Thursday, 8 November 2012

‘Splainin’ the Flintstones

It seems only natural that Joe Barbera would be the one to help sell Hanna-Barbera cartoons to prospective sponsors and viewers. Selling is telling a persuasive story. Barbera had been responsible for the stories of almost all the Tom and Jerry cartoons at MGM, then maintained his involvement in story work when he and Bill Hanna formed their own studio.

Barbera was not only persuasive, he was enthusiastic. And when selling his new cartoons to the media, even reporters noticed he was a little too enthusiastic.

UPI’s Phyllis Battelle mentioned it when she put together a column on the pending debut of The Flintstones. This is from papers of August 11, 1960.

Meet the “Flintstones”
By Phyllis Battelle

NEW YORK — Speaking of penetrating, daring, informative television shows (Well, the FCC spoke of them, anyway) the ABC network has come up with a new series of life among the neanderthal exurbanites.
Premiering next month, it will be the most costly half-hour series ($65,000 a show) in TV history. That takes care of the “daring” part, right there.
As the series, a satirical cartoon to be called “The Flintstones,” unfolds, the American public will learn first-hand:
1—How you can light cigars with two sticks.
2—What to do with money—use it like credit cards.
3—What it is like to live in a split-level cave.
4—How to differentiate between a dinasaur’s [sic] cough and a brontosaur’s mating call.
5—And many more fascinating and unvaluable lessons in stone age living.
Having heard much about the new series we went to see Joseph Barbera, co-producer (with William Hanna), and found him handsome, eager and excited. In his lapel was a round button recommending “Huckleberry Hound for President;” he explained that “H. Hound” was another of his and Hanna’s cartoon creations, along with “Tom and Jerry” and “Meet McGraw,” and the button was a gimmick left over from the Democratic campaign.
“WE’RE AWFULLY excited about The Flintstones,” he said. “Been working on it a year. It’s so splendidly goofy in concept, the sponsors bought it on the strength of the story-board alone. We didn’t have to draw a line. What’s it about?
“Well, it’s the story of Fred and Wilma Flintstone. Fred works for the Rockhead and Quarry Cave Construction company and is very active in the YCMA — the Young Cave Men’s association.
“Fred’s sort of like Jackie Gleason in ‘The Honeymooners’ and Wilma’s rather like Audrey Meadows; But they’re also something like Lucy and Desi. And sometimes there are undertones of Laurel and Hardy. They have a stoney-agey piano called, of course, a ‘Stoneway.’ And their next door neighbors are Betty and Barney Rubble.
“They live in the town of Bedrock — but they’re quite impressed with the glamor of Hollyrock. That’s where they make movies with those wonderful stars, Cary Granite and Rock Pile.”
Barbera could go on, talking like a proud idiot, for hours. But we asked him to get down to the technical aspects of this show — the first cartoon ever to be awarded prime evening time on a television network. He said that, thanks to a new, patented short-cut system he and Hanna have developed, they can now turn out 52 half-hour shows a year — whereas formerly their maximum output was 48 minutes of cartoon film annually.
EACH SHOW requires a staff of 180 artists, making 10,000 drawings. And 30 writers are needed to provide the necessary satire; “‘The Flintstones’ is a satire on anything and everything; It even satires satire.”
It could have been placed in a modern setting, but every time the artists tried to create a cartoon man and woman in modern clothes — “they came out looking like TV commercials. The moment we put them in lion skins, they got a chuckle.”
This is one television show that was dreamed up out of whole loin-cloth.

Regular readers to the blog will have noticed Joe wasn’t immune to a bit of hyperbole and this column was no exception (we’ll presume he knew the name of Quick Draw McGraw and the reporter didn’t).

Warren Foster might have busted a gut reading “30 writers.” Foster wrote the majority of the first season of The Flintstones by himself. Mike Maltese wrote a couple and a few sitcom writers were brought in to handle the rest. You couldn’t get 30 even if you added in all the story directors at the studio, sketch artist Dan Gordon (who sketched the Fred and Barney drawing above) and Barbera himself. And did 180 people really work on each show, including the ink and paint department? Take into consideration each of the early Flintstones half-hours that Barbera is talking about had one animator, one layout artist and one person painting all the backgrounds.

Anyone can readily see a chunk of The Honeymooners in The Flintstones. And it isn’t too much of a stretch to see a bit of Laurel and Hardy in the early relationship between Fred and Barney. But Lucy and Desi? Did Wilma lose a battle with a hastening conveyor belt full of chocolates? Scrunch up her face and go “Ehwwww”? Have Tallulah Bankhead-stone in her PTA play?

Okay, an animated Lucy and Desi created by the Hanna-Barbera unit at MGM opened I Love Lucy. And both shows hawked cigarettes, albeit different brands.

And, yes, Wilma and Betty once schemed together like Lucy and Ethel used to do about mink coats. Oh, and Wilma got pregnant like Lucy. But that was in the future and not on Joe Barbera’s mind (or Ideal Toys’) when he did this interview.

The real comparison with Lucy and Desi is something Joe Barbera could have only hoped about when he spoke with Phyllis Battelle in 1960—that of enduring popularity. Lucy is still justifiably loved by hoards of fans and I Love Lucy is on the air somewhere. The Flintstones remains a part of the popular culture, 52 years after the show’s debut, if a sampling of newspapers around North America in the last few weeks is any indication (as an example, click here to read of a front lawn Flintstones Hallowe’en display in Griffith, Indiana). And Fred, Barney, Dino and the rest continue to be financially viable; a DVD called The Flintstones: Prime-Time Specials Collection has recently been released (all I’ll say about it is I’d rather see Quick Draw McGraw and the remaining Huckleberry Hound Show cartoons on home video). The fact you and dozens of others have been reading this post shows that people are still interested in the grandpa of prime-time animated sitcoms.

Now if only Fred had taken some swigs of Vitametavegamin instead of Carnation Evaporated Milk. I’d love to have seen Carlo Vinci or Ed Love animate that.


  1. Dittos Yowp on the rest of Quick Draw and Huck being released....with the original music cues, of course. Seeing and hearing Fred on Vitametavegamin would have been a classic of sight and sound. I would love to see how Vinci or Love would have animated Fred slowly crumbling under the influence of that wonder drink. But, also hearing how Alan Reed would have voiced it...priceless!

  2. Wilma and Betty trying to sneak into the Water Buffalo convention was probably the closest they even came to Lucy-Ethel type scheming and punishment. But by the time that show came out we were already past the "Meet McGraw" election and onto the "Meet Magilla" campaign of 1964 (albeit, this was one of the better late-season Flintstones episodes).

  3. It's nice to know, despite only being in black & white, they still bothered painting those cels in color!

  4. Meet McGraw? That's a different show!