Fred Flintstone survived long after the death of the man who first played him, but there was no better voice actor for him than Alan Reed.
This isn’t a knock at his replacement, who was enjoyable in many TV roles. But Reed’s Fred had a lot of depth and you liked the character in spite of his faults. The series revolved around Fred Flintstone so a strong actor had to play him.
As you probably know, before “The Flintstones” came along Reed was known mainly for his role as the poet Falstaff Openshaw on Fred Allen’s radio show. What’s remarkable is Allen’s show was known mainly for Allen’s Alley, and Falstaff is not a character you think of when the Alley comes to mind. Actually, my favourite line of Reed’s on the show came as a Radio City tour guide who bellowed “That little man with the mildew on him is a vice-president,” something that could only have been written by Allen himself. Reed loved Allen. Louella Parsons once reported that Reed gave up two lucrative films in Hollywood so he could return to New York and resume his work on the Allen show in the 1943-44 season (Allen had returned to radio after a year off due to heart problems that ultimately killed him).
Reed, under his birth name of Teddy Bergmann, worked in radio long before his appearances on the Allen show. He had an interesting past which we’ve mentioned in previous posts. I’ve found another newspaper clipping about him from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of November 23, 1941, 19 years before Fred Flintstone. The story is unbylined.
Alan Reed, He’s on Vacation and That Makes Him Pretty Happy
But Again in Theater Guild's New Play He's Badly Dressed
We offer Alan Reed as an alarming example of what can happen if you let your son go to journalism school.
Mr. Reed is the gentleman who is presently to burst upon Broadway as the bombastic Italian farmer in “Hope for a Harvest,” the Theater Guild comedy by Sophie Treadwell, which opens at the Guild Theater Wednesday evening, and which presents, in addition to the redoubtable Reed, Mr. and Mrs. Frederic March.
The journalism school where Reed's whacky history starts is Columbia. How he escaped from it nobody knows. But one day he turned up in Oklahoma City, befriended by a candy manufacturer named Ralph Rose. This chocolate bar king dabbled in theatricals. He dabbled a bit too much, however. With a stock company, that included Reed as leading man, he lost his shirt.
And so Mr. Rose, his 12-year-old son and his great and good friend, Mr. Reed, came to New York. They had $600 when they arrived. A bit of dice manipulation (at which Mr. Rose Jr. was said to be proficient) ran it up to $28,000. Whereupon Mr. Reed and the Messrs. Rose started a candy business. Pecan pralines were the staple and the business prospered until hot weather, when the pralines turned what Reed describes as an “interesting gray color, like second-hand oatmeal.”
That was about 1923. Two years later found our Mr. Reed acting in the Glencairn cycle of Eugene O'Neill at the Provincetown Theater. He doesn't remember why. Nor why he became, somewhere along the way from there to here, intercollegiate wrestler (that was at Columbia, but we forgot to mention it at the time), shipping clerk, real estate salesman, gym instructor and newsreel commentator. He also became manager of the Luxor Health Club, which, considering his fondness for sleeping late and Lindy's pastries, doesn't seem to fit.
But where he really shines—ethereally speaking—is crime. He sat down one night and, having nothing better to do, totaled his radio-crime career for 1940. During the year, he estimated, he stole slightly more than $12,000,000, killed 37 people, participated in five kidnapings, perpetrated three felonious assaults and made one attempt to pull the badger game. In all of these cases he was convicted, killed by the police in a dark alley, driven to suicide when trapped by his own brutal actions or dispensed with in some satisfying way. Satisfying, at least, to the code of radio morality. v
But if he is radio's baddest boy, he is also its busiest. Averaging a total of 25 to 30 radio shows weekly, it is an expensive luxury for Alan Reed to enter a Broadway play, for he has to give up his very lucrative crime-and-comic chores on radio.
But with “Hope for Harvest,” the gentleman is quite willing to forego radio profits in favor of the theater, and for a couple of excellent if unartistic reasons.
“With this job,” Mr. Reed confides gravely, “I am working myself out a nice little vacation, a very nice little vacation. And why? Because here at last is a part I can throw my stomach into.” He patted his facade. Did we mention that there is a good deal of Mr. Reed? Two hundred and thirty pounds at last counting. “Also I can let my hair grow. This is not like the last time. This is not Saroyan.”
He was referring to his last Broadway stint, in the Mad Armenian's play, “Love's Old Sweet Song,” which the Guild produced two seasons ago. In that epic Mr. Reed was the philosophical Greek wrestler, Stylanos Americanos. His hair was cropped to a fuzz and he had to train down to 210.
“Was I healthy? I have never been so healthy. I hope I am never so healthy again. Gym all the time. No Lindy's. No Lindy's pastries. But now—!”
Now Mr. Reed is playing Joe de Lucchi, a middle-aged Italian with plenty of girth and a nice shock of hair. Mr. R. is barely in his thirties and worries because his nice middle-aged makeup never seems to register on photographs. “I look young!” he moans in despair. “I look, you might almost say, juvenile! Always before I have been athletic. For business reasons. Now I can be athletic or I can skip it. So if I feel like it I'll be athletic. Otherwise, no.”
Up to now it seems to be no. Except for handball, which Mr. Reed plays with furious enthusiasm, he is taking himself “a nice little vacation.” Of course, he is working a little in “Hope for Harvest,” but he gets such a kick out of the part he doesn't regard it as work. His only complaint about the part is the clothes he has to wear. They are not, says Mr. Reed, very snappy.
“Now here is the situation,” he explained morosely, “I like clothes. You know what I mean? I am fond of them. I have one of the best tailors In New York. I have beautiful suits. I wear them like Esquire. So what happens? One the radio nobody sees me. I get a job on the stage in ‘Love's Old Sweet Song’—and I wear a pair of trunks and the hair on my chest I was born with. So I think—Never mind, next time we'll wear clothes. So what happens? I get into ‘Hope for a Harvest,’ and I wear overalls! Can you win? But outside of that I got no complaints. It's a swell show. I got a swell part. I'm happy.”
So “Hope for a Harvest” has made Mr. Reed happy. He has made the author and the Theater Guild happy. All that remains is for the audience to be happy. Mr. Reed nods knowingly, and says they will be.
Radio was a moderate-sized gold-mine for the small percentage of character actors like Reed who were in constant demand. The death of network radio in the ‘50s reduced a lot of incomes; one regular TV role didn’t equal six regular radio roles. Reed’s first regular TV role—Pasquale on “Life With Luigi” in 1952—quickly ended with re-casting. For the most part, Reed then threw himself into the novelty business until a phone call about a TV cartoon. Once again, Reed played a character who didn’t wear a tailored suit. But, somehow, we don’t think he minded.