Monday, February 22, 2010

Pebbles’ First Words — “Buy Me!”

She’s only a baby, but she’s 47 years old today.

February 22, 1963 marks the much-heralded birth of Pebbles Flintstone. The blessed event was much-heralded because Hanna-Barbera’s P.R. people made sure it was. Newspaper stories surfaced a month before the broadcast telling all and sundry the sex and name of Fred and Wilma’s child. It was all part of a huge marketing campaign not only to build TV ratings but to reap a cash windfall from the sale of dolls, thanks to the studio’s deal with Ideal Toys.

They didn’t waste any time, either. To the right, you see a newspaper box ad published on the very same day as the birth broadcast. See the ad that day. Watch the show that night. Buy the doll tomorrow.

I can take or leave Pebbles. When memorable Flintstones episodes come to my mind, she’s not in them or at the centre of them. She’s in one that has always annoyed me—the one where she and Bamm Bamm sprout voices and croon that insipid “sunshine” song. But, in a way, Hanna-Barbera unconsciously commented on their own series in the episode where characters want to get away from Fred as he obsesses over showing off endless home movies of his child. Viewers would prefer to get away from the new, domestic, doting-daddy Fred and go back to the grumpy one bashing Barney over the head with some steaks.

Pebbles’ impending arrival wasn’t universally welcomed by the critics. Associated Press writer Hal Humphrey wasn’t terribly impressed, becoming an early eye-roller at all-too-obvious attempts to work “rock” or “stone” into every name and striking a blow at the noise from the H-B media machine. This story ran in papers starting January 11, 1963.


Introducing: Pebbles
By HAL HUMPHREY

HOLLYWOOD—(AP)—It’s difficult for me to get steamed up one way or the other about the successful Hanna-Barbera TV cartoon shows, “Flintstones” and “Jetsons.” It isn’t anything against cartoons per se. I’m a sucker for “Magoo,” and Bugs Bunny’s cynical attitude amuses me. Dudley Do Right (out of “Bullwinkle”) is one of my favorite TV characters. My indifference toward Fred Flintstone and George Jetson is certainly no fault of the energetic and bulldoggish Arnie Carr, who is the publicity man for Hanna-Barbera Productions.
“You can’t spend your whole life having fun writing negative columns,” admonished Arnie during one of his weekly phone visits the other day. “Do something positive.”
“Like what?” I made the mistake of replying.
“Like writing a column about Pebbles Flintstone.”
“And who is Pebbles Flintstone?”
“Fred and Wilma’s new baby. On the Jan. 25 show, Wilma told Fred she was going to have a baby. On Feb. 22, Pebbles is born. It will be the biggest birth on TV since Lucy’s baby—bigger even! Don’t tell me you’re against family life?” cried Arnie.
TO FORESTALL what smelled like a blackmail attempt here, I hastened to reaffirm my allegiance to family life of all kinds. I also, however, told Arnie that I didn’t feel whimsical enough to interview a cartoon character.
“You interviewed those three chimps on the ‘Hathaways’ show last season,” replied Arnie, reproachfully.
“True,” I said, “but at least they were three-dimensional. At times, in fact, I’d say they acted more alert than some so-called human actors I’ve been interviewing.”
“Do you realize that the Flintstones are so popular in Sweden that a soft drink called ‘Flinta’ sold five million bottles in one week?” said Arnie, in a quick change of strategy.
“What will they think of next!”
“AND DO YOU KNOW that ‘Flintstone-San’ is the No. 1 show in Tokyo and that ‘Senor Flintstone’ is in 12 South American countries?”
“I’ll make a note of that.”
“You’re fighting me,” Arnie warned. “I’m trying to give you an upbeat column, which you need brother. Now how about ‘The Jetsons?’ Do you realize this show is running neck and neck with Disney and ‘Dennis the Menace’ on Sunday nights?”
“Not according to the last Nielsen I saw.”
“That must have been the national Nielsen, but ‘Jetsons’ is ahead on the Nielsen 30 city rating. Incidentally, did I tell you that the CBS station in Milwaukee is running ‘Best of Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear’ against ‘Ben Casey’?"
“ARE YOU GOING to tell me Huck and Yogi repeats are beating out Ben Casey?”
“Look. I admit I haven’t seen the latest Nielsen, but I’ve heard. Anyway, how about getting back to Pebbles Flintstone? She will be born in Rock-A-Pedic hospital, and the doctor’s name is Sprock—get it?—Sp-ROCK. Cute, huh?”
“I suppose the kid also will have a bone in her hair instead of a ribbon, and her rattle will be filled with little rocks.”
“How did you know that?” asked Arnie, incredulously.
“One of those crazy hunches, that’s all.”
“Yeah, but I’ll bet you couldn’t guess what kind of diapers she’ll wear.”
“I give up.”
“Leopard skin diapers—funny?”
“Fairly funny,” I said.
“Okay, then how about that column?"
“I’m afraid not, Arnie. Leopard skin diapers aren’t that funny.
“Don't make it a firm no. I’ll think of something else and call you next week. You need an upbeat column.”

Maybe it’s my sense of irony, but when I read Carr’s words, I picture the kind of shrill Hollywood type they used to make fun of on The Flintstones.

While Humphrey was neither bearish or bullish about the show’s coming attraction, a columnist for the rival wire service didn’t shy away from pointing out there was more to little Pebbly-poo that just a cartoon character. This is from papers of the Monday after the pre-his-STORK-ick event (Hmm. Carr’s corn must be infectious).


Flintstones are parents of baby girl
By VERNON SCOTT
UPI Hollywood Correspondent
HOLLYWOOD (UPI) – Parenthood by a pair of television stars generally rates as news of a sort; therefore it should be noted that Fred and Wilma Flintstone had a baby last Friday night.
Fred and Wilma are the stone age cartoon answer to the old Desi Arnaz-Lucille Ball family situation comedy.
And like Desi and Lucy, the Flintstones incorporated the birth of their child, Pebbles, into the show. Here the parallel ceases.
Desi and Lucy had a real baby off-screen in addition to becoming parents on their long-running show.
Because the Flintstones have no off-screen lives, they must content themselves with Pebbles and spokesman Joe Barbera of Hanna-Barbera productions who dreamed up Fred, Wilma and all.
Followers of the Flintstones may be surprised to learn that Pebbles almost was born a boy instead of a girl.
Chip off Fred
“We wanted a boy,” Barbera said, “A chip off old Fred.
“So we put our 200 artists to work drawing babies. And out of thousands of drawings we fell in love with one of a little girl with a bone through her hair. It was the work of Gene Hazleton.
“The baby was so cute we knew we’d have to change our plans and bless Fred and Wilma with a little girl instead of a boy.”
At first Barbera and partner Bill Hanna considered twins, discarding the notion when they realized two babies would double the amount of work (and expense) of the weekly show.
Television being what it is, the news that the Flintstones would have a girl instead of a boy flicked the panic button.
“All the people in the New York agency, Screen Gems and the ABC-TV network were terribly upset. They weren’t expecting a girl.
“The brass was so shook up that 31 executives flew out here to Hollywood for a big pow-wow about changing the sex of the baby,” Barbera reported with a grin.
“They finally were convinced the world wouldn’t end and we went ahead with Little Pebbles.”
A National Institution
Already the machinery is underway to make Pebbles a national institution. Some half-million plastic Pebbles dolls are rolling off the assembly lines and a national video contest is in the works.
On March 8 both Hanna and Barbera will appear (live) on the show to announce the winner of the contest to guess Pebbles’ weight at birth. Barbera said the prize will be a trip around the world and $2,000 cash. [Yowp note: the winner was a butcher from Florida]
“The Flintstones,” now in its third year, already has been renewed for next season which means viewers will be seeing a great deal of Pebbles.
“We thought we’d gone about far as we could with the two couples (including neighbors Barney and Betty Rubble) and their zany problems,” said Barbera.
“With the addition of Pebbles we’ll explore the domestic side of life with the Flintstones.”

And indeed they did. Until they ran out of ideas again and someone decided an intelligent space alien was a good addition. But by then, revised designs, Fred’s emasculation, the sudden voice change in Betty, the addition of a lame kangaroo character and the obvious infatuation Joe and/or Bill had for The Addams Family had taken a lot of life out of the show. Whether it’s fair to blame Pebbles for the start of the down-slide, we’ll leave up to you. But there’s no doubt people loved her. 650,000 entries in a contest to guess the weight of something that has no real body mass shows it. And, I suppose, a birthday post does, too.

17 comments:

  1. I prefer the later seasons of The Flintstones, both in character design, and stories. As a kid watching I always thought they were figured out beter as the series progressed. I enjoy the addition of Pebbles, Bamm-Bamm, and Hoppy, who I considered anything but lame. I thought the Gruesomes were a fun addition, the guest stars were fun, and Gazoo didn't bother me. But, I was a kid and much more entralled with elements that would be considered "kid friendly." Now, as an adult, I still prefer the later episodes (Seasons 3 - 6 to be exact.) but I can appreciate the more adult-leaning (for the time, anyway) episodes of the first 2 seasons.

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  2. I'll add that I enjoyed the series' first spin-off, "The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show" too. I think it's incredibly well done. For me, the point that the series changed was when Alan Reed passed away. I never accepted Henry Cordon, or the replacements for Betty (post Gerry Johnson).

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  3. Well, Anon., we'll just have to in a friendly manner [natch] agree to disagree as I thought Pebbles and Bamm Bamm was just a Josie and the Pussycat/Scooby Doo ripoff, and just as Yowp already mentions on Fred, Bamm Bamm's emasculation occured here. Toonzone'd Ed Liu had a good [sort of!] article in 2008 when the spinoff that you like came to Warner DVD slamming it ["the modern Stone Age "Hanna Montana" frankly, folks, leave us face it--if any show makes me long for "Hanna Montana"--and hardly any could make me LONG for "Hannah Montana"--it's the "Pebbles" show that makes me long for "Hanna Montana". :wink]

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  4. I suppose the episodes that were produced for "The Flintstones Comedy Hour" in 1972 could be considered "inspired" by the success of "Josie" and/or "Archie" simply because the characters sang as "The Bedrock Rockers" (using the actual background singers that performed on "The Partridge Family," whose sucess is another reason why so many Sat AM series had performing characters). But I fail to see how Scooby falls into this equation? Unless it's because the second season had the romp songs added?

    I think a lot of people review these programs with a much more critical eye and ear than a 10 year old does. That never made much sense to me because they were made for kids. Sure, the 1972 season of any HB show had some serious production problems as far as the animation goes, but I am always surprised to read when people bash some of the earlier stuff because I think it's quite well thought out and very well produced. :-)

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  5. Incidentally, I found it interesting reading the news blurbs that Yowp provided (thanks Yowp!) that Joe Barbera was quoted as saying the studio chose the baby's gender based on Gene Hazelton's darwings. I had always heard (in fact, Joe Barbera told me personally) that the Studio wanted the child to be a boy - even going so far as to include a character in a Little Glden Book. He said it was the sponsor (Ideal Toys) that convinced him of the money making potential that a girl doll would provide the Studio if the baby was indeed a girl. Things that make you go, "Hmmmmm."

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  6. As implied in the earlier "what went wrong post", I stopped watching the Pebbles show in first run about 30 years ago. I haven't seen it since so my perspective isn't that of some adult critic.

    The characters weren't funny or likeable, as much as they tried.

    HB had to invent personalities for them because they had none in the original show. Bamm Bamm was a one-joke character (The kid is stronger than an adult. Cue the laugh track) and Pebbles was a baby. At least with Pebbles, as Joe Barbera said, you could build plots around the daddy-baby aspect; Daddy's Anonymous may have been the best of them.

    There were both Pebbles and Bamm Bamm dolls on the shelves for Christmas 1963. So Joe got his boy after all and Ideal got its toy.

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  7. I think Pebbles and Bamm Bamm were the ruination of the Flintstones. Like you said, Fred was more likeable when he was mean. Of course then came the Gruesomes and Bewitched and The Great Gazoo. All that was Joe's instinctual way of copying what everyone else (who was currently popular) was doing, thinking it would automatically make his own shows more popular. He even told me so.

    If they had made the kids funny, that would have been different.

    I also think it's funny that the dolls are just regular baby dolls and don't look anything like the characters.

    That article was hilarious!

    Where do you find this stuff?

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  8. Great piece! And thank you for the inspiration for my own blog post!

    http://betterlivingtv.blogspot.com/2010/02/happy-birthday-pebbles-flintstone.html

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  9. I dunno exactly who Hal Humphrey was, but I'd buy that man a beer.

    Even I could have written for Pebbles, which would have her giggle, maybe for a reason and maybe not, then laugh track.

    JohnK, are you saying Gazoo stunk? I rather liked his voice, and seeing his dopey adventures with Fred and Barney certainly make one sympathize with his desire to get the hell away from them.

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  10. Anon, Hal Humphrey was the AP TV columnist based out of Hollywood in the '50s and '60s. I don't/didn't know Mr. Humphrey personally, but I do know print reporters from that era and they had a passing acquaintance with beer.

    JohnK, there's stuff hiding here and there on the internet (for free, even); one just has to search a few different newspaper archival sites. None are trade publications, so that's why I appreciate what Michael has linked to on his site.

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  11. Well, I liked Gazoo as a kid-but that was the year the Flintstones got cancelled. later I realized how against the whole premise of the Flintstones a guy from the future was.

    I think the Flintstones started getting away from its own premise even by the second season. They kept trying to turn it into other popular TV shows instead of sticking with The Honeymooners in the Stoneage.

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  12. I can't say that I'm too crazy about the Flintstones in general. The first season was the best one, in my opinion. To me, Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm were far more interesting characters on their own show as teenagers than they were as babies, and the best episodes of that show were the ones that managed to get Fred, Barney, Betty and Wilma involved as much as Pebbles, Bamm-Bamm and their friends.

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  13. I've only just realized the song "Open Up Your Heart (And Let the Sun Shine In)" was actually an evangelical propaganda song written and performed by an acolyte of Billy Graham. Yeesh!

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  14. I don't think Pebbles was the absolute death sign for The Flintstones. "The Bedrock Hillbillies" is quite possibly my favorite episode in the series. Seasons 1 to 3 were probably the best, but every episode Warren Foster did for the show was good.

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  15. Tony Benedict's "Pebbles Birthday Party" episode from 1964 almost justified the character's existence. I'd probably go with the adpotion by the Rubbles of Bam-Bam as the real jump-the-cave-shark moment, since not only did you get another baby, you got a 'gimmick' baby, who was the world's strongest boy, which was a warm-up for the Gazoo invasion and the other gimmick shows linked to other ABC series that followed (at least there was nothing special about Pebbles -- other than the singing Pebbles from the Beatles parody that opened the final season).

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  16. Post-partum episodes written by Tony Benedict still managed to keep an edge to the series while using the kids judiciously: lots of Fred bellowing in Barney's face (quite effective when animated by George Nicholas); Fred knocking Barney on the head in response to a wisecrack; Fred, and sometimes Barney, suffering many manner of slapstick cartoon calamity. In addition to the example J Lee puts forth, examples would be GLUE FOR TWO, ROOM FOR TWO, ITTY BITTY FREDDY, RIP VAN FLINTSTONE, ROYAL RUBBLE (the previous two weighed down a bit by sentiment), and the very last episode produced, MY FAIR FREDDY.

    After the initial birth of Pebbles, there was actually some interesting focus on the adjustments Fred had to make to being a parent. An immediately postbirth episode VENTRILOQUST BARNEY (To evoke that dreadful FRIENDS vernacular, "the one where they take Pebbles to a wrestling match"), which happens to be co-written by Mike Maltese, is hilarious with just the right amount of sentiment.

    Inevitably Season 4 episodes that focus less on the kids are by and large better: SLEEP TIGHT SWEET FRED, OLD LADY BETTY, PEEKABOO CAMERA, and even SON OF ROCKZILLA. Kidcentric episodes DADDIES ANONYMOUS, DADDY'S LITTLE BEAUTY and even LITTLE BAMM-BAMM are quite enjoyable, possessing a satrical edge. This makes the very emotional climax of the latter somehow more palatable.

    IMO things really started going wrong in late in Season 4 when more and more episodes involved the whole gang- or at least all four principals- on an 'adventure'. CAVE SCOUT JAMBOREE, FRED EL TERRIFICO, BEDROCK HILLBILLIES, TIME MACHINE, SHERIFF FOR A DAY, DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAROCK (which originally ran back-to-back), SURFIN' FRED, THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADROCK, and THE LONG LONG WEEKEND (a rather tired JETSON rehash) fall into this category. The reaction to Uncle Tex's revelation that his cattle have been rustled- everybody saying "Rustlers?!" in unison- is almost a harbinger of numerous 1970s 'meddling kids' shows.

    We'd much rather see misadventures in the town of Bedrock with its bowling alley, rock quarry, stereotyped 'Irish' cops, Water Buffalo Lodge and incompetent doctors. 'Adventurous' episodes DR. SINISTER and A HAUNTED HOUSE IS NOT A HOME fare somewhat better, probably due to good Fred-Barney interplay.

    Season 6 did seem to return to the series' more adult focus at times, despite or even because of Gazoo. The late episodes HOW TO PICK A FIGHT WITH YOUR WIFE WITHOUT TRYING and JEALOUSY focused on problems with Fred and Wilma's relationships. The latter didn't show or even acknolwedge the kids at all. It's as if they were written seasons earlier but went unproduced. There was also a nice return to Fred's get-rich-quick scheming in CIRCUS BUSINESS and GRAVELBERRY PIE KING.

    I personally deplore such Pebbles-heavy episodes as ANN-MARGROCK PRESENTS and BEDROCK RODEO ROUND-UP, as well as SAMANTHA, THE GRUESOMES (the sequel with the Hatrocks was much better), and the horribly misguided Christmas show.

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  17. Probably my favorite post-Pebbles episode was the first one (bringing her home from the hospital; Fred firing the nurse.) I think it goes off the rails at the point where Pebbles suddenly jumps from being an infant to being a crawling toddler.

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