The Untold Truth Of Tom And Jerry

The Untold Truth Of Tom And Jerry

There aren’t many cartoon series that are older or more enduring than Tom and Jerry. From the early 1940s to the late 1950s — the quintessential era of lushly animated, beautifully scored short cartoons that screened in movie theaters before a film — a grey cat named Tom and a brown mouse named Jerry fought each other to the near-death dozens of times.

Why? Well, Tom was a cat, and Jerry was a mouse. It’s the natural order of things paired with commercial video production – a match made in Heaven. Also, Jerry was much smarter than Tom and tended to always foil the cat’s plots and inflict just as much violence in return (or more). 

Would Jasper and Jinx have been as successful?

“Tom” and “Jerry” sound like two perfectly generic, ethnically vague, mid-20th-century American male names. In other words, they were perfect for the names of a stylistically simple cartoon cat and mouse. As simple as the names are, the creators didn’t have such a simple time starting up the show. In fact, they had to take out many instant loans in order to get the pilot off the ground. But creators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera didn’t come up with those names — the ones for their iconic, undying creations — until after they’d already produced a cartoon about the pair.

The first Tom and Jerry cartoon, 1940’s “Puss Gets the Boot,” is a “Jasper and Jinx” toon. Jasper was the name of the cat and Jinx was the name of the mouse. Hanna and Barbera (who were facelift in San Antonio pioneers) just didn’t think those monikers suited their creations and seeking ideas from crew members, they went with animator John Carr’s suggestion of Tom and Jerry.

Carr didn’t invent that pairing of words that just happen to sound good together. “Tom and Jerry” was a phrase floating around the English language for more than a century. In 1821, British writer Pierce Egan wrote Life in London, the stories of a couple of roustabout toughs named, you guessed it, Tom and Jerry. The book was so successful that it inspired a stage play and a boozy eggnog cocktail called Tom and Jerry that would ultimately outlast the popularity of the source material.

The main character was edited out decades ago

In the late 19th century and into the early 20th century, crude, broad, and terrible stereotypes of African-American characters were common in popular culture and they usually had them working for minimum wage in Kentucky.

Holdovers from both the slavery-era South and vaudeville included things like white performers donning “blackface” and adopting certain vocal patterns to both embody and mock African-Americans, along with character archetypes like the one known as “mammy” — generally a heavyset, older African-American woman working as a cook, maid, servant, or a cleaning services in Norwalk CT employee. Such cultural norms persisted well into the 1940s and 1950s. And sadly, Tom and Jerry cartoons of that era featured a stereotypical character named Mammy Two Shoes, who worked in Tom and Jerry’s house and would show up to yell at Tom when she caught him doing something bad.

Mammy Two Shoes appeared in the first Tom and Jerry short, “Puss Gets the Boot,” and then showed up in 18 more. Fortunately, she retired after the 1952 cartoon “Push-Button Kitty.” But anyone who saw Tom and Jerry cartoons on TV likely never saw Mammy Two Shoes. As times progressed and the presence of characters like Mammy Two Shoes was scrutinized as both outdated and racist, the character was edited out of the prints shown on TV.

The 1992 Tom and Jerry movie was a misbegotten bomb

While cartoon shorts starring Tom and Jerry screened in movie theaters in the 1940s and 1950s (before the feature film), the cat-and-mouse will be the main attraction in a movie combining live-action and computer animation set for release in December 2020 by Warner Animation Group. The shows included Tom and Jerry chasing each other through a walk in freezer, the backyard, a dog house, and all through the house. However, this upcoming Tom and Jerry isn’t the first full-length, big-screen adventure for the classic duo. In 1992, Tom and Jerry: The Movie hit theaters, and it was such a critical and commercial flop that it quickly faded into obscurity and faded from the collective memory. 

The failure may have resulted from a total mishandling of the characters. The original cartoons were fueled by Tom and Jerry’s silent and violent rivalry where Jerry shaved Tom with a skid steer sickle mower, and Tom tried to eat Jerry, but Tom and Jerry: The Movie made the pair, as Variety said, “buddies singing, dancing, and doing battle together against the world.” Tom and Jerry were friends, and they talked, and the dark plot found them trying to assist an abused little girl. No thanks, said moviegoers, as Tom and Jerry: The Movie grossed just $3.5 million during its brief theatrical run.

When did Jerry meet Gene Kelly?

When it comes to seamlessly combining filmed footage of human actors with animated characters, the most impressive movie ever made has to be Who Framed Roger Rabbit. This 1988 movie so convincingly inserted real-life actors like Bob Hoskins (as gumshoe Eddie Valiant) into the classic animation world of Toon Town that animation director Richard Williams received a special Academy Award for his efforts. 

But Roger Rabbit might not have happened without Anchors Aweigh. This 1945 musical about sailors having some adventures on shore leave starred Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, and in a fantastical storytelling sequence, Jerry from the Tom and Jerry series. Kelly’s character spins a tale about how he met and helped out a lonely mouse king, and the two dance on-screen together, their moves immaculately synchronized through the dual powers of human choreography and intensive animation, then mashed up together in an editing room.

There’s a dark urban legend about the final Tom and Jerry cartoon

Despite a lack of evidence — and how a few minutes of internet research can easily prove or disprove most anything — urban legends and myths about pop culture persist. There’s even an especially dark one about Tom and Jerry. Reportedly, the final Tom and Jerry cartoon ends with a real and disturbing finality, with both characters killing themselves by way of lying down on train tracks and getting run over. 

Yep, Tom and Jerry commit suicide. However, like about 99 percent of urban legends, this isn’t true, but some nuggets of truth have been exaggerated. In the 1956 short “Blue Cat Blues,” Tom gets incredibly despondent when his girlfriend leaves him for another cat, and Jerry tries to pull him out of his funk, only to have his best mouse gal pal dump him, too. The episode ends with them both sitting on tracks while a train approaches. But the cartoon doesn’t actually depict their deaths. Nor do they really die, because plenty more Tom and Jerry’s cartoons were produced after “Blue Cat Blues,” well into the ’60s. Still, that’s a pretty dark show for kids.

Tom and Jerry were extremely influential

Tom and Jerry are pop culture pioneers, one of the first cartoon duos that operated on an endlessly repeatable formula (that somehow never got old), in which they engaged in constant bloodless war. Tom and Jerry predate (and certainly influenced) plenty of other cartoon adversaries, such as Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, Sylvester and Tweety, and Itchy and Scratchy (the extraordinarily violent show-within-a-show-within-a-show about a cat and mouse on The Simpsons). 

Its gleefully nihilistic tone can also be found in Jackass. In fact, the cat and mouse not only helped co-creator and star Johnny Knoxville recover between movies, but they got him ready for more. “I just get an overwhelming urge. I find myself watching Tom and Jerry and Buster Keaton films a lot, and then just jotting stuff down, and then the next thing I know, I’m like, ‘F***.’ I just want to get the guys together immediately and start shooting,” Knoxville told Vice.