Excavating Bedrock: Reminiscences of “The Flintstones”
Between 1961 and 1971, Hale was a storyboard artist and gag man on the animated series and a gag writer and penciler on the newspaper strip.
“When I first came to Los Angeles, I had just finished working for Charles Schulz and was trying to break into the studios. One of the things I did was go over and meet Joe Barbera as well as Alan Dinehart, who was doing animation voices and working with the writers and was in charge of things at the time. I penciled storyboards for some of the first Flintstones animation programs. My first job was the episode starring Hoagy Carmichael. They felt they needed someone who had a feel for music, which I don’t think made much of a difference; I just drew it and put some gags in, but that got me doing that.
“I wrote for the Flintstones comic strip for at least eight years starting in the mid-’60s. I wrote all the Sunday pages and, when I had time, some of the dailies as well and the Yogi Sunday page. I’m really a visual gag man, and though I did write shows, visual gags are really my field. I love visual comedy with no dialogue. Doing visuals, to me, is really the challenge.
“Part of my job as a storyboard guy was to stick in gags such as using the animals as household appliances and things like that. I’m fairly inventive and I was always able to do that. It was a lot of fun. I would rough the strips out in storyboard form; thumbnail sketches, very loose with a lot of slips. I worked at home and so did Gene [Hazelton], who lived near me. I’d then take a load of them over to Gene on Monday and present them to him. He was a very nice man, easy to work for and he never “went Hollywood” like some of the studio’s guys. We’d spend an hour or so going through them and looking at the ideas. He’d decide on the ones he wanted. If it needed cleaning up, I’d take it back home and work on it some more and get the finished stuff back to him on Friday. If it didn’t need any work, he’d take it from there.
“Gene would pencil and ink some of the time, but while I was with him I believe he would them send them off to Harvey Eisenberg, who was doing a lot of the finished inking at that time.
“Everyone will deny it, but I think I was the one who came up with the idea of putting a little baby in there and came up with the idea of focusing on the merchandising that could come from that. It’s sort of like at Warner Bros., where everyone takes credit for inventing Tweety Bird. You mention ideas in meetings and nothing happens and then some time later someone says, ‘Hey, I have a great idea!’ In 1971 my own feature called Figments began, but I continued to write gags for The Flintstones. Comic strips kept me busy for many years but these days, at the urging of my agent, I’m occupied with my website at www.DaleHale.com.
“The characters, popularity, merchandising and money are what it’s really all about; no two ways about it. The idea for the show supposedly got started when someone at Hanna-Barbera commented how much they liked Johnny Hart’s B.C. and that they should get him to do a show for them. I know Johnny Hart came to the studio at one point and worked on some project they had in mind, but it went nowhere. They decided to go with another style or something. Someone figured that they really didn’t need him and that they would just do something like it. I’ve heard this from more than one person. It’s an occupational hazard in the cartoon business, taking someone else’s idea and making it your own.”
Shaw! has worked on The Flintstones in a variety of capacities since 1978, including writing and drawing Flintstones comic books, designing characters and storyboarding for Flintstones animation and working as art director for promotional work.
“When I was a kid, until Rocky and Bullwinkle and The Flintstones, there was really nothing in the way of TV animation for our generation. What was on TV was mostly old Terrytoons from the ’30s, like Farmer Alfalfa and Gandy Goose. They were great old cartoons but nothing we could really relate to. As a kid, I loved animation. My other consuming passion was dinosaurs. Then here comes The Flintstones, and it was everything I liked in one cartoon. I always told people growing up that my Dad looked like Jackie Gleason. He was heavy-set and sort of jowly, and my mother who was a redhead looked like Lucille Ball—so, in fact, The Flintstones looked pretty much like my parents.
“Even at that early age I had a love of that UPA hard-line design look that came from Ed Benedict and was later refined by other people, and I absolutely fell in love with the show. It came out on September 22, 1960, and for the first Halloween there was no Flintstones merchandise—the popularity hadn’t caught up with them yet. So I made my own Fred Flintstone suit for Halloween. I was proud of liking The Flintstones because it was a pretty hip thing. I remember adults talking about it and seeing them on the cover of TV Guide and the fact that it was shown at night. Some of my best collectibles are things like ashtrays and shot glasses, where the licensing was picked up by companies that didn’t have kids in mind at all. I’ve always thought one of the reasons those cartoons were so successful is that Hanna-Barbera came along at the time when other studios were closing their animation units, and they were able to cherry-pick top talent like Mike Maltese and Warren Foster from Warner and animators and designers from UPA and MGM. Hanna-Barbera was condemned for years for bastardizing animation, but their stuff had great production value because they had guys who knew how to make the cartoons funny whether the characters were moving around a lot or not. When Pebbles came along, the series began to change and it became cute. They began putting in characters aimed at kids like The Gruesomes and The Great Gazoo; it was more about the flavor of the week than Honeymooner types trying to get along, and the humor lost its edge. Unfortunately, most kids who see the Flintstones today think of Fred and Barney as those two guys who are always fighting over cereal.
“I followed the strip almost from the beginning, and when I was a little older I met Gene Hazelton and visited him quite a number of times. He would take time out for me and looked at my drawings and was very generous and wished me well. We spent almost the whole day together right before I moved to Los Angeles to try to get into the business. My first actual Flintstones job was inking Pete Alvarado’s pencils for a Flintstones story that appeared in a Yogi Bear comic book. “Chase Craig was the editor and had an office at Hanna-Barbera and was trying artists out. I recall inking some of Dick Bickenbach’s comic-book pencils as well, though Lee Hooper was doing most of his inking for him. I also inked a lot of Owen Fitzgerald’s stuff in those early days. This led to me eventually not just inking, but penciling, then writing. They needed huge amounts of material for the overseas market, so sometimes I was writing, penciling and inking entire stories myself. I enjoyed being a freelancer and really didn’t have an interest in working at the studio until 1978, when I found out that they were doing a new Flintstones series called The New Fred and Barney Show. Then it was like, How soon can I get there?
“I came in having never worked in animation and was made a supervisor, presumably because I knew so much about the characters. It was like going to school working with all the great old cartoonists who had either worked on the original show or on the comic books or the strips: Alex Toth, Doug Wildey, Tex Avery. It was really the last hurrah as far as having the original guys around. The series segued into my working on the Flintstones TV commercials, and at the same time I did presentations and art proposing new ideas about possible Flintstones shows. I did artwork for advertising showing The Flintstones with fast food or cereal. Around 1982 I began doing work for the Pebbles cereal TV commercials and continued into the late ’80s, when I began working on The Flintstone Kids show. In the early ’90s I left the studio and became art director for the ad agency that handles all of the Flintstones commercial accounts. That led to my doing the box art and the premiums. I also worked on The Flintstones Christmas Carol TV special a few years ago. And I’m still doing all of that to this day.
“The reason I think they’ve been so popular over the years is that, when you think about most cartoon characters, people think of cute, lovable little animals. The Flintstones aren’t lovable and, like The Simpsons—who coincidentally I work on as well—really play up the imperfection of the average person. Fred and Homer are both, at best, jerks. They don’t even necessarily have good intentions. They’re greedy, scheming, venal dopes who, despite all of that, you still kind of like. They’re both scoundrels, particularly Fred, who is not only a scoundrel but obnoxious as well. Like Jackie Gleason on The Honeymooners, which The Flintstones was modeled after, Fred strays very close to spousal abuse. Today that’s funny because it’s shocking and politically incorrect, and we’re not saying these characters are wonderful. They’re like people you know or might be yourself. With The Flintstones, their world is a character as well. It’s one of the very few animated series where you can show just a background to an audience and they can tell you who the characters are who live there. The prehistoric gadgets and the cars and the animals doing the household chores in a begrudging manner—people never get tired of seeing that stuff. I think it appeals to people’s enjoyment of that Rube Goldberg cause-and-effect kind of humor. They’ve been tried in live action, but the look of their world has never been captured.
“I don’t think animated cartoons should be made into live-action films in general. In animation they already have a movement and a color and a voice. I detest the Flintstones live-action movies. I know the director and he loves the characters, but trying to recapture cartoon gags in live action, like Fred tip-toeing while he’s bowling or jumping up and yelling ‘yabba dabba doo’ just looks really stupid. Taking something from print is different. You’re not doing something that is literally alongside of it. Its a big jump from print to live action, but live action and animation are so close that inevitably they’re not going to match up.
“As far as their future, the Flintstones definitely haven’t been exploited as much as I’d like to see. I don’t get the idea that Warner, who now owns them, is anxious to exploit any of the Hanna-Barbera characters with the exception of Scooby. Doo who came along around 1970, just about the time I lost interest in what was coming out of the studio. The first Flintstones live-action film was hyped to a degree that people got sick of hearing about them, and there’s still some negative fallout from that. I realize we’re selling cereal now, and it’s to kids, not to adults. I don’t know how we’re going to get out of that, but at least they’re not advertising Winston cigarettes anymore. The new production from Cartoon Network might help, but I don’t know what the demographics are concerning adults who will watch it. I think with the right people and the right approach, the potential is certainly there. One of the great things about The Flintstones is that no matter how much time passes, you can always use them to mirror what’s happening in society today.”
Foray was the voice actress for the series’ 1959 pilot, The Flagstones.
“I had worked for Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera when they were still at MGM doing Tom and Jerry cartoons. It was probably in 1959 I did a demo with Daws Butler for a new series still in development called The Flagstones [watch the video above], which was later changed to The Flintstones.
“Daws played both Fred Flintstone and Barney, and I played Betty. They submitted our tape, but apparently whoever was in charge—the network or someone—turned down both Daws and me. I was terribly disappointed, and when my agent talked to Joe Barbera, he said they wouldn’t even let me come in and retest for the part or any of the others. Joe was extremely thoughtful, though, and said he felt very bad. He
asked my agent if I would come and do some other things for them. I was so upset I said I would not and didn’t want to go through that again. Jean Vander Pyl, who later played Wilma, was a radio actress and had done some things. Bea Benadaret, who played Betty, had been in radio and was a TV star, so she was a natural. My only other experience was several years later, when I was in A Man Called Flintstone playing a nurse or someone sitting at a desk. But I do remember being terribly disappointed at not getting to play Betty.”
CHRIS SAVINO and DAVID SMITH
Savino is a director on a new Flintstones animated feature from Cartoon Network. Smith is co-director on the feature.
Chris Savino: The name of our feature is The Flintstones: On the Rocks, and the release date is tentatively November 2001. It’s undecided if it will be a video release first or TV, but I’m pretty sure it will be TV. It changes from day to day.
(Watch three TV commercials with the Flintstones peddling Winston cigarettes:)
David Smith: The characters are based on Ed Benedict’s original designs. Anything from 1970 to present day we did not look at. Craig Kellman, our character designer, was so inspired by Ed Benedict’s original work and he based his redesigns on that.
(Below are Smith and Savino’s updates on the characters for their adaptation. To view the images, click on the thumbnails.)
Savino: There were some similar designs done six or seven years ago for merchandising of the thirty-fifth anniversary of The Flintstones. The merchandising did not do too well, but at the same time those designs were never used for anything else. We thought this was a perfect opportunity to use them again and bring back the look and feel of what The Flintstones originally were. We feel the original Flintstones as they appeared in Episode One in 1960 was not a kid’s show, but a sitcom dealing with adult relationships and marriage. Over the years The Flintstones became very iconic. Fred was no longer a fat loudmouth. Barney was no longer a short idiot. They became very contemporary, even-tempered and unappealing. We treat our film as though 1961 has rolled around again and are taking it from there. We’ve neglected Pebbles and Bamm Bamm as though they didn’t exist, or maybe they do exist and are grown up and have kids of their own, but it’s up to you to decide. We don’t touch on that at all. We focus on the problems of marriage and deal with that 1950s era where the woman stayed at home and the man was the breadwinner. We don’t reinforce that idea in any way, but we’ve kept Fred in that traditional role and have given Wilma more of an update, which causes them even more conflict.
Smith: It’s traditional hand-painted animation. There’s no digital anything in this. We specifically wanted it to look exactly or as close as possible to the original. We had a background painter from the original series, a gentleman named Don Watson. He started around Episode 113 of the original first run. It was an incredible experience to work with him. His knowledge and experience worked well with our ideas and it was a privilege to have him with us. He really brought it back to 1960 for us. The backgrounds are probably the closest thing to the original series, because we’ve really ripped them off.
Savino: If you look at one of the first sequences of our film, you’ll see there are obviously differences from the original, but what we’re going for and have said all along is, this is how you remember The Flintstones: You’ll get the feeling of what it originally was. We’re using Hoyt Curtin’s original music, but since we’ll be taking Fred and Wilma into a Latin American country, we’ve added some Latin American music.
Smith: We hope we’re not doing something with these characters that has been done for many, many years, which is ruin them. We could be doing it and don’t know! [laughter]
Savino: I’d also like to point out that there were four people who wrote and storyboarded this: myself, Dave and a married couple, Cindy and Clay Morrow. We were all born in the ’70s and are not of the 1960s era. I think it’s kind of funny that we’re taking an existing product like The Flintstones and bringing back the nostalgic feel, even though we were never part of that filmmaking time.
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