Saturday, 23 June 2018

Meet the You-Know-Whos

“An inked disaster” is how the venerable New York Times referred to the debut of The Flintstones in 1960 (read the review HERE). Some critics weren’t all that impressed when the series first aired, partly because they it kept being pushed by ABC and Screen Gems as an “adult comedy,” they thought it would be a little more sophisticated and satiric.

The series turned out to have simple but creative spoofs of suburban living conditions of the 1950s transposed to the Stone Age, or at least the impressions everyone had of it. The audience was quite happy with that.

Here’s a full-page feature story from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s “Sunday Magazine” of February 19, 1961. The writer evidently wasn’t altogether impressed (he had already written about the series before it aired; you can read what he had to say HERE). The interesting thing to me is the revelation that The Flintstones never had a pilot film. For some time, people have been referring to a 90-second-or-so reel of animation of The Flagstones as a “pilot,” which it never was. Could we please put that to rest now?

The spelling of Bill Hanna’s name is his. The publicity set-up photos came with the article.

Meet 'The Flintstones' of Bedrock
By Arnold Zeitlin

JOSEPH BARBERA AND William Hannah are two of the most inventive men in the television business and in the face of nervous concern by paid-in-full members of the Screen Actors Guild they are demonstrating a canny facility for inventing flesh-and-blood actors off your home television screens and replacing them with their own pen-and-ink creations.
Their most recent contribution to the attrition of live talent on television is the weekly series, "The Flintstones," seen Friday nights over Channel 4. The series of half hour animated cartoons, which they insist are for adults, has compounded the reputation the adept pair earned with the appearance of "Huckleberry Hound" on television screens across the country. The program, which was created with the kiddies in mind, is seen on Channel 2.
FOR VIEWERS SEEKING sophisticated comedy or devilish satire, "The Flintstones" would be a dead waste of time. Despite considerable promise before the start of the current television season, the program's first, 'The Flintstones" is a situation comedy to rank with the ranker days of "Life with Riley" and other such efforts.
"The Flintstones" sounds and looks better on paper than it does on the screen, a circumstance which makes easily believable the story behind its sale to sponsors.
Barbera, a dark haired, dark complexioned man with an earnest and disarming approach [sic], did not stoop to taking a pilot film with him when he met with potential buyers in New York City.
Instead, he spread the story board (sketches of the finished program) around a Madison Avenue office and proceeded to act all the parts himself. "The Flintstones" became a purchase.
'The Flintstones" seems to have caught on, despite, or perhaps, because of the puerility of its content. The program has a saving grace for the watcher who is excited by invention. It is crammed with the wildest contraptions since the heyday of the Rube Goldberg spectacular.
“The Flintstones” tell the story of an ordinary couple, their neighbors, their work-a-day world. With one difference. The couple, Fred and Wilma Flintstone, live in the Stone Age.
Barbera and Hannah, therefore, boyishly have invented one fantastic anachronism after the other to suggest modern times.
WIILMA VACCUM cleans her home, a stone hut of course, with the leathery trunk of an elephant with elephant still attached. A big beaked Dodo bird was resurrected from extinction to serve as record player needle ("So, it's a living," the bird confesses to the audience).
Fred operates a dinosaur-powered crane for the Rock Head & Quarry Cave Construction Company. A lizard serves as the brake for Fred's coupe with the stone wheels. He uses his feet for locomotion. Name of his city is Bedrock ("Any city in the United States could be this town." insists Barbera), it has a newspaper called the Bugle, chipped in stone tablets.

WHEN A STONE AGE movie company arrived in Bedrock one episode to make the movie, "Monster of the Tarpits." it came from a place called Hollyrock. A lizard with bucked teeth, for instance, is Wilma's can opener.
"Have you ever tried to cast a can opener?" said Barbera.
To demonstrate their basically generous attitude toward live actors, Barbera and Hannah have employed four good ones to supply voices for their animated offspring. Alan Reed and Jean Vander Pyl play the Flintstones. Bea Benaderet and Mel Blanc speak for the Barney Rubbles, the neighbors.
Huckleberry Hound was the first Barbera-Hannah character of consequence ("I love Huck," says Barbera, “he's so pure.”)
The two animators had worked 20 years from 1937 for MGM Studios, producing “Tom and Jerry” cartoons. In 1957, ( "business was on its ear": Barbera), the two men quit before they were fired. Shortly afterward, MGM discontinued 'Tom and Jerry" production.
THE SUCCESS OF HUCK and his cohorts, most singularly a character named Yogi Bear (who probably will get his own series) attracted letters from adults, inspiring the idea of a series in so-called adult hours.
The fears of live television actors notwithstanding, more animated cartoon programs doubtlessly will dot the schedule starting next fall. Barbera and Hannah will be leading the way, of course.
Barbera recalls it was considered a full year's work when they turned out six “Tom and Jerry” features (eight minutes each) for MGM. Last year, they produced 52 half hours, with more scheduled.
"I'll never understand," says a mystified Barbera. "what the hell we were doing in those days."


  1. I'm assuming he got the "In 1957, the two men quit before they were fired. Shortly afterward, MGM discontinued 'Tom and Jerry' production," from Joe, who demonstrates his promotional abilities here, in support of both his new prime-time show and the studio in general. The more common story is that Bill & Joe were working on their post-MGM stuff in their final days at MGM, but they were very much in place when production manager Eddie Mannix told them the cartoon studio was closing.

    (The, "I'll never understand, what the hell we were doing in those days" line from Barbera in the interview about his years at MGM is also kind of depressing, knowing what was to come from 1965 on. But at least when he said it here, the studio was still around its high-point of creativity.)

  2. Coconut Koola: for that hand-made taste.

  3. What the hell they were doing in those days, was making really great theatrical cartoons! Understand NOW, Joe?

  4. An " inked disaster "?.....Nah. Looking back on The Flintstones now, and so many other H-B series that had a good run. as I have said on this blog earlier, whether it's Huck,Yogi,or The Flintstones, I will always be a fan of those early,kind of gritty in their look, unrefined days of all those shows. The attitude just seem to say; " This is new, win or lose it all, let's go for it!" I agree with Mark on Joe's comment. They were making great theatrical cartoons.

  5. I'll never understand," says a mystified Barbera. "what the hell we were doing in those days."
    Joe was the ultimate salesman; there was nothing better than the product he was selling you at the moment. Possibly Joe was referring to the number of successful characters the studio created within a few short years compared to 20 years of nothing but Tom and Jerry. He might also be talking about how Fred Quimby took credit and the accolades whenever Bill and Joes efforts won an Oscar.
    However. Joe might also be referring to the money that they were making by heading up their own studio. They might have been making good money at MGM all those years but I'm sure it didn't compare to the paychecks they received when these shows became successful.