While in a search for sanity during this week’s gong show in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the RedState Department of History decided to search for a time when none of this mattered and to find a time when no nominee could have been accused of misconduct. We wound up going all the way back to prehistory.
On this date in 1960, ABC Television aired the first episode of “The Flintstones,” produced by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera.
Obviously, it was a simpler time and the show reflected that era. Based on “The Honeymooners”, the show detailed the life and exploits of the Flintstone and Rubble families of the town of Bedrock. The show took much of its charm from its spoofs of American suburban life of the era, with families living in prefab stone houses with spinoffs of modern technology including the automobile, which was operated entirely with the feet against the ground.
The show featured veteran character actor Alan Reed in the lead role as Fred Flintstone. Reed, who had done voice-over work for actor Jackie Gleason in earlier years, deliberately based his portrayal of Fred on Gleason’s immortal character Ralph Kramden of “Honeymooners” fame.
Barney Rubble, Fred’s foil and partner in mischief, was voiced by the immortal Mel Blanc of Warner Brothers Looney Tunes fame with the exception of several episodes in 1965 when Blanc was hospitalized after a near-fatal car accident. His place was taken by veteran Hanna-Barbera voice actor Daws Butler until Blanc could recover.
However, even Fred didn’t appear in every episode of the show’s six-season run. That honor went to Jean Vander Pyl, the voice of Fred’s wife Wilma. She was in all 176 episodes of the show’s run and holds the distinction of being the only actor to play major roles in both The Flintstones and The Jetsons (where she voiced Rosie the Robot).
Add in the voice of Bea Benederet, who appeared in many shows of the 1950s including the Jack Benny Show, Burns and Allen and others, as the voice of Betty Rubble for the first four seasons and you had a wonderful cast.
The show was innocent but spoofed modern culture in many ways, right up to the workaday world where Fred’s comical attempts to run the bronto-crane at Mr. Slate’s rockpile, and his being thrown out of the house by his pet sabre-tooth Tiger Baby Puss in the closing credits soon endeared the families to American culture.
As brilliant as the show was, The Flintstones almost never happened at all because of the difficulty involved in selling a prime-time animated show to advertisers. Barbera said years later that he almost gave up:
“Here we were with a brand new thing that had never been done before, an animated prime-time television show. So we developed two storyboards; one was they had a helicopter of some kind and they went to the opera or whatever, and the other was Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble fighting over a swimming pool. So I go back to New York with a portfolio and two half-hour boards. And no-one would even believe that you’d dare to suggest a thing like that, I mean they looked at you and they’d think you’re crazy. But slowly the word got out, and I used the presentation which took almost an hour and a half. I would go to the other two boards and tell them what they did, and do all the voices and the sounds and so-on, and I’d stagger back to the hotel and I’d collapse. The phone would ring like crazy, like one time I did Bristol-Myers, the whole company was there. When I got through I’d go back to the hotel the phone would ring and say “the president wasn’t at that meeting, could you come back and do it for him.” So I had many of those, one time I had two agencies, they’d fill the room, I mean God about 40 people, and I did this whole show. I got to know where the laughs were, and where to hit it, nothing; dead, dead, dead. So one of the people at Screen Gems said “This is the worst, those guys….” he was so angry at them. What it was, was that there were two agencies there, and neither one was going to let the other one know they were enjoying it. But I pitched it for eight straight weeks and nobody bought it. So after sitting in New York just wearing out, you know really wearing out. Pitch, pitch, pitch, sometimes five a day. So finally on the very last day I pitched it to ABC, which was a young daring network willing to try new things, and bought the show in 15 minutes. Thank goodness, because this was the very last day and if they hadn’t bought it, I would have taken everything down, put it in the archives and never pitched it again. Sometimes I wake up in a cold-sweat thinking this is how close you get to disaster.”
But in the end, the team produced an American icon. Yabba Dabba Doo and enjoy today’s open thread!