Joe Ruby, co-creator of Scooby-Doo, dies at 87

Noble Horvath

Joe Ruby, who helped invigorate Saturday morning children’s television as the co-creator of Scooby-Doo, the long-running animated franchise about a group of teenage private eyes and their chicken-hearted, snack-guzzling Great Dane, died Aug. 26 at his home in Westlake Village, Calif. He was 87. The cause was complications from a […]

Joe Ruby, who helped invigorate Saturday morning children’s television as the co-creator of Scooby-Doo, the long-running animated franchise about a group of teenage private eyes and their chicken-hearted, snack-guzzling Great Dane, died Aug. 26 at his home in Westlake Village, Calif. He was 87.

The cause was complications from a fall, said his wife, Carole Ruby.

A prolific writer and producer, Ruby created “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” with Ken Spears, his longtime writing partner at the animation studio Hanna-Barbera. Premiering in 1969, the show ran for two seasons on CBS and grew into a pop culture phenomenon, inspiring two live-action films, a host of spinoff series and a slew of animated imitators involving teenagers, animals and lighthearted mysteries.

Mixing thrills, slapstick humor and a touch of the supernatural, the show has remained on-air in one form or another for more than half a century, reliably entertaining two generations of viewers who have counted on Scooby-Doo to chase down villains and criminals disguised as ghosts, phantoms, mummies and werewolves.

The original show featured four teens who traveled in a psychedelic van, the Mystery Machine, solving crimes such as sheep rustling and art forgery with help from their dog Scooby-Doo, who spoke limited English and responded to the first sign of trouble with “Ruh-Roh.”

The gang included Daphne, the beauty; Velma, the brains; and Fred, the ascot-wearing leader. And then there was Scooby’s sidekick Shaggy (originally voiced by Casey Kasem), a bell-bottomed slacker who was frequently startled – “Zoinks!” – and who always had the munchies.

Most “Scooby-Doo” episodes ended with the gang tracking down a monster, then revealing the culprit to be – “Jinkies!” – an ordinary person introduced earlier in the show. “And I would have gotten away with it, too,” a typical villain declared after being unmasked, “if it weren’t for you meddling kids.”

While Ruby and Spears were considered the show’s co-creators and wrote most of the first season’s episodes, much of the credit for Scooby-Doo’s success went to Iwao Takamoto, a Japanese American animator who drew the original sketches for its main characters.

The basic premise was suggested by CBS executive Fred Silverman, who wanted a Hanna-Barbera program modeled after 1940s radio series such as “I Love a Mystery,” but with kids, as in the Archie comics series. When producer Joseph Barbera asked Ruby and Spears to get to work, Ruby suggested adding a new wrinkle.

“Is it OK if we put a dog in it? Because we know Freddy Silverman likes dogs,” he said, according to an account Spears gave to entertainment writer Michael Stailey. “And Joe Barbera said, ‘Sure, do anything you want.’ “

Ruby said he considered a small, feisty sheepdog character before settling on an oversize, cowardly Great Dane inspired by actor and comedian Bob Hope. The dog was initially called Too Much – the show was tentatively named “Mysteries Five” – before Silverman said he pushed for raising the character’s profile and renaming him Scooby-Doo, after hearing Frank Sinatra scatting “doo-be-doo-be-doo” on a recording of “Strangers in the Night.”

While “Scooby-Doo” became the biggest hit of his career, Ruby received no additional compensation for creating the series aside from his $400-a-week salary, his wife said. “He’s created so much, worked so hard, and got no recognition ever,” she said in a phone interview, adding that it was bittersweet to see tributes to Ruby after his death.

“Joe Ruby made Saturday mornings special for so many children, including myself,” said Sam Register, president of Warner Bros. Animation and Cartoon Network Studios. In a statement, he added that Ruby “was one of the most prolific creators in our industry” and “gifted us some of animation’s most treasured characters.”

Ruby and Spears created Hanna-Barbera shows including “Dynomutt, Dog Wonder” and “Jabberjaw,” about an anthropomorphic great white shark who plays the drums in a rock band. They also supervised Saturday morning programming at ABC before forming their own animation studio, Ruby-Spears, in 1977.

The company produced shows including “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” “Mister T” and “Thundarr the Barbarian,” a post-apocalyptic fantasy series that was partly designed by Jack Kirby, the comic book artist behind Marvel superheroes such as the Fantastic Four and the X-Men.

“In the history of Saturday Morning Cartoons, Ruby-Spears stands apart as a production company that crafted some of the most inventive and strange children’s stories,” Brad Gullickson wrote last month in an article for Film School Rejects, an entertainment website.

“The ’70s were a wild era of experimentation,” he added, “and while they would eventually seek quick bucks with licensed properties like Mister T, Police Academy, and Rambo, they consistently swung wickedly toward the fences.”

Joseph Clemens Ruby was born in Los Angeles on March 30, 1933. His mother was a homemaker, and his father was a neurologist who dismissed his youthful interest in cartooning. “You’ll never make a penny being an artist,” he said, according to Carole Ruby.

After serving in the Korean War as a Navy sonar technician, Ruby returned home and set about proving his father wrong. He joined Walt Disney Studios and soon moved to Hanna-Barbera, a company with a collaborative, all-hands approach that led Ruby to work variously on sound effects, music and editing. By 1959, he had begun to write short segments for “The Huckleberry Hound Show.”

Ruby and Spears worked in different departments and met by chance, after Life magazine began reporting a story about Hanna-Barbera. “Joe Barbera called us together, introducing us to the reporters as the next writing team for the studio,” Spears later told the website Scooby Addicts.

“Which took another eight years,” Ruby interjected, “following a bunch of other ‘next’ writers.”

Ruby later worked as a writer on a 1974 TV spinoff of “Planet of the Apes.” In a far darker story than would ever appear on Scooby-Doo, he also produced and co-wrote the fairy-tale horror movie “Rumpelstiltskin” (1995), his last credit as a producer.

In addition to his wife of 63 years, the former Carole Herman, survivors include four children and 10 grandchildren.

In an email, Ramin Zahed, editor in chief of Animation Magazine, noted that “Scooby-Doo” premiered in the wake of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, and when the Vietnam War was at full tilt. Its central conceit — youngsters exposing the crimes of an older generation — was also “the subtext of many pop culture icons of the era,” he wrote.

“There was a genuine comfort-food quality about the series,” he added. “You always knew what you were going to get.”

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