Friday, December 24, 2010

How Fred Flintstone Saved Christmas and Alan Reed

There’s nothing that can dump a snowstorm of gooey sentiment on you better than a Christmas-themed TV show. And, over the years, many producers have not been able to ascertain the location of that fine line between the sweet and the nauseous. Attempts to wring emotion out of the viewer are resented due to their sheer obviousness. Cartoons are no different, though many later efforts also wring eye-rolling out of boredom.

Before television was graced with the gentle A Charlie Brown Christmas (December 9, 1965), before the comic-relief-assisted How the Grinch Stole Christmas (December 18, 1966) came ‘Christmas Flintstone.’ It appeared on screens at 7:30/6:30 CT p.m. on Christmas Day 1964. The plot is pretty basic. Fred needs money for gifts so he takes a side-job as a department store Santa and then saves Christmas when he fills in for the real, bed-ridden Santa.

And just as Fred saves Christmas, the voice of Fred saves this cartoon. Alan Reed comes up with a warm and sincere performance that could easily have deteriorated into a broad or maudlin portrayal from other larynxes. Even Reed’s off-key singing works; you wouldn’t seriously expect a blue-collar guy like him to be a golden baritone.

This isn’t the first time Reed played Santa, so to speak. Here’s a wire service article from Christmas Day, 1960, not too many weeks after The Flintstones hit the air.


HOLLYWOOD STARS HAVE SANTA CLAUS 
By JOE FINNIGAN
UPI Hollywood Correspondent

HOLLYWOOD (UPI) — Santa Claus to Hollywood stars this year is a veteran actor who provides many motion picture industry members and their friends with gifts.
Alan Reed, a regular cast member of the old Ida Lupino-Howard Duff TV series “Mr. Adams and Eve,” is owner of a company which specializes in advertising campaigns and executive gift purchases.
“We sell to such people as Bob Hope, Pat Boone, Jerry Lewis, Tony Martin, Jack Webb and many others,” Alan said, as he took a break from the sorting and delivering of thousands of gifts.
“I’ve been an actor for years and worked with most of these people,” Alan said. “So having been close to the business, I’m the acting industry’s prime supplier of gifts.”
Seven-Foot Catalogue
Alan meets with stars and helps them select gifts from a seven-foot high catalogue and 1,000 display items.
“Sometimes I get together with a busy actor at midnight,” he revealed. One of the most prolific buyers this year was Pat Boone, who purchased many gifts at Reed’s establishment.
“Pat sent out, in volume, some desk transistor radios with fountain pens in them,” Alan said. “He picked two of the finest items in the high cost bracket.”
“Frank Sinatra uses things in good taste,” Alan said. “We’re very old friends, but I don’t do much business with him.
“Tony Martin and his wife Cyd Charisse send out household items as gifts,” he added. “And Hope buys a lot of fountain pens with his picture on them.”
Dealing with actors at Christmas time is not a haphazard thing. Reed explained.
“They’re always looking for something different,” he said. “Cigarette lighters are something they usually won't give for Christmas. They give lighters and money clips during the rest of the year.”
No Gift TwiceAlan has a rule around his shop that keeps actors from sending the same gift twice to somebody.
“I won't sell the same items to two people sending gifts to the same person,” he said. “I warn them if somebody else has bought it. I also advise the stars as to quality.”
Reed’s company tries to provide filmites with items that are unavailable in run of the mill stores.
“We have a lot of imported gifts,” he said. “So, we try to stay away from items that sell in stores.”
Besides actors, Reed deals with large business firms, which send out presents to customers.
“They usually have their Christmas purchases completed by August,” he said.
Alan said Christmas activity accounts for about one third of his yearly business volume. He also handles items for the advertising specialty field and even made signs and hats for President-elect John Kennedy’s campaign.

And just as Fred saved Christmas, he also saved Alan Reed’s career. Reed went into the specialty advertising business because many radio character actors who had busily jumped from show-to-show-to-show had been reduced by television to occasional bit parts on camera. But The Flintstones gave Reed a steady role. What else could an actor want? As he told interviewer Chuck Shaden: “In the Screen Actors Guild, 80% of our membership earns less than $2,000 a year, and these are people who made good money at some time or another. Actors who would never taken under a minimum of a week’s contract are very happy to get a days work, Thank the Lord, The Flintstones has taken me out of that mess. I’ve been a very fortunate man.”

‘Christmas Flintstone’ is only predated as a TV yuletide cartoon by Abe Levitow’s 10,000 drawings that were photographed to become Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (December 18, 1962). But there were Christmas-theme Flintstones comic strips at the same time. The first one below is from December 24, 1964, the next one from the following day. You’ll note the presence of the cat that was seen more in the credits than the actual cartoons.


Joe and Bill’s first effort at a seasonal cartoon is far from perfect. It comes to an abrupt halt for an unnecessary Dino song (Hanna-Barbera owned a record label at the time, we cynically point out). It features the screechy tones of Joe Barbera’s squeeze, Gerry Johnson. And there’s that message of commercialism, with product placement in the last shot of Flintstone Building Blocks (which my dad got me as a present one year). But it’s fine for once-a-year viewing. Hanna and Barbera tried to mine perennial Christmas gold again in 1977 and 1994 with tedious results. Perhaps it’s significant that both of them were missing one thing that made the original worth watching—Alan Reed.

2 comments:

  1. It's interesting that Bill and Joe apparently had problems with Reed's off-key tones two years later, when they gave Henry Corden his first shot at voicing Fred, doing it for the Fred and Barney singing portion of their "Alice In Wonderland" special for ABC and in "A Man Called Flintstone". Unnecessary, IMHO, but just another example of how the studio was incrementally going off the rails by the mid-1960s.

    The Flinstones' Christmas show also had one other special curio from the 1990s on -- it was the only Season 5-6 episode that didn't receive the 'gang credits' that were tacked on to all the remastered Hanna-Barbera shows around 1991-92. So you could actually see who the writers and animators of this particular episode actually were, instead of having to guess (and in the pre-Internet days of the early 1990s, access to the actual credits or bicycle prints from their original ABC run were hard to come by).

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  2. The overhead opening shot of Bedrock traffic is outstanding! And the shots of the falling Christmas presents has a nice multi-plane effect.
    The episode clocks in at a little over 24 minutes. How was this originally broadcast?
    One criticism: all those characters with solid black, soul-less eyes. Kinda creepy.

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