Pioneering animation scribe/executive Joe Ruby passed away on Wednesday, August 26 at the age of 87 and, though his was a life fully and well-lived with a variety of accomplishments littering his star-studded resume, he will best be remembered by countless children both present and past as one of the parents of the iconic Scooby Doo cartoon franchise. He is survived by Carole, his wife of sixty three years, four children and a whole passel of grandkids.
Born on March 30, 1933 as Joseph Clemens Ruby in Los Angeles, California, there was little indication early on that this amiable gentleman would go on to re-popularize the ascot and parcel out a million and one Scooby snacks to fans worldwide. Instead, after working as an inbetweener at Walt Disney Productions where he learned the art and the craft of hand drawn animation, he became another sort of hero when he served in the Navy during the Korean War, working as a sonar operator. Perhaps the very act of having to stare over a tiny sonar screen for hours foreshadowed his own ultimate involvement in the world of small screen television. Or is that a tad too on the head? Suffice it to say that the Navy and Joe Ruby eventually and amicably parted ways and, although the future visionary attempted a career for a short time in live-action television, it was animation and the limitless possibilities therein inherent that ultimately called him to the now nigh mythical Hanna-Barbera Productions. There, the budding animator and writer lucked into a life-changing partnership with Ken Spears. Teaming up, the two visionaries created a veritable stable of cartoon evergreens for William Hanna and Joseph Barbera including the likes of Dynomutt and Jabberjaw. But it wasn’t until the two men sat down and brainstormed into four colored life a wiseacre talking dog, his voracious beatnik pal, an ascot wearing crime sleuth, a brainy and bespectacled girl and a shimmering ingenue with red hair and a micro-skirt that they finally hit creative and commercially lucrative pay dirt.
On September 13, 1969 (a Saturday, natch!) the premiere episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You took the kiddie world by storm and nothing would ever be the same again. With the standard Saturday morning formulaic plot – a story done all in one with a neat opening, middle act and revelatory finale – stocked from floor to rafters with characters that were anything but formula or cliché, the series quickly became a staple of everyone’s childhood, whether they lived in Brooklyn, New York or Brooklyn, Tennessee. The clever quips from the five main protagonists – Scooby-Doo, Shaggy, Fred, Velma and Daphne – along with fast paced storytelling and a killer soundtrack made this cartoon something special indeed. So much so that, in one iteration or another (traditional animated show, comic books, feature live action films, video games, standalone animated features, computer animated films, etc.) Scooby-Doo and the Mystery Gang have always been with us, becoming a generational best friend to children still mastering the rules of the world and remaining a steadfast companion to millions of us who grew up watching Scooby as kids ourselves. Like guardian angel Clarence from Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, Scooby is the canine angel on our shoulder and the lessons he taught us as kids are just as relevant now as they were when we were just knee-high to a grasshopper; All of this because of Joe Ruby and partner-in-crime Ken Spears.
Although Ruby and Spears only wrote the first five episodes of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You, the basic building blocks of who the characters of the show were and the framework that consisted of the gang’s mysteries and how they went about solving them has endured to this day.
Joe Ruby went on to have even more great success as an executive producer after Scooby-Doo, having his hand in a variety of well-received projects such as animated versions of Punky Brewster, Rambo and the Police Academy films. Ruby, ever the visionary, was never insecure about collaboration, at one point even teaming up with iconic comic book artist Jack Kirby. But it always came back to that beautiful Great Dane and his zany crew of pals tooling around the countryside in the Mystery Machine solving crimes wherever they were needed. Somehow, in my own mind’s eye, that’s what I like to think of Joe and his creations doing right now, even as I type this appreciation out: Ever moving down a late night, fog shrouded lonely road, looking for fun and adventure around every bend even as we the audience stand longingly in the rearview mirror of the Mystery Machine, receding from the Mystery Gang’s view waving them a fond farewell. Of course, Scooby and company are still around, but today – without Joe – they seem a little more diminished, their magic still there but forever now lacking the unique guiding hand of one of their creators.
Happy trails, Joe. Jinkies, we’ll sure miss you.