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To the average cartoon viewer, SpongeBob is SpongeBob and Bart Simpson is Bart Simpson, but cartoon connoisseurs recognize that characters evolve over the years, not just personality-wise but graphically.
File this one under “Things I Did Not Know About Dick Clark.” Apparently, he owns a one-bedroom Flintstones-inspired home in Malibu, and the LA Times reports that he’s selling it for $3.5 million, though the asking price doesn’t reflect the value of the home so much as it does the 23-acre plot of land it sits on. If you’re curious, here’s the full home tour in all its stone-age goodness.
The Flintstones have been duly celebrated throughout the years, but one part of the Hanna-Barbera series that hasn’t received much attention is its iconic architectural setting: those brilliantly appealing and organic circular ranch houses topped with pancaked granite slabs.
The designer of the prehistoric Flintstones universe was a man named Ed Benedict (1912-2006), the same man who designed the show’s characters.
Benedict dreamt up the Flintstones homes almost entirely from imagination. He was once asked if he used any reference to design them. He replied, “No, with the exception of on the interior of one of the samples I made, I did look up some prehistoric stuff—cave paintings. I just looked up in there and got the old typical buffalo looking thing running across a wall, just to get the flavor of it.”
Benedict had had a bit of practice with this kind of work. He had designed cavemen and cavehomes once before for the 1955 Tex Avery short The First Bad Man:
The cave homes in The First Bad Man, built into the sides of rock formations, look uncomfortable compared to the domesticated setting of the Flintstones, replete with garages, front yards with flower beds, swimming pools and living rooms with couches. Benedict probably didn’t come up with the original idea of allowing the Flintstones all the creature comforts of suburbia, but the credit for making the idea work visually belongs to him.
The Flintstones designs in the image gallery below were created by Benedict for the original network presentation. These pieces established the general look and feel of the Flintstones universe and served as a guide for the layout artists who were charged with building out the world in each episode. A rare photographic print set of these drawings is currently being auctioned on HowardLowery.com.
We can’t seem to get over our obsession with the caveman, who has appeared on screen since at least 1912. In fact, anthropologist Judith Berman has written that a new caveman character has been introduced into pop culture every year since World War II.
DreamWorks’ The Croods, directed by Chris Sanders and Kirk De Micco, presents the most recent version of prehistoric man; Grug, is a responsible father facing such dad-like issues as a teenage daughter who just wants to be her own person. He transcends the behavior expected of a typical caveman, but his character design doesn’t evolve past a stereotype that is largely of our own making.
We’ve distilled an entire subspecies of human down to a single iconic image, one that is perpetuated year after year through film, animation, comic art and bad Halloween costumes. The caveman is always brutish, dressed in some type of fur loin cloth and possessing limited intelligence. Some stereotypes of prehistoric humans are certainly based on archeological facts: the structure of the skull, anatomical proportions and pelt-based wardrobe. But other stereotypes, such as wielding clubs, communing with dinosaurs and pulling women by the hair, are our own projections of prehistoric behavior.
The iconic caveman image we know today was already established by the 1930s, seen in the comic strip Alley Oop. He carried a stone axe, manhandled women and rode a dinosaur named Dinny. Alley Oop, along with the Fleischer’s Stone Age Cartoonsseries, was a response to western society grappling with what it meant to be modern. The simple world of the caveman was a nostalgic comfort to those who feared progress.
Alley Oop was the pop culture bookend of a caveman fiction trend that began in the 19th century. One of the earliest examples is Paris Before Man, a novel written by Pierre Boitard in 1861. The frontispiece print (above) shows a club-wielding caveman, protecting his mate. As the genre developed, the caveman became more brutish and ill-mannered—an 1886 short story written by Andrew Lang describes a marriage custom in which women are “knocked on the head and dragged home.” By the 1920s, numerous newspaper headlines used “caveman” and “neanderthal” as adjectives to describe senseless male brutality.
The mid-century resurgence of cavemen in film (The Neanderthal Man, Monster on Campus), comics (B.C.) and television (The Flintstones) can partly be blamed on World War II rhetoric. Newscasters sang the praises of atomic power while warning of its devastating potential to send us back to a new Stone Age. To help us deal with these fears, the caveman was domesticated; The Flintstones showed that, even as the worst case scenario, the Stone Age wasn’t so bad. Even cavemen could wear neckties and accomplish an honest day’s work.
Over time, films and TV shows have moved away from the wife-clubbing caveman of the 19th century to fit G-rated expectations of civilized society. In fact, The Croods has pushed the caveman to the opposite end of the spectrum, with a father figure that seems like he could handle modern-day discussions of co-parenting and all-terrain strollers. No longer a commentary on uncivilized man or our fears of the future, the caveman and his era presented in The Croods is merely a backdrop ideal for contrasting our modern reality of iPods and WiFi.
Finally, a live-action adaptation of a cartoon that might actually be watchable. The Flintstones: A XXX Parody was released last month, and thankfully Rosie O’Donnell can’t screw up this version. Just in case you’re wondering, the trailer below is totally SFW.
Nikki Finke is reporting that Seth MacFarland (Family Guy) is going to reboot The Flintstones for both television series and theatrical movies. Apparently this deal was long time in negotiation between 20th Century-Fox (MacFarlane’s home base) and Warner Bros. (who own The Flintstones).
On a related/unrelated matter, the 1966 Adam West Batman series has been held up for years due to legal wrangling between Fox and Warners… perhaps this MacFarlane deal could help untangle that impasse.
I just received Profiles In History’s latest auction catalog: Icons of Animation and its pretty incredible. Above are a few of the offerings that caused me to do a Tex Avery double take: a rare cel from one of The Flintstones sponsor bumper for Winston cigarettes; pencil animation from MGM’s Bosko and The Pirates (1937); and a cache of production photos from the Kinex stop motion studio – the one above from The Cannibal Isle (1927). Priceless stuff!
The Icons of Animation auction takes place on Saturday December 17th at The Paley Center in Beverly Hills. Van Eaton Galleries will be displaying the material in advance preview, December 9th through 16th (10am to 6pm each day). Their are literally hundreds of Disney items ranging from cels from The Band Concert (1935) to Mary Blair originals from Alice in Wonderland (1951). Lots of stuff for every taste, from Gulliver’s Travels cels to Leon Schlesinger Bugs Bunny comic strips… check out the entire catalog online here.
Click thumbnails below to enlarge images – L to R: a pan cel from Astro Boy; The Icons of Animation catalog with Mickey from The Band Concert; an incredibly rare cel set up from Iwerks’ Balloonland (1934):