BOOTLEG FILES 272 “Flintstones TV Commercials” (a selection of TV advertising from 1960 to today).
LAST SEEN: The commercials are available on the Internet.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: These advertisements were not designed for home entertainment release.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Highly unlikely, unless someone clears the rights to all of them for a single DVD package.
The other week, I did an interview with writer Ben Ohmart about his completion of “Yabba Dabba Doo!…Or Never a Star,” the unfinished autobiography by Alan Reed, the actor who was best known as the voice of Fred Flintstone. After the article was published, I began to think about what an impact Fred Flintstone had on popular culture. Part of that impact came from “The Flintstones” animated series, but a lot of the impact came from a skein of television commercials that first went on the air in 1960 and have yet to leave.
“The Flintstones” was a groundbreaking concept: it was the first animated show produced for prime time viewing. Not unlike other television programs of the era, it had specific corporate sponsors. But unlike the other programs of the time, the commercials included the animated characters hawking the sponsors’ products.
Perhaps the most incongruous salesmanship involving Fred, Barney and company were a trio of advertisements featuring Winston Cigarettes. In the early 1960s, nobody thought twice about advertising cigarettes on television – and no one saw the problems in having cartoon characters passing the tobacco. After all, “The Flintstones” were made for adult viewing and the characters were supposed to be adults.
Three cigarette commercials have been circulating in bootleg channels for years. The most famous involves Fred and Barney sneaking away from their household chores and hiding behind Fred’s house to smoke cigarettes. Wilma and Betty, who have been laboring without thanks, catch the men in the act of nicotene-fueled goofing off. This is unique because it is one of the rare commercials where all four main characters from “The Flinstones” appear together in the same spot.
Another commercial only includes Fred and a new character named Rocky, who runs a tobacconist shop. Fred comes into the shop and Rocky starts pitching the glory of Winston. Fred happily interrupts him with the reminder that “you know I don’t smoke nothing else.” A third cigarette commercial has Barney trying to repair Fred’s broken phonograph. Barney fixes the machine and the first record that is played is an advertisement for Winston – which is curious since the record appears to constantly interrupt Fred while the bellicose caveman tries to talk up the brand’s special characteristics.
Beyond Winston, “The Flinstones” had corporate sponsoring from Miles Laboratories, the makers of One-a-Day Vitamins and Alka-Seltzer. Carnation Evaporated Milk, Welch’s Grape Juice and Grape Jelly Supreme Kitchen Rich Cookies, Skippy Peanut Butter, NuSoft Fabric Softener and Bosco Chocolate Syrup also had Fred Flintstone pitching their products. Most of these commercials were relatively brief and uneventful – either Fred would watch a TV program where a pitchman talked up the product, or he would interact with Wilma on the value or whereabouts of a specific item (“Wilma, where’s the Alka-Seltzer?”).
“The Flintstones” ran on ABC from 1960 to 1966. After its initial run, the series’ episodes were repackaged for syndication. In syndication, however, the show no longer had its original sponsors – and, thus, no need to repeat the original commercials. These old advertisements were scissored out of the programs before they went to the local TV stations. Fortunately, they were preserved and Flintstone-obsessed collectors have been circulating them for years.
The popularity of the “The Flinstone” did not abate when the show went into reruns. In fact, it became even more popular, with many local stations running the program every weekday, usually in the after-school hours when the kiddies were watching. Realizing that Fred Flintstone’s viability as a corporate spokesman still had strength, Miles Laboratories returned to the character with a new product for promotion: Flintstones Vitamins.
If one stops for a moment to think, the notion of having fat Fred Flintstone and his equally bulky pal Barney Rubble as the spokesmen for a health-related product is absurd. Even worse, both characters were hardly responsible role models: Fred was loud, dumb, childish and obnoxious while Barney was irresponsible, dense and emotionally weak. Really, who would want their kids to grow up like those characters?
It appears that Miles Laboratories, their advertising team and the Hanna-Barbera animators were aware that a major change in personalities was needed to successfully pitch Flintstones Vitamins. Fred and Barney became more physically active and much more pleasant in the commercials. In one spot, the duo are joined by Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm to recapture the oversized letters representing Vitamins A, B, C and D. Dino absconded with those vitamin letters, but a unicycle-pedaling Fred came to the rescue and returned them to his vitamin factory.
In another spot, Fred and Barney mix it up with a live action child actor, and the three of them climb up a Mount Rushmore-inspired facade (Fred’s face is in lieu of Washington on the mountainside). Believe me, the sight of Fred and Barney scaling the side of a mountain has to be seen to be believed. But not every vitamin commercial was a call to action – one very odd spot had Fred as a newscaster, wearing a modern suit and tie, while calming detailing the benefits of Flintstones Vitamins.
The impact of the commercials was significant and Flintstones Vitamins are still being sold – and their current audience are the sons and daughters of those who first used the product in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Indeed, having vitamins designed after cartoon characters became such a recognizable commodity that Rodney Dangerfield famously riffed on the concept with his classic wisecrack “”Kids are doin’ it so young these days, they’re makin’ birth control pills shaped like Fred Flintstone!”
However, Fred and Barney never truly made the complete transition from fat slobs to fit heroes. Another product from the early 1970s kept the characters on the small screen in personalities closer to their original concepts.
In 1971, Post Cereals introduced Fruity Pebbles, a breakfast meal designed especially for sweet-toothed kids. Cocoa Pebbles hit the stores in 1972. Both products were heavily advertised using a simple formula that has been repeated in endless variations: Fred is gluttonously enjoying a breakfast with one of the cereals while Barney uses a variety of disguises, phony promises and lies to steal Fred’s breakfast bowl and cereal box. Needless to say, Fred is constantly fooled and always winds up chasing a much faster Barney in a vain pursuit of his breakfast food.
Strangely, Barney’s games never grow stale. They never quite make sense, of course – does he really need to dress up as Hercules, a ghost, a troll with rainbow-colored hair, a rapper or even Santa Claus just to get a bowl of cereal? And Fred is obviously the dumbest caveman around if he can’t figure out that his breakfast won’t be stolen if he just stayed indoors and ate in his kitchen.
There have been other uses of the Flintstones characters for selling a number of products – some atrocious 1990-based candy called Flintstone Push Ups with Fred and Barney acting like Run-DMC and a more recent GEICO parody of movie star scandal programs that theorized how Fred was able to afford expensive rock jewelry for Wilma on his meager salary (he switched to GEICO – see, even a caveman can understand it!).
None of these commercials are available on properly licensed DVDs. However, at least one enterprising Fred Flintstone fan has gathered them together for an “unofficial” release. And the individual ads can easily be accessed on a number of Internet sites.
So why should anyone seek this stuff out? Simple: Fred Flintstone is one of the most wonderfully funny animated characters of all time. Seeing this large, loud, lumpy creation doing something wholly inappropriate – in this case, selling products – never grows tired. Maybe Fred won’t propel you to get off your butt and pour a bowl of Fruity Pebbles or pop a Flintstones Vitamin, but at least he can make you crack a grin at the sheer absurdity of having this prehistoric cartoon character shilling everything from cigarettes to chocolate flavored breakfast cereal. Yabba dabba doo, indeed!
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg videos and DVDs, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg videos is perfectly legal. Go figure!