‘The Flintstones’ was a popular 60s cartoon series that first aired on ABC TV 55 years ago this month (Sept. 30), eventually becoming a hit around the world.
“The show was inspired by Jackie Gleason’s ‘The Honeymooners,’” said Alan Reed Jr., son of voice actor Alan Reed who portrayed Fred Flintstone, the animated, Stone Age version of Gleason’s blustering Ralph Kramden. Both characters are short-tempered and bombastic, constantly in search of get-rich-quick schemes, but lovably contrite when their dubious plans inevitably flounder.
“I was in my 20s and involved with my own career when ‘The Flintstones’ was first broadcast, so I never really watched it then,” said Reed. “But in later years when I did, it was wonderful to discover the nuances and cleverness that dad and the other actors created.”
Reed’s father wasn’t the first choice for Fred, however.
“There was a short pilot called ‘The Flagstones’ with Daws Butler as the voice of Fred,” recounted Reed. “He was a great voice actor for Hanna-Barbera, but just didn’t come up with the sound that the producers had in mind for Fred. Dad had that natural gruff, heavy tone that could be excitable and funny, but with a warm twinkle about it at the same time.”
Reed spent his early childhood in New York, where his father worked on radio.
“Up until I was around seven, dad was busy doing live broadcasts for the East coast and then had to repeat them for the West coast. So he was rarely home in the evening hours. But I would always get a kick out of hearing his distinctive voice on air. After we moved to California and he began working in films, he was home more often.”
In addition to Fred, Reed says his father embraced two other radio voice characters.
“One was Falstaff Openshaw, on Fred Allen’s ‘Allen’s Alley,’ where he would make up silly rhymes that were contemporary and funny. When he left the show, Fred Allen gave him permission to use the character as he pleased, which dad always said was the most generous gift a colleague ever gave him. The other was Pasquale, an Italian immigrant on ‘Life with Luigi.’” I was a good reader as a child, and actually worked with him on some of his radio shows which was a real treat.”
Reed’s father went on to appear in over three dozen films with movie greats such asLana TurnerMarlon Brando and Glenn Ford from 1943 to 1978, the last being released a year after his death. Young Alan followed his father into the entertainment world, appearing in a few films and dozens of TV shows up until 1969.
“I was more interested in the production side rather than acting, and went on to have an enjoyable career producing commercials,” said Reed, who used his father’s incomplete autobiography to publish “Yabba Dabba Doo: The Alan Reed Story” with coauthor Ben Ohmart from BearManor Media in April.
The book’s title came from Fred’s signature expression of enthusiasm, “Yabba Dabba Doo!” which Reed says his father improvised during an early script reading.
“It called for Fred to yell ‘Yahoo!’ but dad felt it didn’t have the exuberance that was needed,” he said. “So he spontaneously came up with ‘Yabba Dabba Doo!’ during a recording session and Joe (Barbera) liked it. I also recorded an audio book with Joe Bevilacqua who uncovered many recordings of my dad’s, so they are a great tribute to him.”
Reed had the rare honor of lending his name to his own father, who was born Herbert Bergman in New York City. Bergman, known as “Teddy Bergman” on early radio, later changed his name to Alan Reed after the family moved to Hollywood.
“My parents named me Alan Reed Bergman, so when my father changed his name, he actually named himself after me!” laughed Reed.
Along with Reed’s father, “The Flintstones” original cast members included Mel Blanc(Barney), Jean Vander Pyl (Wilma) and Bea Benaderet (Betty).
“Unlike today’s animated features where the actors may record their parts separately, ‘The Flintstones’ cast recorded the show together and interacted. They absolutely got along well together and I think that comes across in their performances. My dad’s voice is especially full of heart and warmth.”
Reed says his dad lived the good life, but was a heavy smoker through most of it, which probably contributed to a diagnosis of bladder cancer a decade before he died.
“That was cured surgically, but emphysema and heart disease got to him in the end,” he said.
“As the years have gone by, I’ve developed such admiration for the kind of man he was — his wonderful spirit, openness, and friendliness to everyone,” said Reed. “So many people loved him and the character he created in Fred. I still miss him a lot.”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 600 magazines and newspapers. Follow @TinseltownTalks
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