Thursday, 6 June 2013

Cooking the Flintstones

How did Fred and Wilma Flintstone get their first names? Neither Bill Hanna nor Joe Barbera explain it in in their autobiographies, both of which go into detail about the evolution of “The Flintstones” series before it finally debuted. However, the answer seems to be supplied in a paid obituary that ran in the New York Times on February 22, 2010. It’s for a fellow named Joe Cook. You can read it in full here but the relevant portions state that Cook wrote the first two episodes of “The Flintstones” and that Fred was named for his father-in-law, while Wilma’s name came from his P.T.A. president.

You may be thinking the same thing I thought when I read this: Joe who?

Unfortunately, the original credits for the first season of the show were shorn from the cartoons when they went into syndication in 1966, so the cartoons themselves don’t reveal their writers. But the exhaustive website Webrock Online matches each cartoon with its writer and Cook’s name doesn’t appear. People have been known to make spurious claims about working on cartoons. Could Cook have done the same thing?

The answer would appear to be “no.”

The Knickerbocker News of Albany, New York ran a feature story on “The Flintstones” on June 11, 1960, a good 3½ months before the show debuted on ABC. And the information about the coming series came from Joe Cook. It’s evident in reading the story that Cook had to be in on the early development of the show. Some of the elements seem left over from the original “Flagstones” concept, such as the cartoon being set in “Rockville Vista.” And the publicity drawing supplied to the newspaper features some of the early Ed Benedict designs that were soon modified. Here’s Cook’s concept of the show:

Spoofing the Spoofers
Situation Comedy Animated

WHEN YOU HEAR an announcer this fall proclaiming the merits of “The Dinosaur Show,” don’t make the mistake of thinking he slurred his words and meant “Dinah Shore.”
And if he should mention “Rockville Vista,” he will be referring not to the famed Wistful Vista of Fibber McGee and Molly but the cave city of Fred and Wilma Flintstone.
The Flintstones are the brainchildren of Joe Barbera, originator of the “Tom and Jerry” movie cartoons. In case anyone among my readers is unfortunate enough not to be acquainted with Barbara’s other animated creations, let me say right now you should get to know Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, Yogi Bear et al.
HUCK AND McGRAW and Yogi are all characters who can be a joy to the youngster and understood by the adult. I have said more than once that they deserve to be seen in a little later time period than the supper hour, which is their fate in most areas.
The Flintstones (previously “The Flagstones” until the author of the comic strip, “Hi and Lois,” exercised his prior rights) will have a later spot. To be exact, 8:30-9 p. m. on Friday’s TV’s first half hour animated situation comedy series.
It’s a little early for either ABC or Hanna-Barbera Productinos (William Hanna is the business half) to start beating the drums, but the other day I ran into Joe Cook, author of the first episode. To borrow a well-worn phrase, he gave me a Cook’s tour of the program.

* * *
IN JOE’S words, The Flintstones will have something for everybody. “It’s a flat-footed beer drinkers’ show,” he said. “New Yorker readers will probably find more in it than is really there. The kids’ll go for it, simply because it is a cartoon. Nuance-wise—now there’s a word—Barbera is, in effect, spoofing all situation comedy.
“He’s one of the swingingest, most creative people I ever met. He gets up at 5.30 a. m. and when others fog out on him at 11 p. m., he wonders what’s wrong.
“When he got the idea for The Flintstones, he called one of his animators on the phone and dictated the storyboard. They put together a 4-to-5-minute episode and sold the whole show on this basis.”
* * *
THE FLINTSTONES will have four major characters and I’ll let Cook describe them:
“Fred Flintstone: He’s an awfully nice, loveable, albeit charming, oaf. Sort of a cross between Jackie Gleason and Edgar Kennedy. You might call him the William Bendix of 1000 B.C.
“Wilma Flagstone [sic]: She’s an Audrey Meadows type, smart, sarcastic. She knows everything about her husband and doesn’t think he knows anything about anything.
“Barney and Betty Rubble: They’re the Flintstones’ next-door neighbors. Barney is the most charming idiot you can imagine. Betty is so sweet she makes you sick.”
THE SHOW will be loaded with gimmicks, but the basic one is the superimposition of the language and behavior of modern-day suburbia on the settings, costumes and props of prehistoric times.
The Stone Age city of Rockville Vista will have real streets and motor cars with fins (it hasn’t yet been decided if they will have motors). The Flintstones and the Rubbles will watch TV and go to ball games. When Betty lights Barney’s cigaret she’ll use a modern-type lighter, but when she pushes down two little sticks will rise up and rub together to produce a flame.
Cook said there are “no holds barred” for the writer. “You name any situation that can happen in a town and we’ll have it. Teen-age problems, municipal graft and bribery, people with all sorts of foibles. We’ll have a YCMA (Young Cave Men’s Association) and a businessman who owns the firm of ‘Rock & Quarry’.”
* * *
OCCASIONALLY, prehistoric animals will be introduced but Cook said there will be “less of Alley Oop than the Honeymooners.” And when a dinosaur or a tyrosanous [sic] reappears, they will be of the pet variety. “No 1,000,000 B. C. fights,” Cook pledged.
The decision to have the Flintstones as cave people instead of Westchester Countyites was made for Barbera, Cook said. “One of the hardest things for a cartoonist is to animate human beings, particularly the mouth. If you remember Snow White and the Seven dwarfs, you know that the dwarfs were more realistic than Snow White.”
Cook, who will write five more episodes for The Flintstones, has been associated with dozens of network television and radio shows and personalities in his career. Among them: Paul Winchell, Arnold Stang, Bert Parks, the Margaret Truman-Mike Wallace “Weekday” radio show, the Tony Bennett-Jaye P. Morgan summer replacement program for Perry Como and special material for Bob Hope, Will Jordan and other comics.

The story creates another mystery. When did Cook arrive at Hanna-Barbera, when did he leave and why? Why were Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera quick to credit Warren Foster with writing much of the first season of the show but never mention Cook? (Foster wrote “The Swimming Pool,” the episode which had its basis in the short Flintstones pilot.) Perhaps one of our readers may have the answers.


  1. Is it possible that Cook only wrote / developed “The Flagstones” short pilot film – and it was Foster that fully fleshed-out (and thus actually “wrote”) “The Swimming Pool”?

    Lots of people seem to be brought in to get a show underway and, for various reasons, don’t stick… like Jerry Hausner on Quick Draw McGraw, for instance. Cook might be another such person.

  2. Cook could also be more in the 'story sketches' category, as was the case with Dan Gordon on the early H-B series (both Season 1 Huck with Charles Shows and some Season 2 shows with Foster and Michael Maltese). So he might have been involved with the outlines, but the scripts were fleshed out by Foster, Maltese and others.

    As for why his name never showed up, standard studio operating procedure at several outlets was to ax a person's name from the credits once they left the studio -- Gorden apparently lost his credit off several of the early Famous Noveltoons and color Popeyes for that reason. Cook may have met the same fate (why is another question, though it's possible making himself more central to the process than he was in this interview might not have sat well with Bill and/or Joe).

  3. Joe said; " A flat-footed beers drinker's show ". Wow, how that concept changed as the seasons of the series moved on! Those early, maybe..un refined days of " The Flintstones " were, and are my favorite. I would have never known about Joe Cook had it not been for this blog. Thanks for the info on a fleeting, un sung contributor to the series. Good one, Yowp.

  4. Joe Torciva: Very good observation there...Elliott Field was Blabber as well (apparently) for just six episodes.

    J.Lee: If you want famous examples of expatriot animation people whose names got axed, look no further than some cases well known to us all:) the Warner Brothers guys Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Mike Maltese,etc.

    Erroll: The Flinstones ha ve been my favorite too..

    Yowp: Thanks for this entry..

    Steve C.

  5. J.L., nothing in his background indicates he was any more of an artist that Sid Zelinka, one of the sitcom writers brought in to write sitcom plots and needed Dan Gordon or Tony Benedict to do their storyboards. I think Joe has it. But he evidently never wrote the six episodes he talked about in this story; even his obit talks about a pair of shows. I wonder if the other was one where Joe Barbera took the story credit.

  6. I just read a post by MeTV saying Ray Bradbury did uncredited work in developing THE ADDAMS FAMILY from magazine cartoons to a television series...maybe it's something like that.

  7. I actually have some inside scoop on this from Cook and his son Patrick themselves. Cook was an itinerant TV writer, his career ran the gamut. He actually did write those episodes (the characters' first names were all borrowed from his neighbors). He wrote from NY, where he lived, and was invited by HB to join the show staff in L.A., but personal reasons intervened, he couldn't, and that was that. In the interview he refers to the Flagstones, perhaps reflexively, because that was the first draft name of the family. Joe had nothing to do with animation or design; scriptwriting all the way.