Who could forget The Flintstones, the modern stone-age family that first rocked prime time television on September 30, 1960, courtesy of Hanna-Barbera Productions. From their inception through the next 6 seasons, the cartoon endeared itself to millions of viewers with the prehistoric antics of Fred and Wilma Flintstone and their sidekick neighbors, Barney and Betty Rubble.
William Hanna and Joseph Barbera had an overnight hit with this animated series, thanks in part to its caricature of the highly popular sitcom, The Honeymooners, starring Jackie Gleason and Art Carney. Fred and Barney mimicked the characters of Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton in appearance, personality, and voice, and The Flintstones (who originally were going to be called “The Gladstones”) adopted many of their plots from The Honeymooners series. The formula for most episodes was simple and predictable: Fred and Barney would hatch some outlandish scheme that never quite worked out and Wilma and Betty would then step in at the last moment to bail them out of trouble. Fred, although frequently seen in a grouchy mood, would always exclaim the catchphrase, “Yabba Dabba Doo!” at some point in each show when he was particularly happy about something.
What made The Flintstones particularly popular was its cross-generational appeal. Adults and children alike could both enjoy the show from entirely different perspectives. The plots and verbal humor were geared primarily towards adults while the children tended to enjoy the sight gags, especially those surrounding the various gadgets that were utilized around the Flintstones’ household. It didn’t hurt that most of these gadgets consisted of animals who talked directly to the audience. Kids love that.
Residing in the prehistoric town of Bedrock, the Flintstones wore animal skin clothing, drove cars that required foot power, and ate such delicacies as Bronto Burgers, gravelberry pie, and spareribs that were gargantuan enough to tip over the family automobile. They made ingenious use of their limited technology in ways that provided them with the comforts that most of us take for granite. They had a foot-powered car, a phonograph player that utilized a bird’s beak, and a camera that, when opened, revealed a bird chiseling an image into a slab of stone. The Flintstones had a beloved pet dinosaur named Dino that would pounce on Fred whenever he returned from work and a mischievous cat that was rarely seen other than in the closing credits. The Rubbles, not to be outdone, owned a prehistoric pet kangaroo named “Hoppy”.
Fred was gainfully employed at the local rock quarry, where he drove a brontosaurus-powered earthmover (as could be seen in the opening credits each week). While having numerous bosses throughout the series, the most notable was the bald-headed, bespectacled, Mr. Slate, who Fred was always trying to impress. In their leisure time, Fred and Barney were loyal members of The Royal Order of Water Buffaloes, avid bowlers, and in one memorable episode, Boy Scout leaders.
In the 1963 season, The Flintstones borrowed from a plot that had proven hugely successful on the popular series, I Love Lucy, when Wilma gave birth to a little redheaded girl with a bone in her hair named Pebbles. Shortly thereafter, the Rubbles adopted a boy with superhuman strength and a wooden club named Bamm-Bamm.
Over the years, many real-life celebrities made delightfully unforgettable cameo appearances on The Flintstones; their names cleverly altered to reflect the theme of the show. Notable appearances included the beautiful Ann Margarock (Ann Margaret) who performed the lullaby, “The Littlest Lamb”, Stoney Curtis (Tony Curtis), Ed Sullystone (Ed Sullivan), Carey Granite (Carey Grant) , and Alvin Brickrock (Alfred Hitchcock). For a short time, they had a new set of neighbors named “The Gruesomes”, which was modeled after the successful Addams Family. Towards the end of the series, Fred and Barney developed a relationship with a little green man from outer space (that only they could see) named “The Great Gazoo” (voiced by Harvey Korman of The Carol Burnett Show fame) who was exiled from his home planet and constantly attempting to do good deeds for the two (who he referred to as “Dum-Dums”) so he could eventually return home.
There were also many notable musical numbers from various episodes that are well-remembered by fans of the show such as: Fred’s beatnik classic “Listen to the Rocking Bird”, his allergy-induced dance craze “The Bedrock Twitch”, and the Pebbles and Bamm Bamm song, “(Open Up Your Heart and) Let the Sunshine In”, which was also played during the closing credits in later episodes – replacing the mischievous cat that turns the tables on Fred, locking him out for the night.
Voices for The Flintstones were provided by: Alan Reed (Fred), Mel Blanc (Barney), Jean Vanderpyl (Wilma and Pebbles), and Bea Benaderet (Betty). Henry Corden (and later, Jeff Bergman) provided the voice for Fred after Alan Reed’s death in 1977. Dawes Butler provided the voice of Barney for five episodes of the second season while Mel Blanc recovered from a serious car accident in 1961. Frank Belker and Jeff Bergman have provided the voice of Barney in recent years after the death of Mel Blanc in 1989.
When The Flintstones ended it’s run in 1966, it held the record for the longest running animated prime-time series until The Simpsons ultimately surpassed it almost 30 years later. The Flintstones weren’t ready to become fossils just yet, however. The following year, the episodes went almost immediately into widely circulated syndication that continues to this day. In addition, the Saturday morning Pebbles and Bamm Bamm Show debuted a few years later, featuring teenage versions of the Flintstones offspring. Later, the series included a character named “Shmoo” who aided the Flintstone teens in fighting crime.
In addition, Fred and Barney could frequently be seen pitching their “Fruity Pebbles” and “Cocoa Pebbles” breakfast cereals in TV commercials. Also successfully marketed were Flintstones brand multivitamins, which up until recently; included a representation of all of the main characters except Betty (strangely replaced by Fred’s car). Thanks to a massive letter writing campaign started by actress, Rosie O’Donnell (who played the role of Betty in the live-action film version of The Flintstones), Betty finally got the vitamin representation that had eluded her for too many years. Another marketing campaign that is widely remembered is a series of Welch’s grape jelly jars that featured drawings of the characters, were distributed for over a decade, and are now collector’s items.
Recently, The Flintstones celebrated its 50th anniversary, and the hoopla surrounding the event was a clear confirmation that the viewing public of all ages are still in love with the show after all these years. Are you among the adoring fans? Have a favorite episode or character that you would like to share with us. Share your Flintstones memories with us in our comments section, as we tip our hats to this iconic animated sitcom.