually called The Happy Land of Hanna-Barbera. Didn’t care. They had Gulliver and the Hillbilly Bears and Squidley Diddley and others that had long since gone from TV. Little kids would have had no idea who these characters were in those pre-video or cartoon channel days, but I sure did. The Enchanted Voyage was my favorite ride in the whole park until Taft sold H-B and the cartoon nostalgia disappeared. I showed them. I quit even going to the park after that! Only ever went once more, years later.

Just as Joe and Bill were much more than Tom & Jerry, The Flintstones, The Smurfs, or Scooby Doo, the book at hand offers vintage pieces on the various creators involved in the cartoons like Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, Iwao Takamoto, Mike Maltese (who also wrote many of Chuck Jones’ best Warner Bros cartoons!), Michael Lah, Jerry Eisenberg, composer Hoyt Curtin, Doug Wildey, and, naturally, the two men as associated with H-B’s voicework as Mel Blanc was to Warner Bros.—Don Messick and Daws Butler.

There are even a few pieces here written (or ghosted) by Hanna and Barbera themselves. All in all, Hanna and Barbera Conversations is an unexpected treat. With no real bad sections, and plenty of good ones, with information new to me, the book is not so much a history as it is a nice tribute to one of the truly great Hollywood cartoon factories, in good times and bad, peaks and valleys, and ultimately, in memory.

Booksteve recommends.

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