After 81 years, hundreds of shorts, 13 full length movies, guest appearances, spin-offs and parodies, it’s hard to imagine a time that Tom and Jerry weren’t around playing the longest game of Cat and Mouse; however, they were almost a one and done short never to be heard from again.
The Beginning that Nearly Never Was
Jasper the cat, and Jinx the mouse, debuted in the Metro Goldwyn Mayer short “Puss Gets the Boot”, an animated short conceived by William Hanna and Joseph Barbara. The studio greenlit the animation despite the idea of a cat chasing a mouse seemingly too pedestrian for a cartoon. At the time the studio was looking for more traditional fare of anthropomorphic animals doing stupid human tricks, like Flip the Frog as a barber or humans doing stupid human tricks like Willie the Whopper getting into an airplane race as they chased Disney’s success with animation.
In the fight to best Disney, MGM started looking for their studio creatives to build out new characters and that’s when Barbera suggested he and Hanna do a cartoon of their own. They decided on a cat and mouse because the characters were equals in constant conflict. “Puss Gets the Boot” would go on to be nominated for an academy award.
The Beginning That Was Nearly the End
The rest was nearly history… as in it almost ended there as Producer Fred Quimby, then head of the short film department, pushed them to drop the cat and mouse idea so they could develop other, more desirable animations.
Thank the Lonestar Woman for Tom & Jerry
You can thank Bessa Short from Texas for the re-emergence of Jasper and Jinx, soon to be transformed into the duo we all know and love, Tom and Jerry. Short wrote a letter asking when she was going to see another wonderful cat and mouse cartoon. That sparked interest in bringing the cartoon back from the archives.
Winner Winner $50 Richer
The name Tom and Jerry came about thanks to a contest held internally by MGM to put a formal name to the pair of characters. Animator Jack Carr won $50 for the name, Tom & Jerry. Barbera would later call the names very unoriginal, but that it didn’t matter what the name was “if the thing was a success you’re at home”.
Gene Kelly Gets Down with King Jerry
In the film Anchors Aweigh, starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, Gene Kelly visits King Jerry, who is being served by Tom, to find out why Jerry has made it illegal to sing and dance. Kelly cheers the sullen king up teaching Jerry that singing and dancing was a great way to cheer up and that anyone could do it. The role of the king was originally pitched as Mickey Mouse; however, Roy Disney, Disney’s CEO at the time, decided to reject the deal focusing on turning his studio’s efforts around after World War II nearly put them out of business. This paved the way for Tom and Jerry to make their first guest appearances.
Tom and Jerry are Dangerous When Wet
Not to be outdone in Anchors Aweigh, Tom and Jerry would find themselves swimming with Golden Globe winner Esther Williams during a dream sequence. Much like with Anchors Aweigh, the duo are combined with live action elements and seemingly get along and work together.
The Darkest Days
Over the years a myriad of studios have taken on the task of creating new Tom and Jerry episodes but one 13 episode stretch is often considered the dark ages for the cartoon. Gene Deitch took on Tom and Jerry and created the episodes in Prague on a limited budget. Most of the sound effects and voices were created by Deitch himself. Deitch, not a fan of Tom and Jerry at the time he was assigned the job, found their violence to be off-putting. He would later learn from his subjects and suggested that the human connection to the characters through the over the top violence signified a David and Goliath struggle that proved the little guy can survive to fight another day.
The Deitch era provides some of the strangest cartoons in the series. The animation was often jerky, the sound effects hollow and with an eerie echo and the stories often took place outside the comforts of the traditional house. Once the 13 episodes were completed Deitch’s team was not renewed to create more and the producer who greenlit Deitch’s team was fired from the studio.
Although many consider these to be the worst of the bunch, they do have a cult following with some fans finding the quirky nature of this era to stand out.
Live From New York, It’s Tom and Jerry
Although the last episode for TV wrapped up in 2005, Tom and Jerry have been busy on the feature film front releasing 10 straight to DVD movies. Now, Nearly 30 years after their last theatrical release, Tom and Jerry are once again back in Theaters, this time in another live action affair.
Unlike dancing with Gene Kelly or swimming with Esther Williams, the pair will appear in 3D animation making life difficult for Chloë Grace Moretz and her job at Manhattan’s finest the Royal Gate Hotel.