Saturday, 19 September 2020

The Voice Called Flintstone

You know the voice of Fred Flintstone today—all because of pralines.

The main cast of The Flintstones were hardly neophytes when it came to acting without being seen on camera. All four had acted on top radio shows. Bea Benaderet’s career went all the way back to the mid-1920s in San Francisco. Jean Vander Pyl was the mother in Father Knows Best (she did not get the television role) and played characters on Amos ‘n’ Andy (and not sounding like something out of a minstrel show). Mel Blanc’s radio career is probably well enough known that all I need to mention is he began in local radio in the late ‘20s.

And that brings us to Alan Reed.

The Man Called Flintstone also acted on radio as far back as the 1920s when he wasn’t even Alan Reed yet. While he had funny voices inside his larynx, Reed wasn’t a “funny voice” on The Flintstones. He showed his great skill displaying a gamut of emotions that you wouldn’t find in your average, seven-minute cartoon short. His dialects may have been considered a little over-the-top for 1960 but for a cartoon comedy, they could still fit. And he revived a few voices he did on radio, especially that of Falstaff Openshaw, the high-brow poet on The Fred Allen Show as snooty alter ego “Frederick” in the first season. (Reed’s Flintstone voice can be heard on Allen’s show on occasion; you keep waiting for him to say “Just a rock-pickin’ minute”).

Reed’s fine acting made Fred Flintstone seem far more real than it would have under someone else. Remarkable in that Reed was not the first choice; Bill Thompson actually recorded some soundtracks as Fred but had to bow out because he couldn’t keep his voice as growly as the part demanded.

Let’s look back at Reed’s pre-Flintstone career. First up is an article (and photo) from the September 1933 edition of Radio Stars magazine. That’s followed up by a story in the Evening Independent of Massillon, Ohio from November 30, 1960; it certainly must be one of the first profiles of Reed after The Flintstones went on the air.

Ted Bergman is the Lon Chaney of the air
TED BERGMAN, the stuttering racketeer, Bolshevik, barking dog or what have you, in the [Hellman’s] Musical Grocery Store on the NBC chain is the Lon Chaney of the kilocycles. Give him any role you wish. He takes them as they come.
Since 1928, Ted has played a thousand and twelve different characters. And those parts included everything from a gangster on the Crime Hour to the romantic lover on the Pages of Romance program. Twenty-two dialects, including the Scandinavian, are at his command, so he feels at home in any crowd.
He's played as many as seven parts in one broadcast, using different dialects for each part. Such a talent comes in handy. Once there were only two people in a detective scene; Ted and another actor who was playing the part of his father. They were both Irishmen with a brogue so thick you could spread it with a knife. As the crisis of the scene approached, the other actor fainted dead away, leaving Ted soloing before the mike. Did he get all hot and bothered? He did not! Ted immediately picked up the other fellow's lines and finished out the scene, playing both parts, and nobody outside the studio knew the difference.
In addition to the roles he has created himself, Ted has appeared with Eddie Cantor, Rudy Vallee, Stoopnagle and Budd, Jane Cowl and many others. Do you remember on the Chase & Sanborn hour when Rubinoff started talking back to Eddie Cantor? Well, that was Ted talking for Rubinoff. Coming down in the elevator after the show Rubinoff said, "You did noble, Ted, but what am I going to say next week?"
There are other things Ted can do. When he was a student at Columbia University in 1923, he was the inter-collegiate wrestling champion in the heavyweight division.
Only once has he really been embarrassed. That was when he was playing with Jane Cowl in a radio version of the famous drama. "Within the Law." Everything was going along smoothly until Miss Cowl stopped right in the middle of the broadcast to ask for a drink of water. Ted got it for her, but he surely stepped fast.
With a fellow like Ted Bergman, in the case of the Musical Grocery Store (9 p.m. Fridays, EDST), you needn't be surprised to find anything from a Chinese laundryman to an English duke in the script. And if you hear some weird sound effects that you never heard before, the chances are at least fifty-fifty that it's Ted.

TV-Radio News Bits

In singling out Alan Reed's voice as the perfect "Flintstone sound," producers Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera were confirming the judgment of many previous TV, radio, stage and motion picture producers.
Fred Flintstone is a lovable jerk, and for years producers have been buttonholing Alan to portray – among other things – lovable jerks. Fred is the caveman "hero" of ABC-TV's series The Flintstones, TV's animated cartoon comedy show.
Alan was born Teddy Bergman in New York City. As a kid he was bookish and so scholarly that he managed to graduate from Manhattan's Washington high school while still under age for Columbia university – his goal.
AS A LARK, he spent the imposed interim studying drama at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.
While at Columbia, where he majored in journalism, he won the eastern intercollegiate heavyweight wrestling title and performed in the annual varsity show. He was spotted in the latter event by Ralph Rose, an Oklahoma candy tycoon, and he immediately dropped out of school and went to Oklahoma City to star in a stock company for which Rose was the bank roller.
Then (1927) the following occurred in relatively rapid order: Rose went broke and he had to dissolve the stock company; he and Alan returned to New York, pooled their meager funds to enter a crap game and won $2,400 enough to launch a whole candy company.
Business boomed for them briefly, but then one day a large inventory of pecan pralines turned from an appetizing tan color to a ghastly white that was unmarketable, their creditor closed in, they were busted again. Reed went back to acting.
During the summers of 1929 through 1930 he was social director, entertainment producer and actor at the Copake Country club, an upstate New York resort. Among the writers creating original plays and revues for him there were the later-to-be-famous actors and playwrights Moss Hart, Herman Wouk and Allen Boretz. MEANWHILE, and for the ensuing two decades, he devoted himself to radio, first in New York, then, after 1943, in Hollywood.
His career in this field flourished, and he frequently worked in as many as 35 broadcasts a week. There was hardly a single comedy or dramatic series in the heyday of radio that he did not appear in.
His most familiar roles included Falstaff, the Poet of Allen's Alley on "The Fred Allen Show” for 10 years, the voice of Rubinoff, the violinist and musical director (who "was afraid to speak") of "The Eddie Cantor Show" for five years; the original Daddy to Fanny Brice's Baby Snooks; Finnigan (a classic lovable jerk) and Clancy the cop on “Duffy’s Tavern” and Pasquale on “Life With Luigi.”
He was also featured at various times with such radio stars as Jimmy Durante, Tallulah Bankhead and Bob Hope. He also starred once in his own show – “The Blubber Bergman Show,” and during this period took part in a number of New York stage productions, as well as comedy.
He went to Hollywood on a 20th Century-Fox movie contract, and has since appeared in more than 50 films in all types of roles. They include “Viva, Zapata,” “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Desperate Hours.”
With the advent of television he continued performing in roles which included TV versions of his “Duffy’s Tavern” and “Luigi” radio parts.

If you look in the column on the right, you can see a link to other stories here on the blog about Alan Reed, including his decision to open a business because acting parts pretty much dried up until The Flintstones came along. Years later, Reed was not dismissive of being a cartoon star. Far from it. Fred Flintstone’s continued appearance on TV commercials gave Reed a comfortable life. More so, we suspect, he would have if those pecan pralines kept their tan.


  1. Coincidentally enough, Bill Thompson and Reed were featured together in the dog pound sequence in Lady and the Tramp.

    It should also be noted that the cast of Viva Zapata! boasted another soon-to-be-famous cartoon voice star in a minor uncredited role: Ross Bagdasarian ("Pancho? Pancho! PANNNNNNCHO!!").

  2. It's hard to imagine that Fred would've become as popular had he actually been voiced by someone else. Those who followed him on the character may've sometimes sounded a bit like him, but they could never capture the 'warmth' that Reed gave Fred.

  3. I agree. I think having radio acting experience is what helped Alan Reed and so many of his contemporaries at the time play these cartoon characters so well. Made them so memorable. Others have been able to imitate the characters, some have even nailed the sound, but, the soul,inflection and little nuances Alan and the other original voice actors gave to their creations has never been duplicated.