15 Solid Facts About The Flintstones
By Garin Pirnia
Pre-dating The Simpsons by almost 30 years, The Flintstones was the first primetime animated show on TV and, until 1997 when The Simpsons stole the crown, The Flintstones aired the most episodes of any animated show in primetime, with 166 episodes between 1960 and 1966. The show was so successful, it established Hanna-Barbera as the largest producer of animated films.
Fred and Wilma Flintstone and their neighbors, Barney and Betty Rubble, live in Bedrock during 10,000 B.C. Fred and Barney work at a quarry, and Betty and Wilma are homemakers who are constantly at odds with their husbands. In the third and fourth seasons, respectively, kids Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm joined the cast.
Akin to other Hanna-Barbera-produced shows like Scooby-Doo, The Flintstones reappeared in many other series and specials throughout the decades, including two live-action theatrical movies and several spinoff series, including 20 episodes of The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show, featuring the kids as teenagers. Nearly a dozen TV specials aired, including The Flintstone Kids’ “Just Say No” Special, a couple of Flintstones holiday specials, and a made-for-TV Jetsons/Flintstones mash-up. Along with all of the shows, The Flintstones launched multi-million dollar merchandising with Fruity Pebbles cereal and Flintstones vitamins. Here are 15 brontosaurus-sized facts about one of the greatest animated families of all time.
1. ORIGINALLY, THE FLINTSTONES WERE THE FLAGSTONES.
Joe Barbera thought about calling the show The Gladstones, then decided on The Flagstones until he realized there was a comic strip with the same name. In 1959, they filmed a 90-second pilot. Daws Butler provided Fred’s gruff voice and June Foray played Betty. Unfortunately for her, the part eventually went to Bea Benaderet. “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,” Foray told Hogan’s Alley.
The pilot didn’t air, and the name got changed to The Flintstones. But in 1993, Cartoon Network unearthed the pilot, found in a New York storage warehouse. “It was this mythological sort of thing animators had heard of it, but nobody had actually seen it,” Mike Lazzo, the Cartoon Network’s head of programming, told Entertainment Weekly. “So we sent out teams of researchers to look for it all over. It was like the search for the Holy Grail.” The pilot finally aired on TV in May of 1994.
2. BARNEY AND FRED WERE DRAWN TO RESEMBLE CAVE PEOPLE.
Ed Benedict was one of The Flintstones’s designers. He told Hogan’s Alley that he sketched the characters to look like “cave people wearing long beards, with scraggly, unkempt hair and in slightly distorted, hunched-over shapes.” Barbera didn’t like the designs, so Benedict “straightened them up” and made them more “clean-cut.”
“Barney, as originally designed, had a strap over one shoulder, and when he turned he had a bare shoulder,” Benedict said. “It just didn’t look right, so we had to correct that. I was told they had a pet, so a dinosaur seemed appropriate, and that’s all Dino is: a small dinosaur. I had six spots on Fred’s loincloth and remember exactly that it was reduced to four. I continued to add little things, like the necktie on Fred and the stone necklace that Wilma wears. Joe just continued making very small changes, bit by bit. Joe was going more for a neat, cute look, but not cute for its own sake.”
3. ALAN REED INVENTED “YABBA DABBA DOO.”
Flintstones source WebRockOnline says the origin of Fred’s iconic “Yabba dabba doo” catchphrase came from Alan Reed, who voiced Fred, and reportedly used the line during a recording session. Reed’s mother apparently used to say, “A little dab’ll do ya,” which inspired Reed. “Alan said, ‘Hey, Joe, where it says yahoo, can I say yabba-dabba-doo?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ God knows where he got it, but it was one of those terrific phrases,” Barbera said.
4. THE FLINTSTONES DIDN’T COPY THE HONEYMOONERS.
It’s true that Fred was based on Jackie Gleason’s Honeymooners character Ralph Kramden, but Joe Barbera made him different. “So many people say, ‘Did you copy The Honeymooners?’ I said, ‘Well, if you compare The Flintstones to The Honeymooners, that’s the biggest compliment you can give me,” Barbera told Emmy TV Legends, “but The Honeymooners don’t have all the gags that we had in there,” including a Stoneway Piano and the Polarrock Camera.
5. HANNA-BARBERA DID HIRE A FORMER HONEYMOONERS WRITER FOR THE FLINTSTONES.
As Barbera relayed to Emmy TV Legends, he hired a guy who had written for The Honeymooners. “We paid him $3000 and he was terrible,” Barbera recalled. “And the reason being is, he just wrote words. It was all dialogue. He had no visual gags, no nothing. Yak, yak, yak, yak. The Honeymooners had a lot of dialogue, but it was their expressions and [Art] Carney’s attitude that made it work. When you’re doing an animation, you better go beyond that. You can’t just have people making faces at each other. You have to move them.”
6. THE FLINTSTONES HELPED SELL CIGARETTES.
In the 1960s, Winston cigarettes sponsored The Flintstones. At the end of the show, Fred and Barney would be animated to smoke the cigarettes. In one black-and-white spot, Barney and Fred avoid yard work. “Let’s take a Winston break,” Barney says, as he and Fred light up. Wilma and Betty catch them in the act and throw yard equipment at them, and Fred says the tagline, “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should.”
The smoking was short-lived: Enacted in 1970, the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act required stricter health warnings on cigarette packs, and it also banned cigarette ads on TV and radio. Later on, The Flintstones started shilling the healthier Welch’s grape juice.
7. PEBBLES WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A BABY BOY.
In 1962, during the show’s third season, the producers decided Fred and Wilma should have a child. Barbera told Emmy TV Legends the plan was for their child to be a boy, until Ideal Toy Company (the company that created the Rubik’s Cube and Betsy Wetsy) changed his mind. One day, Barbera received a call from the guy in charge of Flintstones merchandising. “He said, ‘Hey, I hear you’re having a baby on the show.’ I said, ‘Yeah,’” Barbera said. “He said, ‘Is it a boy or a girl?’ ‘What else, a boy. A chip off the old rock.’ He says, ‘That’s too bad. I have the ideal toy. If it was a girl, we could’ve made a hell of a deal.’ I said, ‘It’s is a girl.’” They sold three million dolls within the first couple of months.
8. MEL BLANC KEPT VOICING BARNEY DESPITE A HORRIBLE CAR ACCIDENT.
The Man of a Thousand Voices portrayed Barney Rubble, even following a devastating head-on car collision in 1961. Blanc didn’t let a 70-day hospital stay deter him too much, and when he got out of the hospital, the cast and crew came to his home to record episodes. Blanc recounted the experience in his book, That’s Not All Folks, writing: “Tangles of wires were scattered all over the floor, and chairs and microphones were arranged around my hospital bed.”
The cast gathered around Blanc, and the producers talked to him through a built-in speaker. “Every couple of hours Joe would ask if I was too tired to carry on, but I insisted on completing the show,” Blanc wrote, saying that they recorded about 40 episodes in that manner. “Thankfully, by September, my doctors allowed me to sit up a bit, elevated by way of a pulley-cable system, to a semi-sitting position. It was no more than a few inches difference, but as I laughingly told my colleagues, ‘How nice is it to be able to look at your faces instead of at the damned ceiling.’”
9. THE VOICE OF WILMA THINKS SHE AND FRED “REALLY LOVED EACH OTHER.”
Jean Vander Pyl supplied the voice of Wilma Flintstone from the show’s beginning to the day she died, in 1999. Though Wilma and Fred argued a lot, they did have a rock-solid relationship. “I loved the bum,” Pyl told the Los Angeles Times in 1989. “Sure, Fred was a yahoo and I got mad at him all the time. But we really loved each other. Our romance was one of the things that made us so popular. We were real.”
Pyl also voiced Rosie the Robot and Mrs. Spacely on The Jetsons, but it’s Wilma who made her famous. “I know I’m going to get killed for saying this, but Wilma had a great ‘housewife whine’ to her voice,” Pyl said. “She commanded enough authority to run the house but kept an equal amount of warmth. Wilma is a communicator and a lot of women relate to that, at least I know I do. I think there’s a lot of me in Wilma, and even though she’s just a cartoon, I think my voice is one of the things that made her so human.”
10. ACCORDING TO HARVEY KORMAN, THE GREAT GAZOO IS WORTH MONEY.
The actor provided the voice of the “superior and arrogant and elite” Great Gazoo, a green alien, for 13 episodes, from 1964 to 1966. Korman told Emmy TV Legends that he didn’t realize how popular—and lucrative—the character was until he attended conventions. “Some years back, I traveled for Hanna-Barbera,” Korman said. “They had these huge conventions and seminars where collectors collect cels, and the cels with The Great Gazoo on it are worth lots of money. Collectors on eBay and stuff want my autograph.”
11. IT TOOK NINE YEARS (AND 32 WRITERS) TO BRING THE LIVE-ACTION FLINTSTONES MOVIE TO THE BIG SCREEN.
Even though the 1994 film grossed $341,631,208 at the worldwide box office, the film was in development hell for years. According to an article in Entertainment Weekly, producers Keith Barish and Joel Silver commissioned Steven E. de Souza to write a script for a Flintstones movie in 1985. Steven Spielberg, who had directed John Goodman in Always, recommended Goodman for the role of Fred. In 1993, eight writers wrote a new draft of the script, but only three writers were credited. Richard Donner was once attached to direct but Brian Levant took over (he also directed the sequel, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas).
The plot of the final film centers around a work scheme and kidnapping, but an earlier version had a Grapes of Wrath-like plot. “I don’t even remember it that well, but Fred and Barney leave their town during a terrible depression and go across the country, or whatever that damn prehistoric thing is, looking for jobs,” Mitch Markowitz, one of the earlier writers, said. “They wind up in trailer parks trying to keep their families together. They exhibit moments of heroism and poignancy.”
12. THE FLINTSTONES ARE COMIC BOOK HEROES.
On 2016, DC Comics turned America’s favorite modern Stone Age family into comic book heroes with The Flintstones #1. The summary reads, “Welcome to Bedrock, where Paleolithic humans head to dinner for a taste of artisanal mammoth after shopping at Neandertall & Big Men’s Clothing … Join Fred and Barney as Mister Slate sends them on a mission to show some Neanderthals a night on the town in hopes of luring them into this new system called ‘working for a living’—in Slate’s Quarry, of course.”
13. THE FLINTSTONES AND WRESTLING CAME TOGETHER IN 2015.
In 2015, The Flintstones and WWE: Stone Age SmackDown was released direct-to-DVD. It features Fred and Barney hanging around with animated versions of wrestling stars like John Cena (John Cenastone), Rey Mysterio Jr. (Rey Mysteriopal), and Daniel Bryan (Daniel Byrock). “We recorded it at SummerSlam 2013,” Bryan told IGN. “The weird thing that happens when you go from kind of being a nobody to being in a new type of position is that all these crazy things happen to you. Like, ‘Wow, I’m a toy.’ And now ‘Wow, I’m a Flintstone.’ It’s really strange to see yourself animated like that, with the little caveman outfit and those feet. It’s borderline surreal.”
14. FRED AND WILMA WERE ONE OF THE FIRST TELEVISION COUPLES TO SLEEP IN THE SAME BED.
It seems strange now that married couples weren't allowed to share a bed on American television, but watch enough old TV shows and you'll see that, indeed, husbands and wives usually slept in separate beds. While many sources claim that Fred and Wilma were the very first couple to share a bed on American television, that title actually belongs to Mary Kay and Johnny, a sitcom that ran from 1947 to 1950. Still, Fred and Wilma were one of the first—and definitely the first animated couple. Pretty progressive for a Stone Age family.
15. A NEW FLINTSTONES PROJECT HAS BEEN IN THE WORKS FOR A FEW YEARS.
The Flintstones last appeared on TV in 2001’s The Flintstones: On the Rocks. In 2011, it was reported that Seth MacFarlane wrote an animated Flintstones TV pilot for Fox, which they rejected. Gilmore Girls’ Dan Palladino and Family Guy’s Kara Vallow were supposed to produce the show. Earlier this month, MacFarlane finally said that he was giving up on the project. In 2014, Warner Bros. revived the idea of a theatrical animated Flintstones movie, the first since the box office failure of 2000’s The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas. Chris Henchy was scheduled to write the script, with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay executive producing. Since then, the project has been quiet.