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Joe Ruby, a Creator of ‘Scooby-Doo,’ Is Dead at 87

2020-09-01 00:05:38

“Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” the ghostly, goofy animated mystery series featuring a ragtag quartet of teenage sleuths and a cowardly Great Dane with a gruff bark who leads the gang in and out of trouble, was a hit from its first episode in 1969.

It would become a Saturday morning staple at a time when broadcasters gave parents a break, and advertisers a bonanza, by devoting programming to children in the early hours of the weekend. And it would grow into one of the most lucrative franchises in the history of animation, making the reputations (but not the fortunes) of its creators, Ken Spears and Joe Ruby.

Mr. Ruby, a longtime writer and producer of animated television shows, died on Wednesday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 87.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Carole.

Mr. Ruby and Mr. Spears had been working mostly as editors at Hanna-Barbera, the leading TV animation studio, when they were charged with creating a show that was a mash-up of “I Love a Mystery,” a popular radio show heard from 1939 to 1944 about three adventure-seeking pals; the 1948 horror-comedy movie “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein”; and “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” the 1959-63 sitcom about a hapless teenager.

The directive, which came from Fred Silverman, then the head of daytime programming at CBS, also asked that a pop song be embedded in each episode, as was done on “The Archie Show.” The idea was for the new series to be soothing and nonviolent, an answer to the moral panic about violence in the media in the wake of Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination, said Kevin Sandler, an associate professor of film and media studies at Arizona State University.

The pop song part didn’t work out. But Mr. Ruby and Mr. Spears hit all the other marks by writing an adorable half-hour comedy-mystery with a lovable and hapless Great Dane — a character modeled, they often said, on the character Bob Hope played alongside Bing Crosby in the “Road” movies. After 15 or so drafts, they realized that the dog, Scooby-Doo, was the star. (The artist was Iwao Takamoto, another Hanna-Barbera veteran, who died in 2007.)

A half-century later, episodes of “Scooby-Doo” are still being broadcast, and it is considered the most spun-off series in the history of television, having spawned other series as well as feature films, video games, comic books and other merchandise, said Mr. Sandler, who is working on a book about the show. In 2004, the show beat “The Simpsons” to set a Guinness record for “most prolific cartoon,” at 350 episodes.

It has inspired fans in every decade, who cleaved to characters like the beatnik slacker Shaggy (based on Maynard G. Krebs from “Dobie Gillis”) and the bespectacled brainiac, Velma, who would become a lesbian heroine.

But Mr. Spears and Mr. Ruby never felt they received their creative due for the show.

Cartoons were considered work for hire, said Mr. Ruby’s son Cliff, and studios did not go out of their way to promote individual writers or artists.

Joseph Clemens Ruby was born in Los Angeles on March 30, 1933. His father, Carl, was a neurosurgeon; his mother, Mildred (Feinberg) Ruby, was a homemaker.

He joined the Navy after high school and served during the Korean War as a sonar operator on a destroyer; he later joined the Marines as a reservist. He had been drawing cartoons since high school and got his start in the business at Disney in the mid-1950s, moving quickly from the animation department to the sound department, where he found more opportunities. He then went to work for Hanna-Barbera, where he met Mr. Spears.

Hanna-Barbera was a relatively small studio at the time that was short of writers, and the pair started submitting gags and scripts on spec. They became network darlings and were the particular favorites of Mr. Silverman, said Mark Evanier, a television writer who later worked for Mr. Spears and Mr. Ruby. When Mr. Silverman moved to ABC, he took Mr. Spears and Mr. Ruby with him, and in 1977 he helped them set up their own studio.

Over the next 20 or so years, Ruby-Spears Productions created a slew of animated programs, among them “Thundarr the Barbarian,” starring a musclebound hero and set in a postapocalyptic future, and “Fangface,” featuring a lovable werewolf and a gang of teenagers — like “Scooby-Doo,” but with complications. The company also produced a reboot of “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and many other shows.

“He was a wonderful story man,” Margaret Loesch, a veteran producer of children’s television, said of Mr. Ruby. “And he took chances on new writers, encouraging them and mentoring them.”

In addition to his wife and his son Cliff, Mr. Ruby is survived by another son, Craig, and two daughters, Deanna Zevin and Debra Winsberg. His brother Daniel died a number of years ago.

Carole Ruby recalled that when she and Mr. Ruby had been married for a year, Mr. Ruby’s father gave them $50 as an anniversary present. He gave them cash, he said, because he was certain his son was never going to make it as an artist.


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