Since the Flintstones and the Rubbles turn 50 on Thursday, perhaps it’s fitting to look at some of the people who brought them to life.
Bill Hanna told the story about how story artist Dan Gordon was trying to come up with a gimmick for a half-hour sitcom cartoon with no luck when he was inspired to sketch two cavemen and a record player using a bird’s beak for a needle. Ed Benedict got involved to do some concept and character drawings, Bick Bickenbach fit in somewhere and then Gordon put together the first storyboard.
Remarkably, most of the first season shows for The Flintstones were churned out by only one animator. That first season still maintains a bit of individual style as each artist got used to the characters. Carlo Vinci and Ken Muse had been with Hanna and Barbera at MGM and came over when the studio opened in 1957. When it expanded in 1959 to be able to handle not only Huckleberry Hound, but the new Quick Draw McGraw Show, the Loopy DeLoop theatricals and a little commercial business, more animators were added to the staff. Don Patterson came over from Walter Lantz, George Nicholas arrived from Disney. Ed Love and Dick Lundy appeared in the credits as well. The following year, Bill Keil moved over from Disney.
It’s really hard to pick a favourite.
Carlo’s distinctive style is pretty easy to spot because you can see the same things in Yogi cartoons of the late ‘50s. Carlo loved to stretch characters horizontally before they dove out of a scene. With Fat Freddie, that ain’t easy. If you spot a row of thick teeth, with the tooth lines not going all the way down, that’s Carlo. His head movements are angular, almost jerking side-to-side in three quarters view. Carlo was big on angles with characters bending every which way (especially their fingers and arms). You can see below how Carlo has Fred’s butt in the air and angles aplenty.
Nicholas animated my favourite Flintstones cartoon, when Dino learns that television is a nothing but a sham land after he lands a part on his favourite show, ‘Sassie.’ Nicholas plants big floppy tongues and big mouths on Fred and Barney (and Yogi), and had teeny little pupils to register shock, sometimes with a thick, wavy mouth line.
Ed’s stuff is a little difficult to tell in single drawings, but he loved drawing two or three teeth taking up a mouth. The remarkable thing about Ed is his movement. He’ll draw a head in three-quarters view in seven different positions, from low to high. He may move an eyebrow in one drawing, and hold it in the next to move something else. His cycle animation isn’t always on twos; he’ll vary it so the timing isn’t the same.
Ed didn’t use teeth as often when drawing mouths on Fred and Barney as he did on Huck or Mr. Jinks. Instead, he had an odd wave-shape to the upper lip and the mouth had a dip to it. You can see what I mean below.
Patterson’s got a group of fans that laud him over all others. Many of the things he does reminds me of other artists. His characters bite their lip on the “f” sound. So do Ed Love’s but Patterson doesn’t move the head around or display teeth as much as Ed. Don will also draw a wavy line for a mouth like George Nicholas. Patterson also likes drawing the eyes together; Mike Lah occasionally did the same thing during his time at Hanna-Barbera. But Patterson always comes up with funny takes that no one else uses. Why Lantz kept Paul Smith over him, I’ll never know.
Something else Patterson did was draw closed eyes with the top and bottom lids almost like triangles, though they were a little more rounded on The Flintstones than in Yogi cartoons.
Lundy was one of Disney’s top guys in the mid ‘30s. He had the best-ever unit assembled at Lantz when he directed there in the mid to late ‘40s, then worked with tremendous animators at MGM a couple of years later (no less than Tex Avery’s unit). But I can’t find a lot that’s distinctive about his work at Hanna-Barbera. I’ve noticed on several H-B cartoons, including the Flintstones, his character’s pupils are bigger than others drew them.
Ken Muse’s stuff is easy to pick out as he has a thin half-row of teeth below the upper lip and a little tongue that moves up and down in the mouth. He drew Spike that way in the MGM cartoons and carried on that way for the first few years of the Hanna-Barbera studio. He seems to have been entrusted with the opening and closing animation of a bunch of series, including The Flintstones; see Fred’s teeth in the credits above. At least one other H-B animator drew characters with Muse teeth; you can see it starting in the shorts in the early ‘60s.
I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything about Bill Keil’s style. He didn’t work on the first two seasons of Huck or the first season of Quick Draw and those are the cartoons I’m most familiar with. Much like Hugh Fraser ended up working with Carlo Vinci, Keil was generally paired off during his work on the half-hour cartoons. Before arriving at H-B, he was responsible for ‘Barbecue For Two’ (1960), one of the King Features TV Popeyes that is fondly remembered by some.
Many other animators came later—La Verne Harding, Bob Carr, Don Williams, even Virgil Ross—but these are the men who carried the show through its baby season to eventual success and history.
Yowp note: my sincere thanks to everyone who added insight about the animators in the comments section. Your insight is of benefit to everybody reading here.