Monday, 14 March 2011

Jerry Eisenberg, Part Three, The Flintstones

We all know how Bugs Bunny was created. Tex Avery did it. No, Bob Clampett did it. No, Bugs Hardaway and Charlie Thorson did it. No...

Well, we all know how The Flintstones was created. Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera both tell similar stories in their books. John Mitchell, who was the vice-president of sales for Screen Gems at the time, urged the studio to do a half-hour, animated sitcom. Here’s how Barbera puts it in his book:

It was not as if Bill Hanna, Dan Gordon — an artist and storyboard man whom I had first met back in the 1930s at New York's Van Beuren Studios — and I locked ourselves in a room and emerged with “The Flintstones.”...
We thought about a family with kids, without kids, with a tall husband, a short wife, a nagging mother-in-law, a dog, a cat, no pets.
Then we thought about a farmer and his family, which led to a hillbilly family. And, soon, we were slipping backward in history.
We came up with a Pilgrim family, with wide collars and high hats, then a Roman family, with togas and helmets. Nothing worked. Nothing clicked. And the weeks and months glided by. The project seemed pretty much a lost cause. I cannot say who, precisely, came up the idea of a Stone Age family. As I say, it seemed simply to evolve — or, rather, devolve. But, suddenly, it all started coming together. It was the objects, the gadgets, the everyday modern things translated into terms of the Stone Age that really drove the creation of the show.

Barbera went on to say Dan Gordon drew the first storyboard and co-wrote it with him.

Bill Hanna’s version includes that “Dan Gordon dashed off a little sketch that jump-started the whole endeavor” of “two characters dressed in caveman skins along with a primitive phonograph that consisted of a little bird with a sharp beak on a stone record.”

Well, no, that isn’t the way it happened.

At least not according to Alan Dinehart, the studio’s dialogue director hired to work on The Flintstones (though Barbera directed the actors through at least the first sessions). Dinehart told his version of what happened to Jerry Eisenberg.

It should be pointed out both Hanna and Barbera’s accounts come from the mid-‘90s. Barbera’s stories tended to change over time; soon after The Flintstones first aired, he stated it had been snapped up by sponsors right away but later told an elaborate tale of a dramatic last-minute successful pitch after months of refusals.

Dinehart, by the way, was an interesting character. His own tale of how he arrived at Hanna-Barbera can be found here.

In the meantime, our story so far: we last left young Mr. Eisenberg doing layouts on Pixie and Dixie and Snooper and Blabber cartoons. But there’s one series of shorts he hasn’t touched on—the lone theatrical series done by the studio.

Jerry: We had those theatrical shorts called Loopy De Loop. They were like seven or eight minutes.

Yowp: The Loopys were pretty much put together the same way as the other shorts, the TV shorts, weren’t they?

Jerry: Well, I don’t think there were as good. I can’t remember who was writing them or what. We didn’t think they were as good or as funny as the other stuff. I don’t think they did that well and I don’t think we made that many that I recall.

Yowp: I’m presuming it was part of the deal with Columbia, when they funded the studio that they got ‘x’ number of theatricals.

Jerry: Columbia-Screen Gems, which was a subsidiary. The guy that ran Screen Gems, John Mitchell, he was like Joe and Bill’s boss in the early years. I don’t remember when things changed.
In fact, I could tell you what became The Flintstones. Joe was trying to sell an animated Honeymooners show. And I was working at Warner Bros. at that time. I remember my father would once in a while help Joe with stuff, even though he was doing comic books at that time. He came to take me to lunch one day; he said “I had lunch with Joe this week and I think I gave him a pretty good idea for nothing.” I remember the exact words. And I didn’t question him that much about it and my father never said a lot. One day when I was at Marvel [in the early ‘80s], Alan Dinehart, who had been at Hanna-Barbera in those early years, was doing voice directing on a couple of my shows at Marvel and said “Hey, I was there that day!” So he came in my room and filled me in on a lot of detail. My father came in to meet Joe and he and Alan were showing him the Honeymooners stuff and Joe said “You know, nobody’s interested.” All three networks weren’t that interested. So my father looked at it and said “Well, why don’t you put some skins on ‘em, put them in the Stone Age, give them a pet dinosaur” and on and on.
I call that the ‘Seed Concept’ idea because my father had already been thinking pre-historic stuff, because a year or two before that, he had created an idea for a pre-historic family for a TV cartoon. But the people he was supposed to go into business with changed their mind at the last minute about him being a partner with them. So he tore up the contract which he wasn’t going to sign and he kept his art work. And I remember seeing it. It was a pre-historic family with a pet dinosaur, a little kid and, I think, I teenaged girl. It wasn’t two families like the Flintstones, it was just like the Honeymooners.

Yowp: Was that a separate company altogether?

Jerry: You see, they hadn’t formed it. He was working at Western Publishing doing Tom and Jerry comics. This one editor there, Chuck McKimson, Bob McKimson’s brother—two of the McKimson brothers worked at Western, Tom and Chuck—and Chuck approached my father and said “Would you like to go into business with me? I’ve got somebody who’s got money and he’d like to set us up with offices and we’ll develop television cartoons. This was like, I’d say, 1955, ’56. Somewhere in there. I saw what my father did. He did this pre-historic family and I don’t remember what his other ideas were. But when the day came when Chuck McKimson messengered over a copy of the contracts they were going to sign, Chuck, my father and the money guy were going to be partners. My father told me he was looking at the contract, so he called Chuck and said “I don’t see my name here as a partner with you and” so and so. And I remember my father said Chuck said “Well, I changed my mind. I decided I want to be the boss and you’ll be an employee and you’ll get” something like $450 a week, which was pretty good money. But my father said “No thanks.” And it’s when Chuck came over to his house that’s when my father just tore up the contract and kept his drawings. Chuck went into business with this guy; within a year he was back at Western. Stupid man. He spoiled things for himself and my father. It makes me think when MGM closed up if my father and Chuck would have sold a couple, they would have gotten all those guys that Bill and Joe got.

Yowp: There must have been some kind of gap after the closure of MGM [and the start of Hanna-Barbera] because Bill Hanna was in negotiations with someone other than Joe Barbera [Jay Ward and Mike Lah] to put together a series and it fell apart.

Jerry: Oh, that’s something I don’t recall. There wasn’t a big time lag. I think they closed the place in ’57, I’m guessing February or January, or whatever, and I think they set up their offices by at least the summer time or so, maybe September.
Oh, I didn’t even mention. John Mitchell. When my father came back from lunch, he borrowed some pencil and paper and he made a drawing. He took it in to Alan and said “This is what they could look like.” And I’ve never seen that drawing. I’d love to see what that drawing looked like. So Alan took it over to Joe Barbera’s office and Joe, he wasn’t sure if he liked it. But I remember over the years, Joe used to do that a lot with people, whether it was with me or somebody else. He’d like to come back the next day or so and he’d act like it was his idea. So Alan said “I took the drawing down the hall to John Mitchell’s office and John loved it.” And he said “Excuse me.” And he took the drawing and went to Joe’s office, went in, closed the door, came out ten minutes later, came back to Alan and said “This is what we’re going to develop.” So John Mitchell made the decision on that.
That’s not in the book [on The Flintstones by Turner Publishing]. I told them all that stuff and so did Alan, but they had to leave room on the page. Bill Hanna had a paragraph or so on how he thought it was created, then they had some voice guy and that’s a lot of crap because we never brought voice people in until after we developed something, or had a development deal with the network or sold it.
But, Bill Hanna, though, he wasn’t even in the room that day. He was crediting Dan Gordon. And Dan deserves credit as far as helping to develop it but he wasn’t in on the initial conceptual idea.

Yowp: While we’re talking about character development, how did Ed Benedict fit into all this?

Jerry: Well, he ended up, I guess, doing the final designs. Bick Bickenbach probably helped on some of it but it was mostly Ed.

Yowp: After the Flintstones, Top Cat came next. Were you involved in development on that?

Jerry: I don’t recall. But my father was. He did the presentation storyboard for Joe. I finally saw it. I was looking for it at the studio once in a while and I finally got a copy of it because one of the writers was walking past the warehouse and they had tossed out a bunch of stuff. They were very callous with the artwork. Here was the storyboard that my father did and this guy saved it. I don’t think he knew me that well. I wish he had given it to me but he gave it to this other cartoonist and I got a copy of it from him.

Yowp: So how was it your dad was asked to do this? Was he still working at the studio?

Jerry: No, he was working at home on comic books. He also used to do the Yogi Bear Sunday comic strip and the daily Yogi Bear strip. In fact, he did the first five Flintstones Sunday strips. I remember him telling me it was just too much of a load of work and he had to give that up. Dick Bickenbach took it over. And then when Bick quit, I don’t know who did it after that. But after my father passed away Iwao Takamoto and I did the Yogi Bear Sunday for a couple of years, we used to alternate. Then it got too much and we had to give it up and I guess Gene Hazelton took it over then.

Yowp: How long did it take to put together the Sunday comic?

Jerry: Oh, I don’t remember how much time it took. We used to do it on the side. I can only guess. Maybe I spent ten or twelve hours, maybe two day’s work.

Yowp: Did you do the drawing and someone else do the inking?

Jerry: Gene had an inker. The same guy who was inking my father’s strips. I’m forgetting his name. He was terrific. Gene was functioning as the editor. He would help with writing the strip, he’d do a very rough storyboard and then we’d just go by that. I think I have a sample of some storyboard. I’m not sure if it’s Gene’s or some guy named Ed Nofziger.
No, Joe Barbera used to ask my father to help on certain things because they had worked together at MGM and in New York. But my father showed me once he did a storyboard for a Yogi Bear birthday special. That would have been around 1960, ’61. I wish I could have saved that storyboard. You know, when we got in a jam one season, we didn’t have enough layout guys so Joe asked my father if he’d lay out some of these shorts. Have you ever heard of Breezly and Sneezly?

Yowp: Yup.

Jerry: My father would mail stuff to the studio after he’d lay it out and they’d bring it to me and I’d check through it to see if all the scenes were in there and the backgrounds, and then I’d turn it in to Nick Nichols. And it never occurred to me to say “Nick, when the animators are finished with this, can I have the layouts?” I should have saved one or two of those things my father did but we didn’t think about that in those days.

Yowp: None of those cartoons ever had individual credits.

Jerry: Breezly and Sneezly?

Yowp: Well, those and Touché Turtle and that whole series, not that I’ve seen.

Jerry: Iwao and I laid out some of the Touchés, probably Willie Ito, Bick and Jack Huber, Alex Ignatiev, Homer Jonas.

Part Four....including Jonny Quest and the shows that never were.


  1. What a wonderful interview from an HB artists that hasn't -- in my opinion anyway -- been given nearly as much credit as he deserves. Jerry's design on so many HB series is what inspired me as a kid to pick up a pencil and start drawing. His work is so much fun to look at and study. Years later, having worked with Jerry on numerous animated series, I can also tell you he's one of the nicest guys in the business.

  2. When Jerry mentions a stoneage "family with a young boy and teenage girl" you'd know what we'd have instantly thought of: The Jetsons type family as cave-people before the Jetsons were created.

    Interesting, to find out that how long ago, even pre-Honeymooners, that the stone age family concept originated in Barbera's brain.

    That conceit was even in a book, around the time of the early Flintstones season, which my brother got in 1972, "The Sonte-Age Family", written by a Bertil Almquist.Thanks for yet another Eisenberg post.

  3. Anon, Jerry has an amazing body of work that no one knows a lot about unless you stare at old cartoon credits. And, even then, they don't tell the whole story.
    There was an awful lot I didn't talk to him about, partly because there are subjects I personally don't have much interest in (eg. the Banana Splits, though I got a funny story out of him about it), and partly because management at work will throw a fit looking at a 2 1/2 hour long distance bill. And he says there was lots more he could talk about and has invited me to call again.
    Steve, I don't know what interview you're reading, but there's no indication Joe Barbera originated a Stone Age family at all. Harvey Eisenberg did working for Chuck McKimson. Of course, Tex had Stone Age gags in The Last Bad Man.

  4. It's interesting that the Fleischer STONE AGE cartoons never come up for discussion in the development of THE FLINTSTONES. I believe that Dan Gordon worked on some of the Fleischer cartoons. They didn't feature any central characters as such, but there were Stone Age families in the cartoons, along with a lot of mechanical gags and even newspapers made out of slabs. Mark Kausler

  5. Not even people in the business like Loopy de loop.

  6. Yowp..good point about my mistake..I didn't read correctly. Sorry..anyway, I like that
    "Seed Concept" title given..and Zartok-35, right on about Loopy, I read that part well, it didn't catch on to be on TV for years, just in theatres, 1959-1960, one year longer and atarting before the original Flintstones..