Saturday, 15 December 2018

Jean Vander Pyl Looks Back

For the first two years of its life, the Hanna-Barbera cartoon studio relied almost entirely on Daws Butler and Don Messick to provide voices for all its characters. The exceptions were rare. By 1959 the studio was looking to expand its talent roster, and also to hire a woman to handle the female roles instead of using Messick in falsetto.

That’s when Jean Vander Pyl was hired.

Vander Pyl came from radio. She wasn’t in the top echelon of female supporting players like Bea Benaderet or Shirley Mitchell, but she had a steady enough career. Because of that, she didn’t get a lot of attention. That changed years later, when Hanna-Barbera cartoons became nostalgic and Vander Pyl was still around to voice her old characters.

From what I’ve heard she was a friendly, down-to-earth and level-headed person, and a good friend, so it’s nice to see her getting some publicity.

This story appeared in the Asbury Park Press of May 29, 1994. Other than misremembering which character was her first—Hanna Barbera had a bunch who were inspired by the Addams Family, so that’s understandable—she gives an interesting take on her career, including her most famous role.

Vander Pyl died on April 10, 1999 at the age of 79.


"I was never very bold about telling actors off or telling directors what I wanted," says a familiar voice over the phone from California. "You just didn't do that in those days. But there were two times in my life that I did."
Jean Vander Pyl is reminiscing about her audition for "The Flintstones" in 1960. Present were Bea Benaderet, an old friend from her radio days, and animator Joseph Barbara, who would decide which of these two women should play Wilma Flintstone and which should play Betty Rubble.
Continues Vander Pyl: "When Bea and I read, it was the funniest thing. We read back and forth, this way and that way. And finally Joe said, 'OK — who wants to be Wilma and who wants to be Betty?' "
Vander Pyl lets out a laugh. "It was so informal in those days, so much more relaxed. Today, they would never do such a thing!
"So I said, 'Oh, I want to be Wilma!' I felt a real closeness to that character. Bea said, 'That's fine with me.' So that's actually the way it was cast."
The only other time in her long career that Vander Pyl "mouthed off" would come three years later.
When we heard there was going to be a baby on the show, she says, "we were excited. The minute I heard that, I thought, 'Oh, I want to do that baby!' Sure enough, the first time it was in the script — the birth of Pebbles — (Barbera) said, 'Now, who's going to do the baby here?'
"The minute those words were out of his mouth, I said, 'I want to do the baby! She's Wilma's baby and she should sound like Wilma!' "
If you're only going to speak up for yourself twice in your career, Vander Pyl apparently picked the two right moments.
As the creator of the voices of the voices of Wilma (which she still performs to this day) and baby Pebbles, Vander Pyl has been heard for 34 years in 86 countries. She is the only surviving member from the original cast of the 1960-66 animated series The Flintstones, on which is based the feature starring John Goodman which opened Friday.
Before doing voice characterizations for television, Vander Pyl worked in radio for 20 years, "in the early, early days, when radio was like television now. "For radio people," the actress says, "if you couldn't do more than one character in a show, you didn't work. So, cartoons were a natural for radio people."
Vander Pyl first worked for William Hanna and Barbera — the animators who created "The Flintstones" — in the late '50s, just when the need for original cartoons produced specifically for the medium of television was becoming more and more apparent.
"It was the big change, and television demanded it," Vander Pyl recalls.
"At that time, they were using the old 'Betty Boops,' the old 'Popeyes' — all the stuff that had already been done. Then (Hanna and Barbera) came up with this new method of producing cartoons quickly.
"They were credited with being the first people to be able to make cartoons fast enough for television, because television ate them up so hard."
Vander Pyl's first role for Hanna-Barbera was as Mrs. Creeply in a "Snooper and Blabbermouth" episode.
"She looked very much like the mother in "The Addams Family,' " Vander Pyl recalls. " So I thought, 'What can I do?' I fiddled with it and came up with — in my own way of thinking, as actors do — half-Katharine Hepburn and half-Talullah Bankhead, if you can imagine."
By 1960, buoyed by the success of such cartoons as "Ruff and Ready," [sic] "Yogi Bear" and "Huckleberry Hound," Hanna-Barbera set about producing what would become the first-ever prime time animated series in television history. As such, the series had to appeal to adults as well as children — which is why a certain live-action sitcom was used as a prototype.
"They showed us the cartoon, and then Mr. Barbera explained to us what it was like," Vander Pyl recalls. "He said, 'It's sort of like "The Honeymooners." ' And that was the tipoff to what type of voices they wanted. So, all four of us had a pattern that we were lead into.
"I did sort of an impression of Audrey Meadows, who played the wife on 'The Honeymooners,' which was that New York, nasal kind of thing."
Vander Pyl slips into a perfect Meadows impression. " 'Oh, Ralph! How many times do I have to tell you!' All up in the nose.
"So when we all first started, we all ended up doing almost-impressions of those four. But then, after we got the parts and the show was on, I remember Joe saying to me, 'Jean, that's a little too nasal. Let's cut down on the nasal.' But I would slip into it, because we had done several shows that way. So it became half me and half the original Wilma."
Vander Pyl says that the chemistry among the first Fred, Wilma, Barney and Betty was no accident.
"The interesting thing is that Bea Benaderet, Mel Blanc (Barney), Alan Reed (Fred) and myself were all from radio," Vander Pyl says. "I think the success of the show had a great deal to do with the chemistry of that whole cast. All four of us had worked together on and off for 20 years. So when we were put together in the show, it was not like new people. We were old friends.
"Bea was one of my best friends before we ever even started. I used to take my little girl over to visit her. We used to sit in the sun around her pool back in the early days. I'm talking about the '40s, when our kids were little. These same children are now 52.
"I loved Alan. Al was one of my favorite people. He was kind of like Fred. He was a very warm, big, gentle man when you saw him, but bombastic, too. Like Fred."
Following the cancellation of "The Flintstones" in 1966, Vander Pyl continued to do voices for Hanna-Barbera: Rosie on "The Jetsons" ("she's so much fun to do"), Winnie Witch, Ogee on "Magilla Gorilla," Ma Bear on "The Hillbilly Bears" and Blutessa (Bluto's sister) on "Popeye." But Wilma never strayed too far from Vander Pyl's repertoire. She continues to speak for Wilma through all of the various "Flintstones" spinoffs, such as "Pebbles and Bamm- Bamm" (1971-76), "The Flintstones Kids" (1986-89), "The New Fred and Barney Show" (1989) and many others. And Vander Pyl plays Mrs. Feldspar, Fred's third-grade teacher, in Amblin Entertainment's new "Flintstones" feature.
But Vander Pyl found the two most recent animated "Flintstones" spinoffs — last year's TV movies "I Yabba Dabba Doo!" and "Hollyrock-a-Bye-Baby" (in which Pebbles gets married and has a baby, respectively) — particularly satisfying.
"It was the most gratifying thing to do those two movies," Vander Pyl says. "It has been wonderful for me, and I'll tell you why. When I was young, I wanted to be a famous, dramatic actress, right? Katharine Cornell. Helen Hayes, the first lady of the theater. My only disappointment — though I'd worked through the years and had a wonderful career — was that I was anonymous. I wasn't recognized on the street.
"But that was OK, because I really ended up having the best of both worlds. If I wanted to appear famous, I could just tell people I was Wilma Flintstone. But I didn't have to suffer through some of the hard part that stars, really, have to go through today, where they can't go to a restaurant without being besieged. "When I meet people today of all ages, they say 'I grew up with you.' I've had so many people come up to me and say that.
"And the most charming and touching thing is that so many of the baby boomers were latch-key kids, and I've had people say, 'You were my mommy and daddy. I came home every afternoon after school and watched you.'
"I've had people thank me for all the years of pleasure and fun. I've never thought of myself as having that kind of effect. It's so gratifying to me now. I think, 'Gee whiz — maybe I did do something after all.'
"So it has been very gratifying, but mostly it made me feel good that maybe we made a portion of the children of this last century feel good about something and enjoy something. "And laugh."


  1. Hans Christian Brando16 December 2018 at 07:01

    Jean Vander Pyl had worked for Hanna and Barbera back at MGM. You hear her voice in "Galloping Gals" ("My mascara's running!").

    1. That might have been Elvia Allman. It doesn't sound like Jean Vander Pyl.

    2. Georgi, it sounds like Allman. Blanche Stewart and Sara Berner can be heard in this cartoon. I can't tell if Martha Wentworth is in it.
      Vander Pyl did no cartoons until H-B that I can tell. She was in radio in 1939 when she got married to Carroll O'Meara.

  2. She was terrific in practically everything she did. Jean Vander Pyl could go from baby (Pebbles) to preschool girl (Ogee) to Adult Woman (Wilma) to Old Woman (Winsome Witch). Simply fabulous.

    1. I thought Ogee (Magilla Gorilla) sounded like Pebbles.

    2. Oh, absolutely correct. Ogee is Pebbles aged 4.

    3. HATED Ogee. As an aside, Ms. Vander Pyl, with her OTR (radio) roots, would certainly agree she was following the footsteps of Marian Jordan (the "Molly" in "Fibber McGee and Molly" as the "Little Girl", however Molly's dialect was originally thick, brogue-y Irish, later tamed-down considerably by her director!).

  3. The amount of joy Wilma, Betty, Fred and Barney have brought me through the years is impossible to explain. To this day their pictures hang in my office along with many collectibles. They still make me smile all these years later.

    1. Agreed! BRTW JEan DID have a MAJOR radio role..,and I've heard it/.FATHER KNOWS BEST's wife (the later Jane Wyatt role.) I'ds love to have been back then on radio! Our lives are so much more richers due to the original version of that medium and all of its perfomrers! SC

    2. Agreed. I was listening to a radio broadcast of " Father Knows Best " just last week. The first version starred June Whitley as Margaret Anderson, the second Jean Vander Pyl. Funny stuff.

  4. Raymond Valinoti, Jr.16 December 2018 at 17:34

    Jean Vander Pyl was especially impressive doing the voice of the feline movie star Lola Glamour in the TOP CAT episode "Choo Choo Goes Ga Ga," doing a Zsa Zsa Gabor impersonation throughout most of the episode and then revealing the streetwise New York accent she had before becoming a star.

    1. It was such a great performance. Bea Benaderet was also terrific as Fifi the Maid.