Eighty years ago, a gray cat failed to catch a brown mouse, and their cartoon double act — perhaps the cartoon double act —was born. Yes, its happy 80th birthday to Jasper and Jinx. (Yes, you did read that correctly.)
Jasper and Jinx, later renamed as Tom and Jerry, first appeared in Puss Gets the Boot, released onto cinema screens in February 1940, it was “Jasper” the cat, and “Jinx” the mouse who engaged in everlasting mortal combat. It would be the first of the animated shorts produced by animator William Hanna and director Joseph Barbera. At the time, Puss Gets the Boot was a one-off.
Hanna and Barbera met at MGM, then the largest production studio in Hollywood, and suggested a ‘cat vs. mouse’ cartoon to producer, Fred Quimby. Quimby gave it the green-light, but didn’t have much faith in the idea — cats versus mice seemed very tired at that point.
But the general public disagreed. The film was a hit.
In fact, it was much more than a hit — it was Academy Award nominated. No longer a one-off, Hanna and Barbera created 114 short Tom and Jerry films for MGM between 1940 and 1958, seven of which won Academy Awards for Best Animated Short Film.
Why “Tom and Jerry” and not “Jasper and Jinx”? Well, for reasons unknown, MGM held an internal competition to rename the pair. It was won by animator John Carr, who took his inspiration from the traditional Christmas drink named Tom and Jerry (a beverage which dates back to 1820.) The prize was $50.
Eventually, in an act of spectacular self-sabotage, MGM fired Hanna and Barbera, and outsourced production of Tom and Jerry cartoons. Quality declined sharply. Meanwhile Hanna and Barbera simply shrugged their shoulders and invented The Flintstones, Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, The Jetsons, Wacky Races and Scooby-Doo. These original cinema posters for Tom and Jerry date from the first four years of their ongoing feud.