Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Wilma and Brickrock

Today we can enjoy DVDs or on-line streams of our favourite old cartoons (or bootlegs in some cases). A generation ago, baby boomers ooh-ed and aww-ed about the latest home entertainment technology of the day—video cassettes. Yes, people could actually see some of their favourite cartoons without having to wait for them to appear on TV.

Who better to give free plugs for these wondrous new products than the people who appeared on the cartoons?

Mel Blanc and Jean Vander Pyl were the only main cast members of The Flintstones who were alive when episodes of the ‘60s show first started appearing on home video. Blanc had a whole new career at the time as a raconteur, showing up on talk shows to gab about the old days of the Jack Benny radio show and throw in samples of the voices of his characters (mainly the Maxwell, an English horse and Warner Bros. cartoon stars) that everyone instantly recognised. Vander Pyl seems to have been less in demand. Of the four main actors, her career was arguably the one with the lowest profile. She wasn’t known for much more than being Wilma Flintstone.

Still, we’ve stumbled across this story dated August 27, 1987. In the few interviews I’ve read, she strikes me as a modest, open person, and I’m glad to see she got more recognition in her later years (especially when the live-action Flintstones movie came out). The columnist asks the right (if obvious) questions—“What about the Honeymooners connection?” “Are the old cartoons better than the new ones?” “Are you surprised with the show’s success?”

The many voices of the Flintstone family the work of one
By Mike Cidoni

Gannett News Service
Jean Vander Pyl is never alone, even when she’s by herself.
Forget Sybil. Vander Pyl is a REAL mistress of multiple personalities. Each of hers collects a paycheck.
And there’s another check on the way, as Vander Pyl — the voices of Wilma and Pebbles Flintstone as well as eight occasional characters on “The Jetsons” — picks up her profits from the videocassette “The Flintstones: The First Episodes” (Worldvision, $29.95). The tape (arriving Aug. 29) features the animated series’ first four shows, which aired on ABC in the fall of 1990. When Vander Pyl picks up the phone, you half expect a blast from that past, you expect to hear Wilma; perhaps Pebbles and Bamm Bamm cooing in the background; maybe a few of Fred’s brontosaurus burgers broiling on the grill.
What yon get is a voice that’s husky, warm, matronly.
You get a feeling that Vander Pyl loves creating the voices of Wilma and Pebbles Flintstone. She loves to review the show’s original episodes. She has a gay old time whenever she returns to Bedrock.
Yon also get a little perplexed and a lot bedazzled.
Give Vander Pyl a cue. Any cue. And out comes a quiver. Then a nasally quake.
One word reveals it all. It’s Wilma, alright.
“And you’ll never believe it," says the 67-year-old Vander Pyl. “That’s all I need to say and I get surrounded by people. I’m more popular now than I was 20 years ago. It’s still a big deal.”
And it still gives the San Clemente-based Vander Pyl a bounty of work. She says her character is featured in a new series of ads, including one for MasterCard of England.
While she’s grateful for the recent Flintstone gigs, Vander Pyl agrees that they don’t make ’em — or write ’em — like they used to.
“Amen,” she says. “The writing, that parody, that wit. It was really ahead of its time. The originals — from 1960-66 — that we did ... Everybody says they’re the best. I have met so many people, kids 35 and 40, who grew up with the originals.”
Those first “Flintstone” shows, which make up the longest-running animated series in prime-time history, are now in syndication. They’ve also inspired a string of spin-offs including the Saturday-morning series “Pebbles and Bamm Bamm” and ABC’s current “The Flintstones Kids.”
Hanna-Barbera also is in pre-production with its big-budget live-action “Flintstones” feature starring Jim Belushi as the hard-headed Fred.
Vander Pyl hopes the new projects will recapture the spirit and success of the earliest episodes.
“(Producers) Mr. Barbera and Mr. Hanna were such pioneers,” she explains. “They had seen that something like 90 percent of ‘Huckleberry Hound’s audience was over the age of 19. So they decided to try an experiment an animated series strictly for adults that would air in prime time.”
The late Alan Reed gave a voice to Fred. Mel (“Bugs Bunny”) Blanc played neighbor Barney Rabble. Vander Pyl originally auditioned for the role of Barney’s wife, Betty. But she lost the part to the late Bea Benaderet (who simultaneously played Kate, the mother, on CBS’ “Petticoat Junction.”)
“Almost all of us came from radio,” Vander Pyl says. “And in radio days, if you couldn’t do two or three characters in one show, you didn’t work. Who’s gonna pay for three actors if you can get just one to do three parts?"
Impressed with Vander Pyl’s versatility, Barbera cast her as Wilma.
“He showed us some drawings and told us ‘This show was kind of inspired by “The Honeymooners’.” So, at first, Vander Pyl based Wilma on Jackie Gleason’s “Honeymooners” wife, Audrey Meadows.
“You know what I mean,” Vander Pyl explains. Then she breaks into flat, through-the-nose Meadows impersonation. “Oh, Raaalph!”
She says Barbera’s direct command to clone “The Honeymooners” separates “The Flintstones: The First Episodes” from the rest in the series.
"When we first started the show, we were all striving — more or less — for that ... I have to come out and say it. We were copying THEM,” she says, laughing. “But it only lasted for about three or four shows because we quickly eased into our characters. Now, I think Wilma’s more like me. A caricature version. People that know me well can spot me in Wilma. I get awfully angry at men sometimes.”
Oddly enough, in its debut season (1960-61), “The Flintstones” scored a higher Nielsen ranking than its original inspiration. It also had a longer run (the original “Honeymooners” ran just a season, “The Flintstones” ran for six).
“And nobody really expected it to go that long. It was just something they were going to try out,” she says.
Vander Pyl may have won the audition for Wilma, but it wasn’t her first role at Hanna-Barbera. When the studio expanded in 1959 to add the half-hour Quick Draw McGraw Show, Joe Barbera went out to look for new voices. One was Vander Pyl, whose first role was Mrs. J. Evil Scientist on a Snooper and Blabber cartoon.

Vander Pyl and the Flintstones’ cast received an unexpected honour in the series’ second season. This is likely a news release from studio PR flack Arnie Carr and appeared in the Binghamton Press of January 6, 1962.

Flintstones Are Invited To Film Festival
A new honor has just been bestowed on the ABC-TV television program, The Flintstones, in the form of an invitation to enter the Monte Carlo TV Film Festival being held this month.
The invitation specifically requested that the Flintstone episode, "Alvin Brickrock Presents," represent the Flintstones show in the comedy category.
"Alvin Brickrock Presents" has to do with a neighbor of the Flintstones and the Bubbles, Alvin Brickrock, whose strange activities with spades, shovels, and coffin-like boxes leads Flintstone and Rubble to suspect that Alvin has done away with his wife — whose absence from the Brickrock home is not satisfactorily explained.
To qualify for the Monte Carlo Festival, the "Brickrock" script had to be translated into French and dubbed with French subtitles. Elliot Field, well-known Hollywood "voice," stars as Alvin Brickrock. Wilma and Fred Flintstone are played by Jean Vander Pyl and Alan Reed, Betty and Barney Rubble by Bea Benaderet and Mel Blanc.
Someone else hired at Hanna-Barbera in 1959 appeared in the cartoon mentioned above. It was Color Radio KFWB disc jockey Elliot Field. Elliot was hired as the voice of Blabber Mouse and appeared in the first four Snooper and Blabber cartoons (and provided incidental voices). However, he explained to me once he ended up in hospital for surgery and when he was fit again, Daws Butler had taken over the role. As you can see, he came back to the studio, but any further cartoon work was cut short by a radio career move to Detroit.

Elliot sent a note several days ago to let me know he’s still out there. He’s the last of the pre-1960 Hanna-Barbera voice actors kicking around (Jimmy Weldon wasn’t hired to be Yakky Doodle until late 1960). We wish Elliot good health and hope to hear from him again. His book about his time in ‘60s rock-jock radio, commercials and animation is still available.


  1. i think Alvin Brickrock was a parody of Alfred Hitchcock.

  2. Good to see Vander Pyl along side Barbara Billingsley. They worked together in a few " Leave It To Beaver " episodes.

  3. What a nice article, Yowp - thanks for posting!

  4. “...[I]n radio days, if you couldn’t do two or three characters in one show, you didn’t work. Who’s gonna pay for three actors if you can get just one to do three parts?"

    I have to wonder what Vander Pyl would think about how versatility is not as prized an asset as it used to be in the cartoon vocalization field, and that the "one voice" voice actors of today, such as H. John Benjamin, Kristen Schaal, and Patrick Warburton not only get lots of work, they are in demand, and very successful.

    As regards to the group photo above--Let the "Good Times" Rolle.

    1. It's not a prized asset, I suspect, because union rules have changed to require extra payment if an actor does more than a certain number of voices. You don't save any money by having one guy do six voices like in the old days in cartoons or on radio.

    2. Back in the old days there were many "one voice" actors:
      Billy Bletcher, Pinto Colvig, Clarence Nash, Frank Nelson, Arthur Q.Bryan, Janet Waldo, Robert C.Bruce, Howard MacNear, and Alan Reed (Fred!), most of whom actually could do more than one but who were hired for that specialty voice (like a certain little whiny duck's ones..) Very good article.SC

    3. Bob Bergen ( Current voice of Porky Pig )told me that after Daws passed in 1988, and Mel passed in 1989, the studios stopped signing voice actors to exclusive contracts for any particular cartoon character. Could have been the Union rules Yowp spoke of. But, Bob also said the studios wanted a pool of voice actors on hand to pull from so they wouldn't be caught off guard like they were with two major voice actors passing in a years time. Bob was in Daws' acting class, and had visited Mel a number of times.

  5. Vander Pyl played Margaret Anderson on the radio version of FATHER KNOWS BEST, much better known for its TV incarnation. Just knowing who it is when I've listened to some of those shows, I keep picturing Wilma Flintstone married to Jim Anderson and raising Betty, Bud and Kathy,

  6. Nice to see that Jimmy O'Neillstone still had a job after Shinrock. He'll be forever remembered for sticking his hand through the TV set to turn it back on after Fred turned it off.

  7. I think I remember having that VHS once back in the day, I no longer have it though.

  8. And another thing of note: Youtube user Jordan Rios has posted the closing logos from that very VHS. This is exactly what you would most likely see on Flintstones reruns from that time.