Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Perfect Flintstone

Alan Reed was the key to the success of The Flintstones. You can have all the twist-on-suburbia gimmicks that you want, but without the right person to play the main character, all you’ve got is Where’s Huddles? or The Roman Holidays. And that ain’t much.

Fred Flintstone was the catalyst for everything that happened in the 166 episodes of the show. So finding the right Fred was crucial for Hanna-Barbera. And while Daws Butler was one of the greatest cartoon voice actors in history, even he must have conceded that Alan Reed was the man born to play Fred Flintstone.

In the short demo or pilot film screened by Joe Barbera and John Mitchell to ad agencies and networks to entice them to put The Flintstones on the air, Daws voiced Fred, using his ‘Gleason’ voice heard in a bunch of Hanna-Barbera and Jay Ward cartoons. For whatever reason, someone decided the number one voice at Hanna-Barbera wasn’t suitable for the role after the show sold. So it was recast. Alan Reed auditioned. And he lost the part.

Fred No. 2 was Bill Thompson. Cartoon fans know him as Tex Avery’s Droopy or Ranger J. Audubon Woodlore in Disney’s Humphrey the Bear series in the ‘50s. Like most cartoon voice actors, he was an accomplished radio veteran, having provided a variety of accents on Fibber McGee and Molly, and even moving with the show from Chicago to Los Angeles in the late ‘30s. He may have been a good Touché Turtle, but he was no Fred Flintstone.

Thompson had been equally miscast with Hal Smith, who had done a bit of utility work at Hanna-Barbera starting in 1959 and won the role of Barney. Smith explained what happened in Tim Lawson’s book ‘The Magic Behind the Voices’:

Bill Thompson was a good actor, but he had something wrong with his throat. He couldn’t sustain that gravel they wanted in Fred, so Mel [Blanc] and Alan Reed started rehearsing. We had already recorded the first five episodes, and finally, we were recording one night and Bill would cough and he would stop and he’d say, ‘I just can’t keep that gravel,’ Joe Barbera was directing, and he called us in and said, ‘You know, this isn’t working.’ And I said, ‘Well, it really isn’t. It’s difficult for Bill Thompson to hang onto his voice like that because he just doesn’t have it.’ So he said, ‘Well, Mel and Alan have been rehearsing and practicing this, so I think we’re going to let them do it.’

You can only imagine what Thompson must have felt like, doing voice tracks while someone else is rehearsing your part.

So Reed was finally hired—Daily Variety reported it on April 4, 1960—and five voice-tracks were scrapped. Whether any animation had been done at that point isn’t clear, but Bill Hanna once said Thompson and Smith were replaced after “a considerably expensive settlement.” However, there couldn’t have been any hard feelings on anyone’s part, as Thompson, Smith—and Daws Butler, for that matter—continued to work for the studio.

Some critics weren’t kind to The Flintstones at the outset—the blog will explore that soon—but once the show became a hit, it was conceded that Alan Reed had a lot to do with it. Columnist Peg Stevens wrote about it. This is from the Syracuse Post-Standard of December 4, 1960:

Radio and TV
Alan Reed Perfect for 'Flintstone'

In singling out Alan Reed to provide the voice for Fred Flintstone, producers Bill Hanna and Joe Barbara were simply following an already well-established pattern.
Fred is a lovable jerk, as those who watch this latest addition to addition to animated TV fun will agree. And for years producers have been buttonholing Alan to portray—among other things—lovable jerks!
Remember Fred Allen’s poet Falstaff? And Baby Snook’s [sic] Daddy? And that classic lovable jerk Finnegan on Duffy’s Tavern? All of them and others besides were Alan Reed.
Alan, born Teddy Bergman in New York City, was no kid-of-the-streets-who-made-good. He went to school and did so well that he managed to graduate from high school while still under age for Columbia, his goal. As a lark, he spent the imposed interim studying drama at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
But, once at Columbia, he majored in journalism—and found time to win the Eastern Intercollegiate heavyweight wrestling title. He also appeared in the annual varsity show—and that did it!
An Oklahoma candy tycoon, Ralph Rose, spotted Alan, then Teddy, in the college production and Alan dropped school immediately to star in a stock company for which Rose was the bankroller.
In 1927 the boom was lowered. Rose went broke and dissolved the stock company. He and Alan returned to New York, pooled their meager funds to enter a crap game, won $2,400 and promptly launched a wholesale candy factory.
After a brief run of success, the day came when a large inventory of pecan pralines turned from an appetizing tan color to a ghastly white. Creditors closed in and they were busted again!
Reed went back to acting.
Among other jobs, Alan went into radio [in 1927] and his career in this field flourished. He frequently worked in as many as 35 broadcasts a week. There was hardly a single comedy or dramatic series in the heyday of that medium that he did not appear in at one time or another.
For 10 years he was the poet Falstaff of Allen’s Alley. For five years he was the voice of Rubinoff, the violinist and musical director of the Eddie Cantor show. He was Baby Snooks’ original Daddy. And on Duffy’s Tavern he was Clancy the Cop as well as Finnigan. In Life with Luigi he was Pasquale.
Along the way he appeared with such radio stars as Jimmy Durante, Tallulah Bankhead and Bob Hope, and even starred once in his own show, the Blubber Bergman show. The New York stage kept him busy between radio programs and then he moved to Hollywood where he’s done more than 50 films of all types—like “Viva, Zapata,” “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” and “Desperate Hours.”
When TV came along, Alan Reed was called on to do versions of his parts in Duffy’s Tavern and Luigi—then came Freddie Flintstone.
To Alan, Freddie is fun but, he’s also just another character and another jerk—to add to the impressive list of Reed creations in the past 30 years.

For a time in radio, Reed was using both his real name and the one we all know him by. It was simply a matter of economic survival. He recalled how he worked five radio shows in a day and earned a grand total of $5. Not much, but every penny counted in the Depression. But he found he was so well known from doing comedy shows—and a series of one-reel films—as Teddy Bergman, he wasn’t being taken seriously on radio row in New York City when he tried to get work on the dramatic shows. He told interviewer par excellence Chuck Shaden in 1975:

Reed was a family name of my wife’s...Her father’s name was Reed, and we had called our first-born Alan Reed Bergman. I started looking around and I said. ‘There it is right in front of us! It’s an awfully good name.’ I just chopped off the ‘Bergman.’ I had it legally changed in 1939 and that was it.

His obituary in the Los Angeles Times expanded on his career in radio, and explained Reed was in television at a time closer to silent cartoons than ones with guys in Water Buffalo hats.

His sense of timing made him a straight man for Eddie Cantor, Jack Pearl, Bob Hope, Bert Lahr, Jimmy Durante, Al Jolson, Ed Wynn and aided him in creating the original part of “Daddy” to Fanny Brice’s “Baby Snooks.”
Reed also had running roles in such radio serials as “Big Sister,” “Myrt and Marge,” “Valiant Lady” and “The Goldbergs.”
He first appeared in experimental television in 1931 in New York City — at which time he met his future wife, Finette Walker, a singer whom he watched on the closed-channel receiver outside the miniature studio atop the old CBS building. They were married the following year.
Radio did not entirely occupy Reed’s time, however, and he continued to appear on the legitimate stage, co-starring with Fredric March and Florence Eldridge in “Hope for a Harvest,” which won him a Critics’ Circle nomination as best actor of the year.

Reed had done cartoon voice work before arriving at Hanna-Barbera. You can hear him as Boris, the Russian wolfhound, in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp (1955) and the Sultan in the Mr. Magoo epic 1001 Arabian Nights (1959), wherein Daws Butler has a small role. He even got his name in print ads for the last one.

For all the talk of Reed’s versatility, he didn’t provide a lot of characters for Hanna-Barbera, probably because his accents leaned toward the ethnic humour that was finally dying out in the 1960s. He had a standard dumb voice he used for crooks on The Flintstones and (appropriately) Dum-Dum in the Touché Turtle cartoons. He was plopped into the eye-rollingly bad Where’s Huddles? as a noisy football coach. But Fred provided him with a steady role, even after The Flintstones ceased production in 1967, as Hanna-Barbera had worked out enough vitamin and cereal licensing deals to keep Fred in view in commercials if endless Flinstones reruns didn’t.

And credit has been given to Reed by Joe Barbera, Jean Vander Pyl and others for putting the phrase “Yabba Dabba Doo” into the lexicon. Warren Foster had written something else. Bill Hanna recalled in his autobiography:

Joe was up in the booth directing the recording. Alan had a script in his hand and noticed that a line called for him to shout “Yahoo!” This had been done a couple of times in the first show, but Alan came up with something that he thought had a better ring to it.
“Hey, Joe!” boomed Alan in his now famous stentorian Flintstone voice. “Do you mind if I say ‘Yabba-Dabba-Doo’?” Joe shrugged and nodded in assent. The word stayed in the script and stuck in my mind. Recalling it while writing the main title lyrics, I decided to put it into the song.

At 69 (he was born in New York City on August 20, 1907), Alan Reed died “after a long illness” at the St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, June 14, 1977. He had cancer. He had still been working in live action and had just finished shooting ‘The Seniors’ before he died.

Fred didn’t die with him because only lack of interest can kill a cartoon character. Henry Corden was hired to replace Reed and, in fact, played the role longer. Corden had many of the same strengths as Reed. He was a character actor who surfaced in TV sitcoms and was accomplished in dialects. And he was no stranger to Hanna-Barbera fans, as he had been cast in a bunch of bad guy roles on Jonny Quest (1965). But, for me, there was just something wrong with Corden as Fred Flintstone, and it wasn’t because I was used to hearing the original actor, almost daily, for years. He just lacked the warm resonance that gave Fred depth, making him more than a one-dimensional character. Finette Reed told Tim Lawson: “Henry has the voice, but Alan had the heart.”

That made Alan Reed the perfect Flintstone.


  1. Corden also does his future Fred voice as new neighbor Loudrock in a 1965 episode of "The Flintstones". It's kind of disconcerting to hear both Reed and Corden talking to each other, since it's basically old Fred arguing with new Fred. And for the life of me, I can't figure out why after Henry's death, the suits at H-B decided to go out and find a replacement that matched his voice instead of Reed's for most of the current Flintstones animation, as if the six seasons of prime-time episodes were less impressionable than 25 years of Cocoa and Fruity Pebbles commercials.

    (Also, I was hoping to dig up the 1952 Adlai Stevenson animated commercial that features both Reed and Mel Blanc. You can find solo ones with Mel and Alan at The Living Room Candidate, but I haven't turned up the one with both of them that aired on a PBS special on campaign commercials about a decade ago).

  2. Reed was also hired to work on several episodes Mel Blanc's radio show. He drags out his eastern European accent for Prof. Potchnik on the show of Jan. 21, 1947; I think that's his first appearance.

  3. Thank you for your info on Alan Reed. He was one of the few voice actors that could make you get teary eyed. There was no other Fred for me. Also, regarding your selected cuts from The Sam Fox Library, I dig that first one by Philippe Peres. Can't get enough of that composer. Take Care,


  4. Many years ago, I was delighted and proud to learn that Alan Reed worked, in addition to his voice and acting gigs, in my industry for decades. I've been in the promotional products industry for nearly three decades and Alan, in the sixties and seventies, also sold imprinted items, then called Advertising Specialties. Many of the 'old timers' in my industry remember Alan fondly and say he always used his Fred Flintstone voice as a sales tool. Business people loved buying their logoed pens and coffee mugs from Fred Flintstone!

  5. Indeed he did, Anon, and I seem to have edited a reference to that out of the post. It looks like he started it as a side job in the '50s.
    I'm saving a separate post on that career for a special occasion down the road.

  6. Great post on Alan Reed. Alan was the man BORN to play Fred Flintstone. When my youngest son was about four years old, we were watching an episode of " The Beverly Hillbillies ". Reed played the crooked fight manager. I said to my son.." Listen....who is that?"...he listened, then this big grin came on his face, and he said " It's Fred!!!" Talk about connecting the face with the voice. I've enjoyed every performance Reed has given whether it was radio, television or movies. One in a million. To me, the closest character actor Henry Corden came to nailing " The Sound " of Fred Flintstone was on his first assignment as Fred in " A Flintstone Christmas ".He was younger, had the timbre in his voice...but not the soul. That's usually the case for the actors trying to re create any of the classic cartoon characters these days. The voice is there...not the attitude..and that is so important. Also Jim, kudos for posting not only the Sam Fox library, but I LOVED the Spencer Moore library from a few weeks back. Heard some VERY familiar cues from used in " The Seely Six ".

  7. Another movie role for Alan Reed is from "Breakfast at Tiffany's" where he plays the prisoner Sally who uses Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) to pass information for him thru their visits.

  8. Alan Reed was another great voice of cartoons and radio who was killed by tobacco. He was a heavy smoker, which no doubt contributed to the "gravel" and resonant undertones in his Fred Flintstone, Pasquale and many other characters. PBS recently celebrated the great radio writer Norman Corwin's 100th birthday by running a video presentation of "The Plot to Overthrow Christmas" which featured Alan Reed as Santa Claus. There is good footage in that show of Alan rehearsing the part, big cigar constantly in hand (and mouth). Great Post! Mark Kausler

    1. Reed, to me, was the ONLY voice for Fred Flintstone - nobody else. You say he was killed by tobacco. True and sad. He was, even though he was a 'heavy smoker'. That in itself would also contribute OR heredity. But it would have been much worse today with junk food, pot and booze being the new accepted norm - which are both far worse for you than tobacco. I don't believe any tripe that says otherwise. Don't buy into that propaganda hype about tobacco use. It's not heathy, but not as bad as the other garbage the media promotes. Nevertheless, Redd will always be missed but never forgotten.

  9. Great post! Thanks for sharing. I'd would LOVE to hear Thompson and Smith as Fred and Barney...

  10. Apparently during his "advertising novelty" days, Reed promoted a holiday character called Kewtee Bear. What little is known about that campaign can be found in my book CHRISTMAS WISHES: A CATALOG OF VINTAGE HOLIDAY TREATS AND TREASURES (Stackpole Books).

    And incidentally, Jerry Hausner also claimed to have been one of the pre-Mel Blanc Barneys, and I think he specified Thompson as the Fred opposite him, so that story just keeps getting foggier instead of clearer!

  11. J.L., thanks for the link to the TV spots. The one with Reed as a barker also features John Brown as one of the heads and doing the tag. The two worked together on Fred Allen's show.

  12. Tim, is there an interview of Hausner about his cartoon work anywhere? I've only seen him interviewed about his work with Lucy by Bart Andrews.

  13. Jerry was a good friend of mine, and we had him as a guest at our National Lum & Abner Society OTR conventions a couple of times back in the 1980s. I also have a lot of recorded phone conversations with him, but finding his animation comments in them might take some effort.

    When he was at the convention in 1987, I know he said that Joe Barbera initially wanted him to do the sounds for Pebbles (as you know, Jerry specialized in baby cries), but when he went into his act, Barbera said, "That doesn't sound like a baby, it sounds like an old man!" So then Barbera pointed to Jean VanderPyl and said, "YOU try it," and she said, "Not in front of Jerry, I'm not!" At least that's how he told it.

  14. That's a great story and I don't think it's been told before.

    Jerry had a chequered career at HB. He was there at the beginning of the Quick Draw show, then vanished for some reason. Then he returned for a couple of Flintstones.

    I imagine he and Leone Ledoux were the top criers on the west coast; Sara Berner did one in a Warners cartoon that was pretty good.

  15. Alan Reed originated Fred Flintstone, but Henry Corden carried him after Reed passed away, and Henry played Fred for 22 years, before he retired and gave way to Jeff Bergman, who's now the current voice of Fred Flintstone. There's no real comparison between the three: Alan was the original Fred, Henry provided another aspect to him, especially with his native Canadian rasp(Ironically, Henry Corden's best friend was Jackie Gleason, a.k.a. Ralph Kramden) and Jeff Bergman actually combined what both Alan and Henry brought to playing Fred Flintstone, namely Alan's New York gruffness and Henry's folksiness. Fred Flintstone lives on, nowadays, through Jeff Bergman, and we, as fans, can thank both Alan Reed and Henry Corden for shaping Fred into what he is, today.