Were Tom and Jerry Inspired By….Tom and Jerry?!

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about movies and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the Movie urban legends featured so far.

MOVIE LEGEND: Tom and Jerry were named after a cartoon featuring human characters named Tom and Jerry that Tom and Jerry co-creator, Joe Barbera, had worked on earlier.

Created for MGM in 1940 (well, technically 1941, as you’ll see later on in this story), the Tom and Jerry characters were William Hanna and Joe Barbera’s first huge hit working together, as they worked on the cartoons (which aired as film shorts) for nearly 20 years, picking up a pile of Academy Awards for their work. MGM eventually decided that it was cheaper to just re-air old cartoons than make new ones, so they shut down their entire cartoon division.

Luckily, Hanna and Barbera then teamed up to form a cartoon studio that made cartoons for television and, well, I think you know how well THAT turned out.

In any event, my friend Chris N. wrote to me to ask if Tom and Jerry were inspired by an old 1930s cartoon duo, a human team who were ALSO called Tom and Jerry!

Created by Amadee J. Van Beuren’s New York studio, Joe Barbera even WORKED for Van Beueren it the early 1930s (after the original Tom and Jerry cartoons had debuted, though)! So, is there a connection?

Oddly enough, it doesn’t appear to be one, no.

Tom and Jerry is credited as being introduced in 1940, but in reality, the 1940 story that introduced the characters, “Puss Gets the Boot,” technically starred two OTHER characters, Jasper and Jinx, who had slightly different designs…

MGM originally did not like Hanna and Barbera’s idea of doing another cat and mouse cartoon right after “Puss Gets the Boot” (which was nominated for an Academy Award), but they eventually let the pair go with their idea to do more stories featuring the characters. However, now that they were going to be a regular thing, Hanna and Barbera wanted to both tweak their design and come up with a new name for the pair. So they had a contest with the animators at MGM to name the pair.

Animator Jack Carr won the contest. He suggested “Tom and Jerry,” Tom and Jerry were characters in an old Pierre Egan play, but by the 20th Century, they had become much more familiar as both the name of a drink (a Christmastime drink involving eggnog, rum and brandy – also devised by Egan) and as the slang term people used to describe British and German soldiers (Tom and Jerry, respectively) during World War I. So the phrase was a common one, and when you add in the double meaning of “tomcat,” it just made sense. Hanna and Barbera weren’t thrilled with naming their characters after a phrase then most popular as being a drink name, but they went with it, and obviously the cartoon ended up taking over the name (by the way, when the original Tom and Jerry cartoon aired on TV years later, they obviously had to change their names, so they went with Dick and Harry).

So there does not appear to be any connection to the original Tom and Jerry cartoon, so I’m going with the legend as…


Thanks to Chris for the question!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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