Thursday, March 5, 2020

Inside the Actor's Studio, with Guest Fred Flintstone

I sent this around via email in 2001, and it actually gained traction with some media people, though it never appeared in print. I'm resurrecting it here (lightly edited). R.I.P., James Lipton

Excerpts from a recent episode of Bravo's "Inside the Actor's Studio"
with guest Fred Flintstone

James Lipton: Good evening. I'm James Lipton. As an important figure in several fields, it gives me enormous satisfaction to host these discussions where those rare men and women whose success surpasses even my own can bask in my adoration. And I must say that no single guest has ever been more important to American culture -- and, in the larger sense, to me -- than the subject of tonight's Actor's Studio profile.

Fred Flintstone made the town of Bedrock a household name. His series, "The Flintstones" was...the...most... successful cartoon in history. Though his character underwent experiences typical of the average 1960's American, the show's prehistoric setting allowed these cultural motifs to be examined from a fresh perspective. Flintstone breathed life into his Caveman-American character, delighting and captivating generations of adults and children alike.

And he's not just an actor, but a mogul, as well. His line of breakfast cereals have earned lion... dollars over the past twenty-five years, and his vitamins have been a massive success in their own right. He's made countless appearances in television commercials, elevating that genre just as he'd previously raised the bar for animation.

Won't you all join me in welcoming tonight's guest, Fred Flintstone [claps hands very very slowly while gravely wagging head to indicate that the act of mere clapping could not possibly do justice]

[Flintstone enters, with white hair, prominent jowls, dressed in Armani suit; sits down heavily, grunting "Oy!"]

Lipton: According to some very clever research I did in order to impress you and the students here in the audience who secretly hate my guts, I've learned that you did... all... of your own stunts.

Flintstone: That's right .

Lipton: Even the car?

Flintstone: Yup. And believe me, it ain't easy going zero to sixty in a granite sedan filled with wife, kid, and dinosaur on foot power alone! Of course, Wilma didn't weigh much back then.

Lipton: [wags head in amazement] Let's TALK about Wilma. What was she like to work with?

Flintstone: Oh, Wilma was the best.

Lipton: A most subtle actress

Flintstone: Oh, yeah. Her energy shot right off the screen. She really knew what she was doing; I remember once when I was having trouble with some dialogue in the "Cave Scout Jamboree" episode, she gave me some great advice. She said, "Fred, don't force it. Just be yourself; let it flow". I've never forgotten that.

Lipton: Marvelous!

Flintstone: Yeah, shooting that series was such a blast.

Lipton: [grave dramatic pause] Ralph Kramdon

Flintstone: [after long expectant pause] Yeah, ok. Sure.

Lipton: You've drawn heavily from Jackie Gleason's work, have you not?

Flintstone: Well, of course! [sparse nervous audience laughter]. Jackie was an influence on all of us: George Jetson, Top Cat, myself. And remember: he was working in live TV. With animation, you've got all the time in the world to polish your performance.

Lipton: And yet, there's something distinct about your OEUVRE [Flintstone dabs at unseen object on pant leg with hankie]. I'm sure you all remember [faces camera] Fred's............. MASTERFUL............. performance in the Great Gazoo episode [faces back to Flintstone] where a green visitor from outer space whisks him into a futuristic setting. Here we have an actor working in one period who must penetrate a daunting veil of chronology. Yet Fred does so with such confidence and conviction that the audience continues to suspend disbelief. The historical range is ab............. so............. lute............. ly STAGGERING. And yet you pulled it off with grace and aplomb.

Flintstone: [grins] Yeah, I guess Gleason never covered 60,000 years in a single scene, did he? [laughter, applause]

Lipton: That he most certainly did not. But let's move on. In 1966 Hanna-Barbera released a feature-length thriller named "The Man Called Flintstone" [enthusiastic applause, which Lipton milks with an expression of diligent patience]. Your work in the film was pure.............magic. It's a spy movie send-up where you're found to be an identical double of agent Rock Slate. Slate is recuperating in a hospital, so you're sent on a top-secret mission, using family and neighbors as "cover". There's a highly-charged scene near the end where Barney begins to suspect that this is no ordinary vacation. And the emotional complexity with which you play this scene is.....astounding.

[clip plays]

Barney: Hey, ahhhh, Fred! What's really goin' on here? I t'ought dis was gonna be a relaxin' vacation wit' you an' duh girls, and 'dere's been guns firin', car chases, Bam-Bam got kidnapped. Do, ahhhh, you know what's goin' on here?

Fred: Barn', you're my best friend, you KNOW that. And I'm a real heel for holdin' out on you. So I'm gonna level with you. I'm here because I'm a double for Rock Slate.

Barney: Rock Slate!

Fred: That's right! They sent me here because Slate's in the hospital, and they needed help catching this Green Goose character. But I never meant to put my friends in danger. Like I said, I feel like such a heel...

[applause, Flintstone bows head in sheepish acknowledgement]

Lipton: Astounding. It's abundantly clear, watching that powerful performance, why your name defined an era. And yet, incredible though it might seem, "The Man Called Flintstone" marked the last time your work would ever appear in film or in series television. The series ended shortly thereafter; the movie -- which was NOT a commercial success -- closed after a few weeks, and you found yourself, for the first time in six years, out of work.

Flintstone: Well, I wasn't exactly scrubbin' floors! [audience laughter]. My agent made sure I had a piece of the syndication.

Lipton: [eyes protrude] Reeeally?

Flintstone: Yep. A small piece, but the series plays, and plays, and plays...

Lipton: And pays!

Flintstone: [chuckles] Exactly! So I can't complain. Don't forget, we've also done very well with the cereals and vitamins. Wilma and I live in a chateau in the South of France, and I've been able to pick and choose my work. I've also dabbled in the business end of the industry. I actually put up some of the money for Jurassic Park.

Lipton: I didn't know that!

Flintstone: Yeah, I also helped some with the casting. Mel Dinowicz...

Lipton: ...who played the part of Dino in the series?

Flintstone: Right, Mel had a rolodex this thick filled with out-of-work triceratops, theropods, stegosauruses, you name it. So he and I helped them get the thing up and running well under budget. Spielberg gave me an Assistant Producer credit.

Lipton: In 1994, twenty eight years after the series' final episode, Brian Levant directed a live-action film called The Flintstones. And you were not asked to be in that film. How did it make you feel to see your signature part go to John Goodman?

Flintstone: Well, first of all, John's a great talent, and he and I were -- and still are -- very close friends. I feel no animosity toward him whatsoever. Listen, I understand how it is. The Hanna Barbera series ran in the 60's, which was like a completely different age. Even when you're talking "prehistoric", Hollywood still wants "something new" [audience laughter]. And they knew I'd cost a heckuva lot more than Goodman. Live actors come much cheaper. That's why almost all you see nowadays is live action.

Lipton: Now it's time for me to put you through the agony of answering ten extraordinarily vapid questions which I ask every guest at the close of the program. This affords me the opportunity to demonstrate my superiority by judging your replies. These questions are carefully designed to leave one's mind utterly blank the instant one hears them, so please respond immediately with something witty, bright and completely off-the-cuff. Ok?

Flintstone: Shoot!

Lipton: Ok, here goes. What is your name, what is your quest, and what is your favorite color? Just kidding!! No, really: what is your favorite word?

Flintstone: Hey, that's an easy one! [shouts] "Yabba-dabba-doo!"

[wild sustained applause and laughter]

James Lipton: [face frozen in a mask of delight, turns and faces camera dead-on for several seconds...then, slyly turns back to Flintstone, long pause] That's three words!

Flintstone: Hyphens, Jimmy. Hyphens.

Lipton: [sighs with hammy theatricality] What is your least favorite word?

Flintstone: "Neanderthal"!

Lipton: Wonderful. What turns you on?

Flintstone: When Wilma lets her hair down.

Lipton: We've never actually seen that, have we?

Flintstone: No, and you're not gonna, either, buster!

Lipton: [smiles with bitten lower lip while pulsing with laughter]

Lipton: What turns you off?

Flintstone: Shoes!

Lipton: What is the sound or noise that you love?

Flintstone: A sizzling rack of brontosaurus ribs out on the barbecue

Lipton: What sound or noise do you hate?

Flintstone: Mother-in-law ringing doorbell.

Lipton: What is your favorite curse word?

Flintstone: "Rocksucker"!

Lipton: What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

Flintstone: I'd love to write for the Howard Stone show.

Lipton: What profession would you NOT like to participate in?

Flintstone: Actually working in a prehistoric quarry! [much laughter, applause]

Lipton: Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Flintstone: "Ok, Fred, you and the cat can BOTH come in for the night!"

[gasps of startled realization from the audience; sappy music begins to swell]

Lipton: Let me say what a pleasure and honor it has been -- for both of us -- having you as a guest. As I told Bobby Deniro recently at a dinner party I attended with a select few of his most intimate friends: working in animation requires something............. extra. A vast depth of artistic resource which few can summon. You............. Fred Flintstone............. have always exemplified the very best of that genre, an utterly naturalistic style of performance which has enthralled anyone who's ever been privileged to enjoy your work. I know I've been privileged. Oh, so very very privileged. And I'd like to thank you for being here tonight, Fred.

Flintstone: Thank YOU. I had a "dabba doo" time!

Way back in 2001 people actually had attention spans to get through such a thing. Hard to believe.

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