"Hey Joe, where it says yahoo, can I say, yabba-dabba-doo?"
Alan Reed, the original voice of Fred Flintstone, to Joseph Barbera.
Quoted in T.R. Adams.
William Hanna and Joseph Barbera experienced years of success as animators for MGM, receiving awards for their Tom and Jerry cartoons. In 1957, the studio unceremoniously dropped their animation department. Cartoons were expensive, and the industry decided it could rerun old cartoons before movies, or none at all. At that point the Hanna-Barbera team opened up their own studio, and turned their eyes to television, which in the 1950s had produced very little in the way of original animation. Primarily, TV reran cartoons originally created for theatrical release. In order to make their shows profitable, Hanna and Barbera developed limited animation which, while often criticized for its cheap and cheesy look, opened up a whole new market for American animators.
After Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, and others brought the pair success with the kiddie market, they decided to expand their horizons. They were going to bring animation to primetime, and do a cartoon intended for all ages.
They originally called it The Flagstones and filmed a short pilot episode. The premise: a suburban family, loosely modeled on The Honeymooners, lives in a prehistoric era which resembles contemporary America. The stories would be filled with slapstick, sight gags, and silly plot convolutions, which would appeal to all ages. References would be included that would specifically speak to the adults.
ABC bought the show, though changes were required. "Flagstone," for example, was too close to the "Flagstons" of the lately-successful Hi & Lois comic strip. Hanna and Barbera changed it briefly to The Gladstones before settling on The Flintstones. Their second pilot, "The Swimming Pool," retains much of the Flagstones' rough look, and so a more polished episode was aired first. Flintstones fans remember "The Swimming Pool" for some incidental music by Hoyt Curtin which, two seasons later, was pepped up, given lyrics, and added to the show as the most recognizable cartoon theme-song in television history.
The show's principal character is, of course, Fred Flintstone, discussed in some detail elsewhere at this site. Tempermental, brash, but lovable, his comically disastrous schemes often form the basis of the episodes. Barney Rubble, next door neighbor and best buddy, generally goes along with Fred's plans, against his own better judgment. The characters' resemblance to Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton could not be missed, though the Kramden/Flintstone similarity is greater. When veteran voice man Mel Blanc was offered the job of Barney, he expressed a distaste for merely imitating Art "Norton" Carney's voice, and developed an original voice, which included Barney's trademark laugh. Jackie Gleason, the man behind Kramden and The Honeymooners reportedly considered suing, but decided that he did not want to be known as the man who took Fred Flintstone to court.
The women, Wilma Flintstone and Betty Rubble, reflect the mores of the time. The husbands clearly have public authority. The wives accept this fact, but quietly scheme to get their own way. Their efforts can save the day, but just as frequency complicate the plot.
The show proved a hit. As Hanna and Barbera had hoped, the kids tuned in, and their parents and older siblings started watching along, responding to gags and situations that, if tame by the standards of kids raised on The Simpsons, certainly would have brought a blush to Tom and Jerry's cheeks. In the episode "Pebbles's Birthday Party," Fred has to plan events for both his little daughter and his lodge brothers. The inevitable mix-up has a clown playing games with the Loyal Order of the Water Buffalo* while scantily-clad girls jump from Pebbles's cake and dance for the toddlers.
Baby Pebbles herself broke new ground. Fred and Wilma had already made American television history by being the first on-air couple to share a double bed. During the third season, Wilma announced her pregnancy, gradually started to "show," and on February 22, 1963, gave birth to Pebbles in an episode which made The Flintstones the evening's top-rated show. The Rubbles provided her with a playmate in June of that year, though the super-strong Bamm-Bamm Rubble was a foundling of unknown origin.
The show introduced a number of memorable secondary characters, including the Addams Family/Munsters-inspired Gruesomes, the alien Great Gazoo, Fred's ornery boss, Mr. Slate, and Wilma's interfering mother, Mrs. Slaghoople. The Flinstones' pet dinosaur, Dino, their sabre-toothed cat, Baby Puss (rarely seen, outside of the closing credits), and the Rubbles' Hoparoo, Hoppy, also featured in many episodes. Dino, in particular, shared his owners' penchant for courting comic disaster.
The Flintstones also featured occasional celebrity guests. Some, beginning with Hollyrock movie star Stony Curtis, were played by their namesakes-- in this case, Tony Curtis. Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York appeared as Stone-Age versions of their Bewitched characters, while Ann Margaret did a turn as "Ann Margrock.". Not all of these characters were true celebrity guests; most, in fact, were soundalikes created as affectionate tributes. Alvin Brickrock, for example, a Flintstones neighbor, looks and sounds uncannily like Alfred Hitchcock, but he was not voiced by the noted filmmaker. The original series also featured one memorable cameo by animated characters: Yogi and Boo-Boo steal the Flinstones' picnic basket in the episode, "Swedish Visitors."
"Sorry. My mis-steak."
Fred Flintstone. "Fred's Mis-steak." Viewmaster reel.
The Hanna-Barbera staff had very little time to get the show together before its premiere date, and a good many details were changed at the last minute or developed once they were on the air. A mysterious "Fred Junior" appears in some early promotional material and in the first Flintstones Little Golden Book, released before the show aired. Needless to say, no Flintstone children appear until the third season, and certainly none named "Junior." The pet dinosaur, Dino, is named "Harvey" in early promotional work. He does not appear for several episodes, and then later, in "The Great Snorkasaurus Hunter," he is discovered for the first time. The animators initially could not decide if he is blue or (as in most episodes) purple. Doubtless this mattered less at a time when most people watched tv in black and white.
Flintstones historian T.R. Adams identifies 16 different names for the stone quarry where Fred works. His crotchety boss is originally identified as Mr. Slate-- but in his first appearance he resembles more Mr. Spacely, the boss from Hanna-Barbera's The Jetsons. Slate quickly settles into his standard appearance, though his last name changes at times from Slate to Boulder to Granite to Rockhead. His rarely-used first name has been J.J., George, and Sam-- though a later spin-off, The Flintstone Kids, establishes that his name is, in fact, Nate.
The geography and topography of the Flintstones' Bedrock (like that of the Simpsons' later Springfield) shifts as required. Even the exterior and interior of Fred and Wilma's domicile, the show's single most used location, varies wildly from episode to episode. While the Rubbles live next door, the house on the other side changes appearances and in some episodes, doesn't exist at all. Later, when the Gruesomes move in, it retroactively became an old haunted house. Fred's foot-powered car, meanwhile, shifts from four-seater to two-seater as required.
Fred: How did you know we were in trouble?
Ben Cartrock: We watch your TV show.
"Deep in the Heart of Texarock." The Flintstones
The ratings dropped somewhat in the 1965-66 season, but it still drew a sizable audience. The network felt The Flintstones had passed its prime, however, and cancelled the show in 1966.
The characters moved immediately to the big screen, with 1966's animated spy-spoof, A Man Called Flintstone. That same year they also made guest appearances on the ABC TV special, Alice In Wonderland or, What's A Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This?. Reruns, meanwhile, kept the original show alive. The spin-offs and merchandising for The Flinstones have been formidable.
See: The Flintstones Spin-offs for further information and sources.
*The full name of the fraternal order to which Fred and Barney belong varies from episode to episode. In one early episode, they are even "Dinosaurs," rather than the canonical "Water Buffalo."