The duo was dreamt up from a place of desperation. MGM’s animation department, where creators Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera worked, had struggled to emulate the success of other studios who had hit characters like Porky Pig and Mickey Mouse.
Out of boredom, the animators, both aged under 30, began thinking up their own ideas. Barbera said he loved the simple concept of a cat and mouse cartoon, with conflict and chase, even though it had been done countless times before.
Puss gets the Boot was the first they released, in 1940. The debut was a hit and won the studio an Oscar nomination for best animated short. Despite their work, the animators were not credited.
Managers initially told them not to put all their eggs in one basket. A change of heart came only when a letter arrived from an influential industry figure in Texas asking when she would see another one of those “wonderful cat and mouse cartoons”.
Jasper and Jinx, as they were first known, became Tom and Jerry.