20 December 2006

Those Who Knew Them: Joseph Barbera 1911-2006

All at As A Dodo are delighted to inform readers that the following piece was penned bysomeone who was not only a close friend of the late Joseph Barbera but also an undoubted Hollywood legend, Mr Thomas Cat. We would also like to make clear that the fact that the reporter we sent to Sunset Boulevard to conduct the interview with Mr Cat (on which this piece is based) was last seen lying face down in Mr Cat's pool with a bullet through him should in no way detract from the great star's words ... which have in any event been taken down and may be used in evidence.

A youthful Mr Cat (he denies any plastic surgery)Joe Barbera?! Now there was a director! Of course, I had no doubt about his talent from the moment I met him ... and he certainly had no doubts about mine! He spotted me in 1940 working in an off-Broadway production of The Cat and The Canary and he knew right from the moment I fell off stage into the orchestra pit and had my head repeatedly smashed flat between the percussionist's cymbals, before being sliced into a hundred pieces by the wires of the piano that I had that certain je ne sais quoi that those without my command of French might term "star quality".

Soon Joe and that truly marvellous man Bill Hannah were whisking me off to Hollywood for my first starring role in Puss Gets the Boot. Oh Joe and Bill were great on that movie and so was I. We deserved that Academy Award nomination ... in fact we should have got the whole damned Oscar. I still can't believe those little, little men at the Academy could give it to that nauseating The Milky Way. I remember Bugs, Elmer and I commiserating in a bar afterwards. Of course Jer was there already.

Jer, Jer, Jer ... what to say about Jerry Mouse? Joe and Bill insisted we work together and, I have to admit, his rough charm did somehow work up there on the silver screen. But then there were the constant attempts to upstage the leading man (whom I am to humble to name), not to mention the offstage rows, the revolving door through which his wives processed and, most of all, the drinking. I know Joe in particular often despaired of my on-screen sidekick's behaviour. Lucky for Jer, Joe had the patience of a saint. I remember once he had Jer drop an anvil on me nearly a thousand times just to get the right effect (he'd obviously been impressed by my own perfectionism after I corrected his use of the word "whom" for the third time that day).

Yes, thanks to Joe and Bill (not to mention a certain feline gentleman) "Tom and Jerry" (note the order of the billing) were to dominate those silver screens for decades - 7 Academy Awards, 6 Nominations! How many of today's so-called stars can match that? And the dedication! Over 150 movies! Not that the powers-that-be were grateful. Of course it all got too much for Joe and Bill. The constant pressure to produce yet another work of genius always takes its toll. At least neither of them went Jer's way, hanging around in bars, trying to impress ever-younger women with his "mouse in a martini glass" routine. In fact, I always thought it was the anxiety over that incident with Jerry and that young girl (did he really think she looked seventeen?) that sent them off to that sad little world they call TV. What they did there I have no idea ... although I do remember being forced to stand next to a boorish "gentleman" in a ludicrously bourgeois smilodon-fur outfit at one of their parties - honestly! An hour and half of listening to some delusional talking about his "alien friend" The Great Gazoo(!). Sad that a man like Joe should be forced to work with such people.

Still, Joe was one of the Hollywood greats, back when they truly were greats. I'm more than happy to raise a glass to his memory, or perhaps even drop a 10-ton weight on Jer's grave in memory of old times. Adieu mon cher Joe, adieu!