Joe Ruby obituary | Anthony Hayward

Joe Ruby, who has died aged 87, was an animator who, with his professional partner, Ken Spears, brought to television one of its most enduring cartoon heroes, Scooby-Doo, still on screen after 51 years. They created the talking Great Dane and his friends, four crime-solving teenagers, Shaggy, Fred, Velma and Daphne, for the Hanna-Barbera studio in 1969.

Fred Silverman, a CBS television executive, wanted the studio to come up with a programme for his American network’s Saturday-morning children’s schedule to build on the success of The Archie Show, which starred the fictional bubblegum pop group The Archies, who had a real-life No 1 single with Sugar, Sugar.

After passing on his “scary” concept, based on horror comedy films and characters like those in The Archies or in the TV teen sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Ruby and Spears came up with a cartoon titled Mysteries Five, after the name of another pop group – including a cowardly, bongo-playing German shepherd – this time involved in spooky adventures when not playing gigs. Silverman rejected the idea, wanting a Great Dane instead, and Ruby and Spears revised their concept to feature Dobie Gillis-style teens, but it was turned down by CBS bosses as being too scary for the audience.

Silverman gave Ruby and Spears instructions to play up the comedy element and had the idea himself for the dog’s name and programme title, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, after hearing Frank Sinatra singing Strangers in the Night, with his ad-libbed “doo-be-doo-be-doo” vocal during the fade-out.

Ruby and Spears made Scooby a brown dog with black spots, blue collar, diamond-shaped gold tag and the ability to run on two legs. A member of Mystery Inc, a gang of amateur sleuths from California who drive around in a van named the Mystery Machine, Scooby also has a penchant for snacks, handy for bribing him when he is being cowardly while investigating ghostly dramas.

Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, 2011
Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, 2011. Photograph: Warner Bros. Animation/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
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This version was accepted, so Ruby and Spears wrote the first five episodes, then supervised and story-edited the rest of the original series (1969-70). It was an immediate success, attracting two-thirds of American Saturday-morning viewers, and continued worldwide under many different titles. The latest series, Scooby-Doo and Guess Who?, was launched in 2019. “We were worried it wouldn’t last but one season,” Ruby said. Two live-action feature film versions have also been produced.

Joe was born in Los Angeles to a Canadian couple, Mildred (nee Fineberg) and Carl Ruby, a doctor. He was educated at Fairfax high school and served with the US Navy as a destroyer’s sonar operator during the Korean war. A fan of comic books, he studied art, then joined Walt Disney Productions’ inbetweeners department, drawing frames to link those supplied by different animators.

He switched to Hanna-Barbera in 1959 and first worked with Spears the following year on The Flintstones (until 1963), both as film editors. Ruby also worked in that capacity on Top Cat and The Yogi Bear Show, in 1961, and The Jetsons (1962-63).

With Spears, he wrote episodes of The Perils of Penelope Pitstop (1969-70) and other Hanna-Barbera cartoons, and was story supervisor on Josie and the Pussycats (1970-71) and Harlem Globe Trotters (1970-73); the two of them were also story consultants on the live-action series Planet of the Apes (1974).

They followed Silverman to the ABC network in 1976 to oversee its children’s programming, including a new Hanna-Barbera-produced Scooby-Doo show, and created Jabberjaw (1976-78).

They set up their own studio, Ruby-Spears Productions, in 1977 to produce cartoons such as Alvin and the Chipmunks (1983-90), Mister T (1983-85), Punky Brewster (1985-86), Rambo (1986), Superman (1988) and Police Academy: The Animated Series (1988-89). Originally backed by ABC, Ruby-Spears Productions was sold to Filmways after a year and then to Hanna-Barbera’s parent company, Taft Entertainment, in 1981.

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Ruby’s first marriage, to Sheila Averbach in 1954, ended in divorce. He is survived by his second wife, Carole (nee Herman), whom he married in 1957, and their children, Cliff, Deanna, Craig and Debra.

• Joseph Clemens Ruby, animator, writer and producer, born 30 March 1933; died 26 August 2020


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