Hugh Harman was an American animator best known for creating the Warner Bros. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer animation studios. Harman is also best known for his Nobel Peace Prize and Oscar nominee MGM cartoon "Peace on Earth" in 1939 and for his works with partner Rudolf Ising.
Hugh Harman first worked in animation in the early 1920s at Walt Disney's studio in Kansas City. When Disney moved operations to California, Harman, Rudolf Ising, and fellow animator Carman Maxwell stayed behind to try to start their own studio. Their plans went nowhere, however, and the men soon rejoined Disney to work on his Alice Comedies and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit films. It was during this time, that Harman and Ising developed a style of cartoon drawing that would later be closely associated with, and credited to, Disney.
When producer Charles Mintz ended his association with Disney, Harman and Ising went to work for Mintz, whose brother-in-law, George Winkler, set up a new animation studio to make the Oswald cartoons.
Harman and Ising left Universal Studios to try to get Leon Schlesinger to approve their newest series Looney Tunes, with a character named Bosko. Schlesinger approved, and the series went on to major success. A sister series, Merrie Melodies was created a year later (the title being a parody of Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies).
Harman and Ising had a fallout with Schlesinger in 1933 and soon departed for MGM, taking the copyrights to Bosko with them. There, he and Ising created another series that parodied Silly Symphonies again, Happy Harmonies. At MGM, 37 shorts were produced until 1938 when the series ended. After the series ended, MGM terminated Harman and Ising, who were subcontracted to produced cartoons for MGM, though they were rehired back the following year.
Harman still found some work as an animation freelancer, directing, for example, cartoons in the Silly Symphonies series for Disney in 1938. When Disney later reneged on a deal he had made for two other Harman-Ising pictures, the animators sold the cartoons to Fred Quimby at MGM. Quimby rehired Harman and Ising, but they no longer worked together.
The following year, Harman's "Peace on Earth" was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize as well as an Oscar. Hugh Harman left MGM to start a new animation studio with Disney animator Mel Shaw.
Hugh Harman is not very well known today. Although he and Ising contributed to much of what would later be known as the Disney style, they have been dismissed as mere copycats. In reality, Harman and Ising never attempted to imitate Disney; they were attempting to make refined polished cartoons whose quality would shine in comparison to the work of others. Their repeated attempts to make quality cartoons and their refusal to be bound by budgets led to numerous disputes with their producers. Because of this, they were unable to create any enduring characters. Instead, they created studios that would later produce such characters.