In My Life in 'Toons," Joe Barbera reveals himself to be "the instigator of the MGM Water Wars."
They began with little enough inspiration. I took a paper cup, filled it with water, and placed it above an office doorway. When the victim opened the door, the cup would tip, fall, and douse him with water. From this modest beginning, I graduated to brilliant feats of genuine engineering. I tied one end of a string to my desk fan, ran the string up and over the pipe for the sprinkler system, which ran overhead, then tied the other end to a two-handled trophy cup I had, which I filled with water. I plugged the fan into the socket for the animators light board, so that when he turned on his lightboard, the fan would start instead, wind up the string, upset the trophy cup, and, once again, douse the animator.
This technique rarely yielded a direct hit, though it did soak the desk, eliciting very satisfying screams and curses from the victim. It also incited others to join the ongoing combat. A particularly intense rivalry developed between Harvey Eisenberg, a layout man, and Irven—Irv—Spence, an animator. This escalated rapidly until one would take the entire bottle off the water cooler and use it against his foe as heavy artillery. Thus attacked, Irv, taking note of a hole in the back of Harveys shirt, stuck his finger in it and pulled down sharply, ripping his shirt from near the collar all the way to the tails. By way of retaliation, Harvey tore off the breast pocket of Irv's shirt. Irv then ripped off Harvey's. Before the two of them were through, they were both drenched, and their shirts hung down from their belts like hula skirts. Harvey then grabbed the water cooler bottle under one arm, climbed to the top of his desk, took hold of the overhead sprinkler pipe with his free hand, and started swinging from it like an ape.
At this juncture, Fred Quimby, who had been utterly unaware of our battles, walked in. The mouth opened. The jowls drooped. "Jeeezus. A bunch of goddamn high school kids." And he turned and walked out.
This hardly ended the wars. Irv Spence devised what he considered a brilliant defensive strategy. He brought into his office a pile of empty film cans, which he stacked precariously on the edge of his desk. He attached string to them, and ran it to the doorknob, so that nobody could come into his office without triggering a very loud booby trap.
At lunchtime I secured a ladder and a drill. I set up the ladder outside in the corridor and drilled through the plywood wall of Irv's office right over where his head would be. We all waited for Irv to come back from lunch. He went into his office and set up his defensive booby trap. With Irv behind his closed door, I brought back the ladder, set it up, took a big mouthful of water, climbed the ladder, put one end of the straw in my mouth and the other end through the hole I had drilled. Then I let loose with the water.
Now, we had timed all this, and we had studied the trajectories involved. The stream must have hit Irv squarely on the head. He let out a scream, and unable to figure out where the water was coming from, thoughtlessly pulled open his office door, triggering his own booby trap of some twenty empty metal film cans. It sounded like the end of the world. Of course it wasn't. But while we were throwing pushpins and developing the weapons of a water war, Europe and Asia were erupting in a very real war we all wondered how long we could stay out of.
Early water-bomb related humor from Irv Spence, published in the Los Angeles Times on August 5, 1928.