Long before he encouraged families to meet George Jetson, hunt for pic-a-nic baskets with Yogi Bear or grab a Bronto-Burger with Fred Flintstone, William Hanna made a name for himself in the Scouting world.
About 15 years before he joined Joseph Barbera to form the animation team behind The Jetsons, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, Tom & Jerry and The Smurfs, Hanna earned Scouting’s highest honor. He became an Eagle Scout in 1924 as a member of Troop 2 of Watts, Calif. He was one of just 3,264 Scouts to earn the coveted rank that year.
“Preparation extended beyond merely ensuring that we had our canteens and pocketknives available for camping trips,” Hanna wrote in his 1996 autobiography, A Cast of Friends. “What the Boy Scouts endeavored to teach us were many of the character lessons regarding personal honor and service to others that prepared us to live sound, healthy and constructive lives.”
Hanna remained helpful and loyal to Scouting throughout his life, serving as a Scoutmaster and volunteer even as his skills as an animator and voice actor gained him international fame.
In 1980, the BSA presented him with the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award, an honor given to an Eagle Scout who has achieved national recognition. Other Eagle Scouts who received that award include President Gerald Ford, astronaut Neil Armstrong and director Steven Spielberg.
While Hanna (along with his teammate Barbera) would go on to win seven Oscars and eight Emmy Awards, he once said that he was most proud of his Distinguished Eagle Scout Award.
But the honors didn’t stop there. In 1991, the West Los Angeles Council (now the Western Los Angeles County Council) honored Hanna with its Americanism Award.
“William Hanna has been an invaluable member and supporter of the Boy Scouts for more than 65 years and has set a positive example for young Americans through his integrity and lifelong accomplishments,” said Eugene R. Richey, the council’s Scout Executive.
Hanna died in 2001 — 21 years ago this month — at the age of 90.
A flourishing love of the outdoors
William Hanna was born on July 14, 1910, in the New Mexico Territory. (New Mexico became the country’s 47th state in 1912.)
Hanna’s dad had a job building railroads and water systems throughout the West, which caused their family of nine to move often — first to Oregon, then Utah and finally California.
Hanna developed a love of the outdoors along the way. In 1922, a few years after his family moved to Watts, Calif., Hanna joined Scouting. It was the perfect outlet for his fascination with exploring nature.
One can’t help but draw a line from Hanna’s Scouting days to his creation of a forest-dwelling bear named Yogi nearly 40 years later.
An unlikely, but effective, partnership
After losing his job and dropping out of college during the Great Depression, Hanna found work making title cards for movies. His artistic talent got noticed, and he joined an animation studio.
Hanna worked his way up the Hollywood animation ranks before being asked to join MGM, where he would work for the studio’s fledgling animation wing.
At MGM, Hanna found himself seated at a desk across from a man named Joseph Barbera.
The two had a hunch that they would make a good team. The duo’s 60 years together — creating cultural icons that have been loved by generations of families — proved that hunch right.
The alliance worked, in part, not because the two men were best friends but because they weren’t.
“The fact is, we hardly ever talk to one another,” Barbera wrote in his 1994 autobiography, My Life in Toons. “We have almost nothing in common.”
For one, Barbera wrote, Hanna “loved the outdoors — hiking, camping, fishing.”
Barbera, on the other hand, “can’t imagine why anyone would want to hike when you can get in a car and drive.”
But Barbera knew of and respected Hanna’s passion for Scouting, writing that his partner “has remained very active in Scouting” ever since he was a boy.
A lifetime of friendship
While Hanna and Barbera weren’t best pals like Fred and Barney or Yogi and Boo-Boo, Hanna remained close with his Scouting friends throughout his life.
That’s one of the less-publicized aspects of Scouting. Many of the friendships formed in packs and troops last far beyond the young person’s time in the program.
For Hanna, these friends were G.D. Atkinson, Jack Ogden and Bill Tweedy. These three were the ones who first told Hanna “about an organization they’d heard about called the Boy Scouts.”
This was 1922, and the BSA was just 12 years old. But word was starting to spread. The Boy Scouts, Hanna learned, spent most of their time outdoors. And you got to learn things like how to save lives and build shelters.
“For a bunch of 12-year-old boys, this outfit sounded irresistibly adventurous,” Hanna wrote in A Cast of Friends.
Among Troop 2’s many camping destinations was an area called Cahuenga Pass. Hanna remembers a red-dirt trail, a steep hike and a perfect spot for tent camping.
“I hadn’t the slightest inkling that about a half-mile beyond our trail lay a tract of land that would, 35 years later, become the site of our present animation studio,” Hanna wrote.
In 1924, Hanna, Atkinson and Tweedy became Eagle Scouts.
“And the pride of that award, like our friendships, has lasted throughout our lives,” Hanna wrote.
Over the next six decades, members of Troop 2 gathered every year for a reunion.
“Time and death have thinned the ranks of this boyhood battalion until only about six of us remain,” Hanna wrote in 1996. “But the memories of those days when we all pledged and endeavored to ‘help others at all times, to keep ourselves physically strong, mentally alert and morally straight’ have never diminished.”