Saturday, 28 January 2017

Composing For the Flintstones

Hoyt Curtin, mused the late Earl Kress, “made the biggest impact on cartoon music since Carl Stalling...he is responsible for changing from a classical music sound to a big band flavor.” And Earl should know as he, with great delight, had access to the master music library at Hanna-Barbera when he helped compile CDs of the studio’s themes and incidental music for release by Rhino a number of years ago.

Not a lot seems to have been written in depth about Curtin—I’d love to find an interview he did in the September 1992 edition of Film Score Monthly—but what we’ve found, we’ve posted here. And another story has surfaced during a search; it’s from the Boston Globe, May 28, 1961. There’s no byline so it may have been a handout from H-B public relations man Arnie Carr.

I’ve never really thought about what Curtin mentions in the article. For one thing, the Flintstones’ music ended up on other Hanna-Barbera cartoons, so it’s not character-specific. I have noticed he wrote “B” underscore themes—on The Flintstones, it was the melody that later became the theme song; on The Jetsons, it’s a tune that was later adapted as the theme for Josie and the Pussycats. There are variations on each of the melodies—bridges, tags and so on—the same kind of thing you’ll find in the Capitol Hi-Q and other stock music libraries.

Perhaps Curtin was following the example of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera’s previous composer. As animator and historian Mark Kausler points out, Tom and Jerry each had their own little theme composed by Scott Bradley going back to their first cartoon, Puss Gets the Boot (1940). Sergei Prokofiev did the same thing with his symphony Peter and the Wolf.

It should be mentioned Curtin didn’t actually win the Emmy for Huck; the series won it.

Music Lovers, Be Seated
Do you detect the Wagnerian motif in the cartoon series, “The Flintstones”?
Musicman Hoyt Curtin, 38, put it in. As musical director for the cartoon favorite, Curtin believes this is the first time in any TV series that the Wagnerian approach has been applied so extensively to a score.
“For the devout, this is known as theming the characters. In other words, each main character has his own theme. This is them orchestrated and handled to fit the situation as it occurs. Each theme is woven into the musical pattern as a character identifying tag,” says Curtin.
The characters in the ABC cartoon strip include Wilma and Fred Flintstone and Betty and Barney Rubble. Each week they cavort through a series of hilarious adventures in Stone Age suburbia. Bea Benadaret [sic] and Mel Blanc, top entertainers in their own right, provide the voices for Betty and Barney. Jean Vander Pyl and Alan Reed are the voices behind Wilma and Fred.
“The old ‘Dum-de-dum-dum’ theme of Dragnet and the Wyatt Earp music used some of the same technique,” Curtin commented. “But there is a tendency these days to score TV shows even closer to the main characters. This may be common practice in the near future,” he added.
Curtin works 60 hours a week at this sort of thing—applying music to characters. He has won an Emmy for “Huckleberry Hound” and an Oscar for “Magoo Flew.” Twenty-two bandmen are used for the music work on “The Flintstones.” Some have come from the hot jazz cliques, such as Buddy Cole, Nick Fatool and Pete Candoli. “We seek brightness in sound,” says Curtin, who received a Master’s Degree in composition at the University of Southern California in 1947.
For the men in the show—Fred and Barney—the dominant instrument is a bass clarinet.
For the women—Wilma and Betty—it’s woodwinds.
Picking the music and instrument to fit the character and situation of a Flintstone episode can be trying at time.
“After all, you have to figure out what kind of music does a cave man play? We decided it couldn’t be progressive jazz and not the sound of the 20’s, or Glenn Miller. Anything dates is out,” concluded Curtin.


  1. Curtain did the best job in composing themes for cartoons by mood, as opposed to composing by scene, which was standard practice for most of the theatrical area, but was rarely used on TV animation -- on "The Flintstones" the Rockenspeil jingle may be the best example of taking a generic Curtain mood piece and then adapting it to fit a specific scene (and scoring by scene was pretty much on its way out before the studios shut down -- even the theatricals from Warners by 1967 often just used Bill Lava pieces that didn't directly connect to the action, while on the East Coast, a lot of Winston Sharples' music for a specific scene in a theatrical cartoon of the 50s later was converted into stock music mood pieces for made-for-TV cartoons).

  2. I would like to know what studios and equipment were used to record H/B music and sound effects. The sound is characterized by a brittle, narrow stereo or mono sound with limited dynamic range compared to other recording of the time, and I'd like to know the specifics of the engineering just to confirm what my ears tell me.

  3. Well done, Hoyt Curtin.

  4. Very good article..Curtin's music was certainly unique.