Harman and Ising first worked in animation in the early 1920s at Walt Disney's studio in Kansas City. When Disney moved operations to California, Harman, Ising, and fellow animator Carman Maxwell stayed behind to try to start their own studio. Their plans went nowhere, however, and the men soon rejoined Disney to work on his Alice Comedies and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit films. It was during this time, that Harman and Ising developed a style of cartoon drawing that would later be closely associated with, and credited to, Disney.
When producer Charles Mintz ended his association with Disney, Harman and Ising went to work for Mintz, whose brother-in-law, George Winkler, set up a new animation studio to make the Oswald cartoons. The Oswald cartoons which Harman and Ising produced in 1928 and 1929 already show their distinctive style, which would later characterize their work on the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoon series for Warner Bros. For example, in Sick Cylinders (1929) there are sequences which were later remade very closely in such Harman and Ising Warner Bros. efforts as Sinkin' in the Bathtub (1930) and Bosko's Holiday (1931). The Oswald cartoons that Harman and Ising worked on are completely different from the Oswald cartoons made before and after Disney and can easily be distinguished by anyone familiar with their work. Late in 1929, Universal Pictures who owned the rights to Oswald, started its own animation studio headed by Walter Lantz, replacing Mintz and forcing Harman and Ising out of work.
Warner Bros. and Van Beuren
Harman and Ising had long aspired to start their own studio, and had created and copyrighted the cartoon character Bosko in 1928. After losing their jobs at the Winkler studio, Harman and Ising financed a short Bosko demonstration film called Bosko, the Talk-Ink Kid. The cartoon featured Bosko at odds with his animator – portrayed in live-action by Rudy Ising; impressed Leon Schlesinger, who paired Harman and Ising with Warner Bros. Schlesinger wanted the Bosko character to star in a new series of cartoons he dubbed Looney Tunes (the title being a parody of Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies). The pair made Sinkin' in the Bathtub in 1930, and the cartoon did well. Harman took over direction of the Looney Tunes starring the character, while Ising took a sister series called Merrie Melodies that consisted of one-shot stories and characters.
The two animators broke off ties with Schlesinger later in 1933 over budget disputes with the producer, and went to the Van Beuren studio, which was making cartoons for RKO Radio Pictures. There, they were offered a contract to produce the Cubby Bear cartoon series. Harman and Ising produced two released cartoons for this series, but were in the midst of making a third cartoon when a contractual dispute arose. The pair left Van Beuren, but kept the completed cartoon and finally released it in the 1940s.
Harman and Ising had maintained the rights to the Bosko character, and they signed a deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to start a new series of Bosko shorts in 1934. The two maintained the same division of work they had used at Warner Bros.: Harman worked on Bosko shorts, and Ising directed one-shots. They also tried unsuccessfully to create new cartoon stars for their new distributors. Their cartoons, though technically superior to those they had made for Schlesinger at Warner's, were still music-driven shorts with little to no plot. When the new Happy Harmonies series ran significantly over-budget in 1937, MGM fired Harman and Ising and established its own in-house studio, the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cartoon studio, which was headed by Fred Quimby.
Harman and Ising still found work at the time as animation freelancers. Harman and Ising lent their former ink-and-painters to Walt Disney while Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was behind schedule. Disney afterward commissioned Harman and Ising to produce a Silly Symphony cartoon, Merbabies, in return. Disney reneged on a deal he had made for two other Harman-Ising cartoons to be produced for the studio. Harman and Ising sold the cartoons to MGM, and Quimby later agreed to hire the animators back to the studio. Ising created the character Barney Bear for MGM at this time, basing the sleepy-eyed character partially on himself.
In 1939, Harman created his masterpiece, Peace on Earth, a downbeat morality tale about two squirrels discovering the evils of humanity, which was nominated for an Oscar. The following year, Ising produced William Hanna and Joseph Barbera's first cartoon, Puss Gets the Boot, a cartoon featuring characters later known as Tom and Jerry. Despite the popularity of Puss Gets the Boot, Ising's The Milky Way was more successful and became the first non-Disney film to actually win the Academy Award trophy. Despite the success of these and other cartoons, MGM's production under Harman and Ising remained low.
In 1941, Harman left MGM and formed a new studio with Disney veteran Mel Shaw. The two took over Ub Iwerks' old studio in Beverly Hills, California, where they created training films for the Army. In 1942, Ising also quit MGM, in his case to join the military.
Later career and legacy
In 1960, Harman-Ising produced a pilot episode for a made for TV cartoon series titled The Adventures of Sir Gee Whiz on the Other Side of the Moon. The unsold pilot for the never produced series was profiled on episode 6 of Cartoon Dump. Rudy Ising was the voice of Sir Gee Whiz.
Although Harman and Ising contributed to much of what would later be known as the Disney style, they have been dismissed as mere copycats. In reality, Harman and Ising never attempted to imitate Disney; they were attempting to make refined polished cartoons whose quality would shine in comparison to the work of others. Their repeated attempts to make quality cartoons and their refusal to be bound by budgets led to numerous disputes with their producers. Because of this, they were unable to create any enduring characters. Instead, they created studios that would later produce such characters.
- Putterman, Barry, "Le origini: il periodo Harman-Ising (1930-1935)" Griffithiana Vol VII nr 16-17 (June 1984); p 10.
- Catalog of Copyright Entries: Motion Pictures: 1912-1939 Copyright Office: Library of Congress, 1951: 770.
- Catalog of Copyright Entries: Motion Pictures: 1912-1939 Copyright Office: Library of Congress, 1951: 755.
- Catalog of Copyright Entries: Motion Pictures: 1912-1939 Copyright Office: Library of Congress, 1951: 84.
- Putterman, Barry, "Le origini: il periodo Harman-Ising (1930-1935)" Griffithiana Vol VII nr 16-17 (June 1984); p 11.
- Putterman, Barry, "Le origini: il periodo Harman-Ising (1930-1935)" Griffithiana Vol VII nr 16-17 (June 1984); p 13.
- Putterman, Barry, "Le origini: il periodo Harman-Ising (1930-1935)" Griffithiana Vol VII nr 16-17 (June 1984); p 14.
- "Good Wrinkles : All-Scope Pictures, Inc. : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". Archive.org. Retrieved 2015-05-30.
- "The Adventures of Sir Gee Whiz on the Other Side of the Moon (1960)". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2015-05-30.
- "Cartoonbrewfilms.com". Cartoonbrewfilms.com. Retrieved 2015-05-30.
- "Interviews: Hugh Harman". MichaelBarrier.com. Retrieved 2015-05-30.