|Jasper and Jinx in the beginning.
While working for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, William
Hanna and Joseph
Barbera were paired up in a desperate move by MGM to recover from the
financially disastrous series of shorts the studio ran based on the Captain and the Kids comic
strip. Figuring a good short would have conflict, chases and action, Barbera
conceived of a concept with a built-in, classic and recognizable conflict: a
cat chasing a mouse. Initially, Hanna and other MGM staffers had no confidence
in the project, feeling the concept was unoriginal. However, the short was made
and in 1940 Puss Gets the Boot was
released to theaters. In it, cat Jasper sought to capture mouse Jinx, but was
threatened to be tossed out if their antics broke anything in the house by his
owner, Mammy Two-Shoes (Lillian
Randolph), an African American housemaid.
|The evolution of Tom.
When the short proved a success and
was nominated for the Academy Award for
“Best Short Subject: Cartoons,” Hanna and Barbera were pulled off their other
projects and commissioned to work on a series featuring the characters. Holding
a competition amongst their colleagues to come up with new names for the pair,
animator Jack Carr
ultimately won with the suggestion of Tom and Jerry. Tom’s design was altered
and streamlined as the series went on, changing him from a realistic cat to
anthropomorphized and reducing the amount of detail in his features. Jerry,
however, changed very little.
|Dynamite is your friend.
Although the essential plot was always the same (cat chases mouse, mouse
beats up cat), Hanna and Barbera’s talents allowed them to find variations on
the theme; altering the locations and elements of the chases. The shorts became
known for including some of the most violent cartoon gags to ever appear in
theatrical shorts from the range of weaponry Tom used (axes, hammers, guns,
explosives, poison) to the instruments of retaliation Jerry countered with
(electrocution, slamming Tom’s head in a window, dropping an anvil on him,
etc.). Jerry’s actions in particular were the most violent since Tom was
usually on the receiving end, whereas Jerry’s cunning allowed him to avoid most
of Tom’s machinations. The energy and violence gradually increased when Hanna
and Barbera took inspiration from the work of Tex Avery, who joined MGM in
|Mammy Two-Shoes going to clean up the mess from a chase.
Notably, Tom and Jerry very rarely
spoke outside of when a gag would have a call for one of them to have some
dialogue (such as Tom crooning to a potential love interest). It was up to the
minor characters to provide any other bits of necessary dialogue. Otherwise,
the musical scores composed by Scott
Bradley, which blended several genres together, was used in place of sound
effects and to illicit emotions in various scenes.
|Production sketch of Mammy Two-Shoes wielding a broom.
Along with Mammy, who was never seen
above her shoulders except for a brief glimpse of her face in the short Saturday Evening Puss, the typical minor cast included Spike
(sometimes named Killer and Butch), first appearing in Dog Trouble (1942), and his
son Tyke, first appearing in Love That Pup (1949),
a pair of bulldogs that Tom frequently encountered in his pursuits of Jerry.
Spike started out as indiscriminately vicious, however usually attacking Tom.
Gradually, he began to speak in a Jimmy
Durante-type voice courtesy of Billy
Bletcher and Daws Butler, and was
often incorporated into the shorts by Tom and Jerry’s antics spoiling something
Spike was doing (and since he usually took it out on Tom, Jerry would set Spike
off on purpose). Tyke, voiced by Michael Dobson, was introduced and softened
Spike’s character a bit. He also gave Jerry a new weapon against Tom as
whenever Tyke would end up hurt by Jerry Tom would be on the receiving end of
|Spike and Tyke.
Another character, Butch (Frank Graham), was a black alley
cat who served as both Tom’s friend and his rival to eat Jerry or win the
affections of attractive white female cat Toodles Galore. Both characters
initially appeared in Hugh
Harman’s 1941 short The Alley Cat before they were integrated into the Tom and Jerry series. A smaller diaper-wearing mouse, whose name
fluctuated between Nibbles and Tuffy, was originally introduced in Our Gang Comics #1 (1942) before
being integrated into the shorts with 1946’s The Milky Waif. Originally
presented as a peer to Jerry, eventually he was made into Jerry’s nephew in
1953’s Life with Tom. While the comic
initially changed the name of its character to Nibbles to match the shorts, in
1957 the shorts officially changed the name back to Tuffy. He was voiced by Francoise Brun-Cottan and Lucille Bliss.
|Butch about to shoot Tom.
MGM began to feel the crunch of the
rising popularity of television on its box office receipts in the 1950s and
took steps to try and counteract it and keep people coming to the theaters. What
that included was slashing the production budget on the animated shorts,
forcing future Tom and Jerry productions to have less detail and at least
one per year reusing previously-made footage, and transitioning them to their
new widescreen CinemaScope
process. However, these changes didn’t go unnoticed by audiences and the short’s
popularity began to decline. Realizing their returns on re-releases of older
shorts were comparable the new ones, the studio decided to just take advantage
of their existing library and closed their animation studio down in 1957. 114 Tom and Jerry shorts were produced, with
the last released the year after Hanna and Barbera would go on to open their
own animation studio, Hanna-Barbera
Productions. 13 of them were nominated and 7 ultimately won Academy Awards for
“Best Short Subject: Cartoons,” making them the winningest characters in any
theatrical-based animated series.
|The Deitch-era Tom with his new, more abusive owner.
Tom and Jerry’s break was short-lived,
however, as MGM revived the franchise in 1961. They contracted European studio Rembrandt Films
to produce 13 new shorts at their overseas studios. The shorts were directed by
Gene Deitch (who despised the original
cartoons), produced by William L.
Snyder, and composed by Štěpán
Koníček (renamed Steven Konichek in the credits by Deitch to avoid being
linked to Communism) and Václav
Lídl (renamed Victor Little) with vocal effects mostly provided by Allen Swift. The team had only
seen a few of the original shorts and was working on a significantly smaller
budget of only $10,000, resulting in their shorts being regarded as unusually
bizarre. Tom’s threat to Jerry was diminished by a new grumpy, middle-aged man
who would frequently punish Tom brutally for the pair’s antics. The character
motions were also performed at high speeds, resulting in motion blurs rendering
the animation choppy. When the shorts were completed, head of production John
Vogel was fired from MGM and the studio opted not to renew Rembrandt’s
|Jones-era Tom and Jerry in his distinctive style.
Although they were unfavorably
reviewed and failed to win any awards, the Deitch cartoons were a commercial
success. In 1963, MGM made another attempt by hiring Chuck Jones to produce
more shorts. Jones had just been fired from Warner
Bros. Cartoons and formed his own studio, Sib Tower 12
Productions, with partner Les
Goldman. Tom’s design was tweaked, giving him thicker eyebrows and furrier
cheeks, sharper ears, a longer tail and a new gray-colored coat. Jerry’s ears
and eyes were increased in size, his fur became a lighter brown, and he was
given a sweeter facial expression.
|Jerry avoids being eaten.
Jones co-directed most of the 34 shorts produced with layout artist Maurice Noble, infusing his own
style of comedy (with some difficulty) into the classic formula. Abe
Levitow and Ben Washam
directed several of the others, while Tom Ray directed two shorts using footage
from the original series. Mel
Blanc and June
Foray, who followed Jones from Warner Bros., provided the vocals used.
Jones’ most notable contribution was the new opening for the shorts, in which Tom replaced the MGM lion
and then became trapped in the “O” of his name. These shorts, while considered an
improvement over Deitch’s, experienced varying levels of success. Additionally,
Jones’ team was tasked with replacing Mammy Two Shoes--now considered a racist stereotype--from
the older shorts for when they began being broadcast on television in 1965. MGM,
who had purchased Jones’ studio and renamed it MGM Animation/Visual Arts,
ultimately ceased production on the series in 1967 and closed the studio
entirely in 1970.
|The chase continues on the small screen.