15 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Tom and Jerry’
During the 1960s, Tom and Jerry became the highest-grossing animated short film series of the decade, surpassing even Warner Bros. own legendary animated films featuring Bugs and the gang. Since their conception, the best friend duo who also want to murder each other has appeared in comic books, video games, comic strips, a musical and a Japanese comics series, and they’re far from done. The savage pair has inspired famous offshoots like The Itchy & Scratchy Show and Happy Tree Friends, and they’ve won more than half a dozen Oscars trying to decapitate and blow each other up.
Read on about the making — and inevitable censoring — of the cartoon that was and always will be violently funny...
It Was William Hanna and Joseph Barbera’s First Collaboration
The two animators — who would ultimately go on to start the legendary Hanna-Barbera animation studio when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer closed their in-house animation shop in 1957 — were working together at MGM when they realized they had some good ideas together. Their cat and mouse cartoon was a first attempt at collaboration, and they toiled for “long hours into the night” to create their first short — 1940’s Puss Gets the Boot that featured a cat named Jasper, an unnamed mouse (that the animators reportedly called “Jinx” behind the scenes) and the controversial character of Mammy Two Shoes. The short would go on to be nominated for an Academy Award, but Hanna and Barbera weren’t even credited for their work.
The First Innovation
To present Puss Gets the Boot to the studio heads, Hanna and Barbera prepared their film demonstration by using less than 2,000 drawings of the major scenes, which wasn’t done at the time but would become common practice afterward. They placed these drawings on an exposure sheet to show the action frame by frame so the camera “could shoot them to length.” The result was a film as long as the standard short but with fewer drawings used to acquire said length.
Hanna Provided the Vocal Effects
Hanna himself gave Tom his yelling vocals and Jerry his little gulps. The bank-clerk-turned-office-coffee-maker-turned-animation-director was said to draw so fast that two people were needed to pin his drawings to a wall while he was churning them out.
Tom and Jerry’s Names Were Chosen from a Hat
MGM put out prize money of $50 for whichever employee’s name suggestion got pulled from a hat. New York animator Jack Carr won the prize for his Tom and Jerry suggestion. Barbera has said that at the time, no one was really impressed by the names, but they soon found out that “the simpler the name, the easier it is to remember.”
’Tom and Jerry’ Inspired ‘Jackass’
“Some ideas I take straight from cartoons,” Johnny Knoxville once revealed. “Tom and Jerry especially, because it’s just two people at funny war with things they have around the house. Basically, Jackass, right? I look at life as a cartoon. It’s cost me a couple of times, but we’ve also gotten some great footage because of it.” He added that the bullring stunt from Jackass Number Two was “a direct lift from a Tom and Jerry cartoon.”
The 2021 Live-Action Hybrid Movie Used Puppeteers Instead of Tennis Balls
“The actors want to be able to have something to act against, and one thing we found in the preparation for the movie was to have puppeteers,” Tom and Jerry director Tim Story explained. “Jerry was a little harder. Sometimes, we have a little figure of Jerry on set, so you can see how small he was. But with Tom, there was a greyscale, meaning a gray version of Tom. Since Tom did not speak, it made it really simple for them to literally act out what Tom was doing with the actors to the point where the actors would actually do maybe their first two or three takes with the puppeteer.”
The Mischief of the Cartoon Spilled Over into the Office
Irven Spence, who was one of the animators to join the Tom and Jerry team at MGM, once told of the many playful shenanigans their team would get up to in the office. “Joe Barbera loved to play gags on me,” he has remembered. “I had a desk next to the wall, with Joe and Bill’s office on the other side. One day, Joe drilled a hole through the wall, right about where my head would be on the other side. He ran a soda straw through the hole, and when he knew I was sitting at my desk, he filled his mouth with water and squirted it through the hole onto my head.”
Spence, however, didn’t just take it. “I had my revenge. Joe had a desk where he would stand to make the sketches for Tom and Jerry. I rigged one of the big film cans with water and placed it on a shelf above his desk. Then, I fastened a string to a stick underneath the can and attached the string to an electric fan. When he came back to his desk and turned on his light, the fan started and wound up the string, which upset the can. Joe heard the noise of the winding string, stepped back, and the water splashed on his desk.”
The Revival of ‘Tom and Jerry’
MGM stopped producing Tom and Jerry shorts in 1957, only to revive their money-making cartoon in 1960 and outsource production to Rembrandt Films. The following 13 episodes would all be directed by Gene Deitch in Prague. Deitch once wrote that MGM had made a “big booboo” when they fired Hanna and Barbera and closed down shop and that he didn’t initially care for their cat and mouse cartoon. “Personally, as a UPA man, I had always cited Tom and Jerry cartoons as the primary bad example of senseless violence,” he wrote. “Humor based on pain, attack, and revenge — to say nothing of the tasteless use of a headless Black woman stereotype house servant.”
Deitch did, however, say that he appreciated the “perfect craftsmanship, the expressive animation, with its exquisite timing, the endless gag inventiveness and the characters’ incredible damage survival” of Hanna and Barbera’s cartoon.
Czech Animators from Rembrandt Films Were Given English Names in the Credits (Because Communism)
Deitch revealed that MGM was worried about the “communist Czechoslovak connection. We were able to use the classic MGM roaring lion logo to head up our T&Js, but the originals always had the line, ‘Made in Hollywood, USA’ on the end titles. Obviously, we could not put ‘Made in communist Czechoslovakia’ on our titles! We were not even allowed to credit any Czechs with their true names.” He went on to set the record straight, providing the real names of his team:
- Victor Little was actually Václav Lídl (composer)
- S. Newman was actually Zdenka Najmanová (production mgr.)
- M. Clicker was actually Milan Klikar (his premier animator)
- V. Marsh was actually Vera Maresová (animator)
- A. Booresh was actually Antonín Bures (animator)
- Dennis Smith was actually Zdeněk Smetana (animator)
On Top of That, Rembrandt Films Were Short-Changed
While MGM spent $40,000 per short while Hanna and Barbera were producing roughly six films per year before they were let go, Deitch said that Rembrandt Films were expected to produce 12 short films a year “with a peanuts studio budget of only $10,000 a piece!”
Enter Chuck Jones
After Warner Bros. fired Chuck Jones, he started his animation studio, Sib Tower 12 Productions, and began producing Tom and Jerry shorts for MGM in 1963. For the next four years, Jones would contribute 34 more shorts to the Tom and Jerry collection, but the famous animator — who was more focused on character and style than gags and plotting — struggled to adapt to the brand of one violent sequence after another. Still, he managed to lean into his Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner style and produce the classic chases people had come to expect from Tom Cat and Jerry Mouse. Besides, MGM had given Jones what he’d always wanted: creative control and more money than he ever got at Warner Bros.
Many of the Cartoons Have Been Edited Over the Years
Since Tom and Jerry first hit television in 1965, numerous episodes have seen problematic parts either edited out or dubbed over. When Hanna-Barbera got to produce their own episodes for The Tom and Jerry Show in 1975, they had to cut way back on the violence to keep with the rules of kids’ television at the time. Instead of Tom and Jerry gunning for each other in a who-can-hurt-who-more fashion, they became friends who would embark on adventures together instead of constantly impaling or hitting each other with giant hammers.
In 2006, the British media regulator Ofcom decided to censor Texas Tom and Tennis Chumps because a viewer complained that it depicted cartoon animals smoking.
In 2013, two short films were omitted from the Warner Bros.’s Golden Collection because they featured blackface versions of both Tom and Jerry.
In 2017, Amazon started putting out racism disclaimers to accompany their streaming of the Tom and Jerry series. The disclaimer warned that Tom and Jerry contains “some ethnic and racial prejudices that were once commonplace in American society.” It also stated that characters like Mammy Two Shoes “were wrong then and are wrong today.”
The ‘White Mammy Two Shoes’
The character of Mammy Two Shoes was and remains controversial in its portrayal of a Black maid in Tom and Jerry’s house, and in the 1960s, Chuck Jones and his crew were tasked to edit old cartoons and either take her out or replace her with what’s been called the “White Mammy Two Shoes.” Below, you can see the original cut of Saturday Evening Puss versus the edited version that ran on television in the 1960s and 1970s.
How ‘Tom and Jerry’ Inspired ‘One Piece’
The manga creator Eiichiro Oda explained during an interview that Luffy’s Gear 5 form in One Piece was inspired by the slapstick cartoon series. “For the concept, think of it as if I suddenly drew Tom and Jerry,” Oda said. “When I tried to draw it, it was actually difficult. The world of Tom and Jerry works because of the two of them. I suffered because of the difference in attitude when I looked at Luffy being the only one making pranks in battle and his opponent not. But I feel this time I was able to draw it.”
Tom and Jerry Is Getting a Southeast Asian Remake
A new Southeast Asian Tom and Jerry series is being developed in association with Warner Bros. Animation in Asia and is set to be released abroad by the end of the year (and internationally soon after). “This series brings back the iconic music and classic animation style from the Hanna-Barbera 1950s era — but with a modern Singaporean twist,” Christopher Ho from Warner Bros. Discovery explained. “With distinctive landmarks, backdrops and atmosphere, the Asian city-state is the ideal location to create a humorous addition to the Tom and Jerry canon. Working with homegrown creative talent in Singapore and across Asia, this project grows the much-loved franchise in the region and beyond.”