Thursday 22 February 2018

Pebbly Poo, Age 55

Today marks the day, 55 years ago, The Flintstones changed. What had been a situation comedy revolving around grumpy Fred Flintstone and his relationship with his wife and neighbours suddenly veered in a different direction. A baby was added to the permanent cast. Fred’s character, in my estimation, softened in many of the episodes.

The birth wasn’t altogether a case of the show imitating I Love Lucy in an effort to garner a ratings boost. The impetus came, not for entertainment value, but from a company looking to sell girl dolls. Ideal Toys basically told Hanna-Barbera to throw out any idea of having a Fred, Jr. (something that was part of the series’ original Flagstones concept, with the boy designed by Ed Benedict) and have a girl instead (designed by the great Gene Hazelton). There’s a cut in it for you, of course, Joe and Bill. Money was talking. Hanna-Barbera didn’t need to listen long.

I’ve talked before about how I’m not a big fan of Pebbles, so there’s no point in treading that ground. Instead, cast your eyes upon this story from the King Features Syndicate from the day of Pebbles’ birth, February 22, 1963. Yes, the columnist gets her name wrong throughout. Maybe the most interesting thing in the story is that the studio, not willing to waste any creative idea, considered dredging up the “Flagstones” name. As a side note, Joe Barbera mentions that business for the studio has dropped off. No doubt that was due to the failure of Top Cat and The Jetsons in prime time. After three consecutive seasons (1960, 1961 and 1962) managing to make a sale to the networks, no one was biting in 1963. And, as it turned out, Pebbles didn’t help declining ratings for The Flintstones in 1964.

‘Pebble’ Arrives to Keep Flintstones Off the Rocks

HOLLYWOOD — Television is truly a wonder. Wilma Flintstone has been pregnant only five weeks, yet tonight, Washington's Birthday, Wilma is going to give birth to a child in color, on ABC's "The Flintstones."
The kid has been planned for almost 10 months, and Joe Barbera, co-creator, wonders if it's been worth all the trouble, because he and Bill Hanna are bushed. Artists went to work first, and most had boys in mind, because boy's names like Rock would fit better with Flintstone.
However, girl babies looked cuter, and cuteness is the key, so boys were out. After 500 sketches or so, one stood out, a cute little girl with a bow in her hair.
"Then we had to name her," said Joe, "and we came up with handles like Flagstone Flintstone."
Flagstone didn't have quite the right ring to it, but the direction seemed right.
A Name Develops
In dialogue Hanna and Barbera had Barney Rubble saying to Fred: "Boy, she's a chip off the old block." Fred tops it with, "It's more like a pebble off the old Flintstone," and there was the name — Pebble Flintstone.
As soon as Pebble had been labeled the toy world went into orbit. Sketches of the girl were sent to a certain toy manufacturer, and officers hopped a plane west to tie up this merchandising item.
Pebble Flintstone is going to give the Friday night cartoon series a shot in the arm, and it expects to do the same in the toy world. You'll soon see turtle strollers, rock cradles, dinosaur high chairs, turtle shell basinettes and leopard skin diapers.
There will be Pebble baby dolls of all sizes, the cuddly type to hold and bigger stand-up dolls. And you can't leave out coloring books!
Hanna and Barbera have all sorts of exploitation stunts going too. All women who have babies during the half-hour Flintstones tonight, and the estimate runs around 216 babies, will receive a $25 government bond and a Pebble Flintstone doll. The big, big contest "involves guessing the weight of Pebble at birth. The weight guessing contest closed Feb. 15th and the winner, the first one who guesses correctly, as pulled out of a bin, wins a round-the-world trip for two. As of two weeks ago H & B had not decided Pebble's initial weigh-in, so hot tips were phonies.
Staff Clobbered
Neither have the two men overlooked any publicity gimmick for spreading the news about Pebble. Both are family men, and both look worn. "Having real kids of your own is easier." they say. The Pebble birth has clobbered the whole H & B staff.
Joe Barbera was particularly impressed with the efficiency of the toy manufacturers. First came wax models from the cartoon sketches, then arms, head and eyes were interchanged among the models to narrow it down to the right look for the doll.
"It works." says Joe. "The best doll was made. She's so cute and cuddly I think even teen-agers will want her."
The TV animated cartoons
Business has dropped off a good deal of late because of its initial high cost plus the deluge of cartoons on the market at one time, but H & B are waging a fight to survive and Pebble is just one weapon. Joe says the company has a new way of cutting costs to stay in the market, by cutting down" on the number of drawings, standardizing a closeup, a medium shot and a faraway shot.
"We're reorganizing our thinking cost-wise," he says. "We moved so fast we forgot about watching costs in some areas."
With the squeeze on, Joe and Bill are going to fight. "We've learned lessons — like an 8:30 spot is just too late for animated cartoons," says Joe. "If we can get a show on at 7 p.m. we get the kids and hold the set. The grownups have to join in. I don't think the animated cartoon business is through. Kids will always want to see new cartoons. They won't live on reruns alone."


  1. "The birth wasn’t altogether a case of the show imitating I Love Lucy"? Maybe not for ratings' sake, but definitely where scripting was concerned. That whole scene of bollixing up the phone call to the doctor was bodily lifted from the episode where Lucy Ricardo gave birth to Little Ricky. I always wondered why nobody has ever pointed that out.

  2. "All women who have babies during the half-hour Flintstones tonight, and the estimate runs around 216 babies, will receive a $25 government bond and a Pebble Flintstone doll."

    That is the most bizarre gimmick I have ever heard of. I wonder if any women actually claimed (and received) their bond and doll.

    As to the financial difficulties mentioned in this article, this makes me think back to Tony Benedict's recent interview on the Stu Shostak show. (By the way, thanks for referring us readers to that, Yowp. I caught part of it, and it was very informative and entertaining.) Tony stated that by the 1980s Bill and Joe felt that selling their company to Taft had been a big mistake, since they lost a great deal of creative control. After the sale to Taft, Bill and Joe were more like employees of Taft rather than heads of Hanna-Barbera.

    I'm sure they felt that way, given the declining quality of H-B cartoons in the 1970s and 1980s. And Mark Evanier has mentioned in one of his blog posts that Joe told him, "We should never have sold the company."

    Yet, in light of H-B's increasingly difficult financial situation by 1963, one wonders whether Hanna and Barbera really had any choice but to sell their company. Maybe the choice was sell or eventually go out of business.

  3. I remember it well. By the time " Pebbly-Poo " was born, advertising had become more "family friendly" so to speak. The Flintstones was sponsored by Welch's instead of Winston. Yowp, you're right, Fred *did* soften. In most of the H-B shows, I have always been a fan of the earlier, unrefined days. Be it Huck, Yogi, Flintstones, etc. Had a raw feel to it that I liked.

  4. I know I've trod this ground as well when it comes to Pebbles, but the show did get some good episodes out of Fred dealing with the baby in the early going. It was when they decided to add Bam Bam to the cast and give him a gimmick of being a super-strong baby that things really took a turn for the worse (Bam Bam in a way was to the rest of the "Flinstones" cast in terms of high-concept characterization what Loopy de Loop was to the other nine H-B short series created in the 1958-61 period -- a character who doesn't really have any reason to exist on his own, other than the gimmick the studio gave him).

  5. ...Wilma is going to give birth to a child in color...

    For a sec there, I read that as "a child of color". That would be some groundbreaking TV, all right. "WILLLLLLMA!"

    1. Apparently it wasn't just the cat that was jumping through the window and dropping Fred out of the house at night.

  6. Interesting that the author of the article thought the name was Pebble instead of Pebbles.

    There actually was a Pebble character in the Flintstones comic books from Dell who predated Pebbles the child. This was Perry Gunnite's girlfriend Pebble Bleach, a Hollyrock movie actress, who pretty much disappeared from the comics, except in reprints, after Pebbles was born. But she may have been the inspiration for the name.

    On my wish list: I would love to see the Flintstones daily comic strips that ran the week after Pebbles' birth. Back in 2013 (thank you, thank you!) we got the comic strips that ran in the week BEFORE the birth, as a special bonus in honor of Pebbles' 50th birthday. We got the full complement of monthly Sundays including the two Sunday strips containing Wilma's "news" and the hospital birth the next week, plus the daily strips that ran in between, showing Wilma's pregnancy as depicted in the comics. I would love to see the week of strips in which Pebbles made her debut in the dailies...if such material is even available at this late date. Anyhow, happy 55th birthday to Pebbles! (I know you don't care much for her, Yowp, but thanks for indulging occasionally for us Pebbles fans!)

  7. I always thought that the episode where Wilma has the baby, (s3, ep 23 "The Blessed Event") was the best one of that season, maybe one of the best overall, because of Fred's rehearsals of driving to the hospital, and then the mixup during the real trip that leaves Wilma alone in the back seat of Barney's car. Yeah, its a ripoff of I Love Lucy, but its still very funny.

    I also remember remember the episode where Fred finds out Wilma's going to have a baby (s3 ep 19), at the end when Fred's running around yelling to the town that they're expecting, the woman at the window surrounded by dozens of kids who says "Big Deal!!" - I had to have my dad explain that one to me!

  8. YOWP, Do you have any info on Naomi Lewis who provided the voice of Mrs. Gruesome (on the first episode). She may be the only surviving actress from the show - sans Ann-Margret.

    1. She died in 2009.
      As mentioned in the Doug Young post, Elliot Field is still alive.

  9. I hardly think that Hanna Barbera was in a difficult financial situation in 1966 to sell to Taft. Even with the set backs from their prime time failures, both Top Cat and The Jetsons lived on in syndication for a long time, as well as episodes of their Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw Mcgraw shows. Those shows didn't air for free. And HB was still producing shows for syndication like Magilla and Peter Potamus, sponsored by Ideal. I think Bill and Joe were offered a nice payday for Their studio and they took the money. They probably looked at their initial investment from 9 years prior and compared it to the 12 million dollar offer from Taft and jumped at it. Simple. Taft knew the value of the studio and of the people running it.

    1. Not only that, but H-B produced the alleged first cartoons made especially for Saturday morning: THE ATOM ANT SHOW and THE SECRET SQUIRREL SHOW, which premiered with 20 episodes each on NBC in fall of 1965, and six new episodes in fall of 1966.

      The studio turned out a huge amount of new material for Saturday morning in the fall of 1966, the beginning of the superadventure craze- and the syndicated Laurel & Hardy shorts as well.

      JONNY QUEST, which only ran one season (1964-65) on ABC's prime time schedule and may have been cancelled due to expense more than ratings, also had a healthy afterlife in Saturday AM reruns and syndication.

  10. A promo for Pebbles' birth had Wilma on the maternity bed with a sign: 10,000 b.c. While that's before recorded history, the pre-ancient date's recency could evoke an image of ancient-timeish Conan the Barbarian crashing the party.

  11. No mention is made here that there was a Bamm-Bamm doll as well, with silver hair yet! I wonder what the advertisements for that product read, especially when you think of the "circumstances" were around the appearance of little Bamm-Bamm on the Rubbles' doorstep. Regarding the comic strips overall on "THE FLINTSTONES", I wish that a book were published featuring all comic book materials on the series. I wonder how many episodes were replicated in comic book form per week. Not all such original issues reached my home town and I found it frustrating because I kept hearing that there were far more than I was able to buy. A hefty volume of all such comic book adventures or recreations would be nice for collectors, in color yet!!

  12. My Wife was born Feb. 22, 1963 and she never received a Bond.