Flintstones. Meet the Flintstones

by John Michlig

Originally published in Baby Boomer Collectibles, August 1994

The Flintstones

I know them. You know them. If, for some reason, you don’t know the Flintstones by now, Steven Spielberg will charter his jet to your town, personally march over to your house and paste a movie poster in your living room. This is, after all, "The Year of the Flintstones" as proclaimed by Hanna-Barbera Productions, Turner Broadcasting and Amblin Entertainment. Do you want to argue with them?

Knowing the Flintstones intimately is part of being American. One can easily imagine U.S. troops in any modern conflict determining the national identity of a suspected spy by asking the name of Fred’s pet dinosaur. Actually, that’s too easy; better to ask the name of the Rubbles' pet (that’s "Hoppy" for all you fringe-dwelling national security risks).
flintboomer


The Flintstones were network television’s first primetime animated family, running on ABC from 1960 to 1966. Over the course of 166 episodes, viewers followed the repercussions of Fred Flintstone’s earnest quest for the golden ring. In general, he wants something for nothing or two things at a time, and the best for his family at any cost. He is an American.

There are quasi-realities in Bedrock (population 2500) that shaped both the plots of every episode and the attitudes of millions of kids growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s. They are as follows;

  • A wife is the family cop, able to correct any mess, always right and feared by all male members of the family and neighborhood, yet pleased to cook and clean at the male beck and call,
  • A mother-in-law can be nothing but unpleasant,
  • A person’s job is a spirit-sapping activity lorded over by a greedy and despotic boss,
  • Half of the populace (at least 50% of people have to relegate themselves to "sidekick" status) has access to a dim-witted little buddy that helps hatch schemes,
  • A true man must join and enjoy the fellowship of a "Loyal Order of..." lodge,
  • Anything that keeps a man from bowling isn’t worth doing,
  • Truly good food is really BIG food,
  • Fat guys are generally good-hearted guys,
  • Everyone has eight fingers and three toes.

Upon review, these quasi-realities obviously apply directly to The Honeymooners’ world as well (except for the finger and toe count, although Jayne Meadows still has not returned my research calls regarding the appendages of her co-stars). No one can deny the close kinship of the two shows, yet the fact that Fred showers with the aid of an elephant makes The Flintstones nobody’s second banana.

The Beginning
After many being ignored or dismissed for decades as a mere "cartoon factory," Hanna-Barbera Productions and their progeny are finally getting the credit they deserve. In fact, it could be said that William Hanna and Joe Barbera saved cartoons as an art form.

Hey, I’ll admit to being one of the purists who would put forth the opposite notion at a cocktail party or two, but hindsight reveals that Hanna-Barbera’s concept of "limited animation" was all that stood between cartoons and extinction. They brought projects in at a bearable budget, making the idea of weekly cartoons financially attractive to the networks.

Get out your calculators — MGM, the studio at which William Hanna and Joe Barbera met in 1938, would supply $50,000 to a production company working on a six-minute project; in 1957, Hanna-Barbera Production’s first project (Ruff and Reddy) came in at $2,800 per episode. MGM’s animation department shut down in the late ‘50s; Hanna-Barbera has produced more than 3,500 half-hours of animated television since then. Say what you want about seeing the same scenery rocket past over and over again in the background when Fred Flintstone drives to work – this is the sort of animation that provided a bridge to today’s affordable (and more complex) computer-aided work.

It was after successes with characters like Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw and Yogi Bear that Hanna-Barbera began to shop around The Flagstones, an early incarnation of everyone’s favorite stone age family. "We had all sorts of different ideas at first," Hanna recalls. Many different time periods, from Roman empire to Pilgrims, were tried before settling on pre-history. The concept didn’t exactly sell itself, and Hanna-Barbera collected an astounding amount of rejections from sponsors and networks before finding a home at ABC.

A newly discovered print of the nearly two-minute pilot has been playing on the Cartoon Network for some time now, and it reveals characters in near-final design stages (with the exception of Betty Rubble). Daws Butler, the voice of Huckleberry Hound, provides the voice of Fred. Amazingly, this pilot sequence turns up almost completely unaltered in the third Flintstones episode, "The Swimming Pool".

After changing the Flagstone name to avoid conflict with the Flagston family in the Hi and Lois comic strip, the first show (a tale of opera-avoidance entitled "The Flintstone Flyer") was broadcast on September 30, 1960 and caught on without delay, if not without travail.

During the first season, the voice of Barney Rubble was nearly silenced when the late Mel Blanc totalled his car in Hollywood. While Blanc was incapacitated Daws Butler spelled him for 2 episodes, but stepped aside when it became possible to cram recording equipment into Blanc’s hospital room. This bit of vocal schizophrenia, coupled with the fact that Blanc was still refining his vocal characterization at the time of his accident, accounts for the "different Barney" syndrome we’ve all noticed at some point or other. Frank Welker is the "modern" voice of Barney.

The voice of Fred, Alan Reed, provided dulcet "yabba-dabba-doo" tones right up to the hour of his operation for cataracts. While recovering, Reed read from special scripts with inch-high letters.

Defying odds both medical and cultural, The Flintstones succeeded quickly. The concept of a family living in the stone age, yet wanting for none of life’s conveniences (except for a decent shave) made fertile ground for sight-gags; stop lights were run by birds, dishwashing machines were manned by furiously scrubbing monkeys, and heavy construction could be accomplished by strapping a suitable driver’s compartment onto the back of a Brontasaurous.

In Jurassic Park, velociraptors preyed on humans and viciously gutted their victims; in Bedrock they’re used to bite down on employee time cards at Slate Rock and Gravel. The citizens of Bedrock lived in a era of cooperation with the wild kingdom, though the animals themselves always seemed ready to complain about their particular job.

Before The Flintstones’ first season was over, one could play "The Flintstones Pre-Historic Animal Rummy Game" by the light of a handsome Fred-Shaped Flintstones lamp. Fred and friends were merchandised to the hilt, and as commercial television’s first animated family they unashamedly did their part to sell the sponsor’s products; in fact, the famous "Meet the Flintstones" theme is predated by a 55-second instrumental called "Rise and Shine" which served as the shows opening for the first two seasons (1960-61). During "Rise and Shine," Fred would come into the house plugging the sponsors product, be they Alka-Seltzer tablets or Winston cigarettes.

Sorting Out The Phenomena
As prodigious as Flintstone-related product output was during the early ‘60s, it pales next to the consistent barrage of Bedrockian items that continued to march to market thanks to very successful syndication, network specials, updated series like 1971’s Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show, and Saturday morning airings of Pebbles Cereal commercials ("Watch me trick Fred out of his delicious Pebbles cereal..."). Tough to keep track of? Tough enough for Hanna-Barbera studio head Fred Seibert to create a Classic Characters division soon after he took the reins in 1992. "This company for many years didn’t really think too much about its historical perspective," Seibert believed. "I put out the word that I was interested in classic characters and that we could really benefit from actually setting up an archive." He speaks of the entire Hanna-Barbera body of work, but The Flintstones obviously head the list.

Seibert hired Tom Barreca, with whom he had worked previously at Nick at Night, to organize an all-out reclamation of Hanna-Barbera properties. 30-year-old Barreca nailed the title "Vice-President of Classic Characters" to his door and swung into action. His mission: get to know every Hanna-Barbera character, focus on the relevance and value of each, and maintain their on-going integrity in whatever venue they appear. His office answers 200-250 character-queries per week. During our conversation I tried to stump Barreca on the name of the Flintstones’ cat. Indignantly and without hesitation (as it was a feeble question), he answered "Baby Puss."

"The studio didn’t do a good job hanging on to collectible material," says Barreca. "As I set about re-constructing back-stories for the Flintstones, it became apparent that we needed to get a complete look at all the products in order to get a good look at the characters."

Barreca deployed six "film detectives" to unearth footage from every warehouse — in locations ranging from Brazil to a salt mine in Kansas City — that may contain Hanna-Barbera material. Last summer, this effort turned up the long-unseen Flintstones/Flagstones pilot. His staff also has one person in place simply to acquire collectible objects.

"We maintain a loose relationship with collectors as an informed advisory board," Barreca explains. His office also subscribes to every collecting publication possible, and shops classifieds, antique guilds and co-ops. They’ve acquired every Christmas catalog for the past decade to spot toys, and Hanna-Barbera executives all over the world act as scouts. "If someone overseas spots a unique Flintstones item, he or she will contact me and I’ll usually tell them to snap it up."

Barreca’s job has gotten a little easier with all of this year’s Flintstones attention. "Lots of stuff comes in unsolicited. Now that we’ve gone public, that traffic has picked up," he observes. "We maintain an archive and display area in the studio. Turner is renovating and building new cases, so we generally have 200-300 pieces on display at any one time. Some pieces go on tour, and we respond to academician’s requests for material to study." Turner also utilizes off-site environmentally controlled storage spaces for for sensitive items.

The results of these efforts? Expect to see Turner Publishing produce what’s described as "the ultimate Flintstones book" by the holidays, filled with lush photography of memorabilia and character back-storys. Barreca also promises 2 or 3 authoritative books based solely on collectibles in coffee-table format.

Relics of the Stone Age
If Tom Barreca’s job is hard, pity private collectors of Flintstone memorabilia faced with the daunting task of sifting through 30 years of every imaginable sort of item without a staff on the Turner Broadcasting payroll.

Pity also the poor writer who needs to get a proper overview of a character line with products that span three decades and six series and 14 specials on all three networks.

Thank goodness for Ted Hake. As owner of Hake’s Americana and Collectibles in York, Pennsylvania, Hake has seen just about every piece of memorabilia imaginable. Last November he bought an enormous private collection of Flintstones material from a private collector. When he held his Baby Boomer Comic Character Auction this spring, the Flintstones loot was easily the most popular up for bid. "Every single item was sold, " he recalls. In fact, Hack found himself holding Flintstones items back so the auction wouldn’t become completely Fred-filled and Barney-bursting.

"These are characters that were exposed to so many generations that they’re not ‘time-bound,’" Hake explains. "There’re so many different items that you see quite a bit of crossover interest —people who collect by the type, be it cookie jars, salt and pepper shakers or puppets." That explains why a late-model cookie jar (1989) in the shape of Fred Flintstone can be sold for $125. On the other hand, older but more common items like the ubiquitous 1963 Welch’s glasses – we all drank milk out of these things – are still very affordable at $32 for a set of two.

"The Welch’s glasses probably introduced more people to Flintstone collecting than anything else, and at a young age," Hake said with a chuckle. "They’re common enough that you can get them at around $10 each."

The range of available Flintstones material is staggering: in 1961, homemakers could purchase Flintstones Guest Towel Embroidery Kits (now worth upwards of $80); the later ‘60s brought an inexplicable Wilma Toy Gun Holster; 1974 introduced the Kenner Flintstones Battery Powered Toothbrush.

A mug collector will find him or herself with at least two distinctly different Flintstone character head collections; one plastic set depicting Fred, Dino, Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm from 1968 and offered as a Flintstone’s Vitamin premium, and another 1990 ceramic set of four featuring Fred, Barney, Wilma and Betty. A bank collector could base an entire collection on Flintstones alone — there were 19 different banks offered in the Hake auction.

Flintstones printed matter is predictably extensive — from comics to Little Golden Books to puzzles – and as a category could warrant a feature article in itself. Flintstones comic book series have run variously under the Dell, Gold Key and Charlton publishing labels throughout the 30 year history of the characters. Copies of the 1964 Flintstones at the New York World’s Fair comic by Western Printing make the rounds at swap meets, generally valued at $15 or so. One eye-opening title: a coloring book from 1976 called Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Meet The Lizard King . Unfortunately, the title does not refer to a guest appearance by Jim Morrison.

"The ‘first time around’ items certainly have the most value, but the Flintstones have had a lot of staying power," reports Hake. "Overall, the figural things seem to win out over printed matter. Most sought after, however, are the tin toys."

One hard-to-find name to look for in the tin toy area is Linemar, which was an alternate name used by Marx. Hake’s auction brought $253 for a "Fred Riding Dino" wind-up toy, and $418 for a wind-up "Flintstones Flip-Tank" (both dated 1962). "The ‘turnover’ tank has been around forever, since the days of Superman, Flash Gordon or Popeye. The tooling is there so whatever character is hot at a given time is used," according to Hake.

Surely all the hoopla surrounding "The Year of The Flintstones" must arouse added interest in related memorabilia, right? Not so, says Hake. "The [upcoming 1994 live-action] movie doesn’t have much influence on collectors. It might make some new collectors based on the new merchandise that comes out. There’ve been revivals of Buck Rogers, Dick Tracy, Little Orphan Annie and Popeye and I truthfully must say that I haven’t see much of an impact on the collectibles business."

Speculative considerations aside, Hake reveals that his favorite Flintstones item is a big battery-powered plush Dino ridden by a tin Fred made by Marx in 1962. "I guess because of the sheer size of it and the action," he enthuses. This particular toy is prone to fading with age and exposure to light, so a Dino with a still-vivid plush hide is hard to find – Hake sold one for $425 at his auction.

I find myself drawn to a 1971 Flintstones "Flintmobile" as made by an Italian company called Mercury for distribution by Fab. The display box is a stone garage diorama, and inside waits a plastic replica of the Flintstone family car with die cast metal seats and wheels...but that’s not all! Also included are Fred and Barney "mini-flexy" figures and a rolled-up tan suede awning behind the seat ready for use. It could be mine for a mere $265 or so. I may have to make do with the much smaller 1974-75 Flintstones Vitamins Car promotional vehicle made of plastic and a steal at $10.

Into the Future...
We obviously haven’t seen the last of Flintstones merchandise. Turner Entertainment has released a number of restored episodes of the original series, Rhino records has recently put out a CD of Flintstones songs called Modern Stone-Age Melodies (remember "Burger on a Bun"?), and Cardz trading cards introduced a wonderful Flintstones 110-card series in 1993. For completists, Columbia House Home Video is offering a subscription set of every episode of the original series.

Then there’s the movie. The perfectly cast John Goodman stars as Fred in Universal Pictures The Flintstones, a sprawling live-action cartoon brought to life. The list of domestic licensees for this film is long enough to test any stapler; 32 typed pages consisting of approximately 260 different product-types ranging from embroidered boxers to Flintstones medical scrubs. I’m not kidding.

By the way, if and when you go to the movie, look for cameos by Bill Hanna as a Slate & Company executive during an office meeting and Joseph Barbera as a dinner guest during the big nightclub scene.

How can one fairly normal prehistoric family remain so popular after 30 years?

"I had been at Hanna-Barbera all of three days when I bumped into Joe Barbera," remembers Tom Barreca. "And I said, ‘Wow, Mr. Barbera, it’s amazing to meet you. I’ve seen your name on T.V. so many times.. I gotta ask you; what’s the secret for success?’ And he said, ‘Great characters and great stories. They’re timeless and anything in a cartoon can be carried by a great story and great characters.’ That has stuck with me."

And it’s the reason Fred Flintstone will always stick with us.

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