Meet Jean Vander Pyl, the Real Voice Behind Wilma Flintstone

Andre Mouchard is a free-lance writer who lives in Irvine

Fred was never the Cary Grant type.

He was into bowling and burgers, beer and boxing.

His idea of dressing up meant tossing on his lodge hat--the one with real animal fur.

Still, in spite of his Neanderthal habits, Wilma Flintstone wouldn't have had him any other way.

"I loved the bum. 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."

That's the word from Jean Vander Pyl, the "real" voice of Wilma and hundreds of other radio and TV cartoon characters.

Vander Pyl, a San Clemente resident, has been an actress for more than 50 years. Her career has covered several generations of radio and TV entertainment. She's had long-running roles on radio shows, including the part of Margaret Anderson on "Father Knows Best," and made regular appearances on radio shows such as "Fibber McGee and Molly." More recently she has had bit parts on such TV programs as "Murder, She Wrote" and "Hardcastle & McCormick."

But none of those jobs, Vander Pyl says, have matched the impact she made as the long-suffering wife of TV's No. 1 caveman. "The Flintstones" was television's first prime-time cartoon, running from 1960 through '66 on ABC, according to Joe Barbera, who produced the show with William Hanna. The show has been in syndication ever since.

"I wasn't ever what you would really call a 'star,' but I did have Wilma," Vander Pyl says. "Millions of people grew up with us as a big part of their lives. And millions more probably will."

Vander Pyl, 70, still signs notes "Love, Wilma" and keeps a great stockpile of Flintstone memorabilia in her beach-front apartment. Next year will mark "The Flintstones' " 30th birthday, and the show's producers, William Hanna and Joe Barbera, are contemplating a Flintstone revival, Barbera said in a telephone interview from his Hollywood office.

He says they are weighing a number of options--including a possible live-action Flintstone movie--but Vander Pyl is pushing for a remake of the cartoon.

"I think we would be more popular than ever," she says. "Every time I talk to somebody about a new Flintstones series, I get a great response. I think the people who grew up with 'The Flintstones' still want to see us.

"And, of course, if we do it as a cartoon, I'd get to be Wilma all over again."

Vander Pyl, who also provided the voices for Rosie the Robot and Mrs. Spacely on another Hanna/Barbera cartoon, "The Jetsons," notes that there is a precedent for reviving an animated show.

Though "The Jetsons" ran for only one season--in 1963--Vander Pyl claims the show's popularity has grown in syndication. "The kids have taken up 'The Jetsons' like some kind of cult. We've become the 'Star Trek' of cartoons."

In the mid-1980s, Hanna/Barbera Productions called in Vander Pyl and the rest of "The Jetsons' " cast to make 42 new episodes, enough for about two TV seasons. Last year, they made a new Jetson movie, which is scheduled to be released next summer.

Barbera, who created both cartoons and directed most of the early Flintstone episodes, says it's likely "The Flintstones" will be revived "in some animated form" in 1990.

If it is, Vander Pyl will have a job, Barbera says.

"A great (cartoon) voice is something that, when you close your eyes and listen, it immediately makes you chuckle. Also, it's got to work for people of all ages, not just kids," he says. "Jean had that voice when we cast her, and she still has it."

Vander Pyl's work as Wilma was a key element in the success of "The Flintstones," he adds.

"I know I'm going to get killed for saying this, but Wilma had a great 'housewife whine' to her voice. 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," Vander Pyl says. "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."

Still, Vander Pyl says she never trained to be a "voice."

When she was graduated from Hollywood High in 1937, she had just won the Best Actress award in the citywide Shakespeare Festival for her portrayal of Juliet. Her next stop was supposed to be Broadway.

"I wanted to be a star in the theater, not radio," she says.

But, after an illness interrupted her plans, Vander Pyl enrolled at UCLA and started working in radio. She promptly discovered that school and radio work didn't mix.

"My sorority sisters told me I had to either go to work or go to class," Vander Pyl says. "So I said 'Bye, girls.' "

That began a steady, if unspectacular career in radio, doing free-lance voice work for a number of stations in Hollywood. She says her strong points were that she could play everything "from the ingenue to the villainess without complaining or screwing up."

"Radio was a notoriously anonymous profession. It was considered a second-class art," she says. "Agents wouldn't even bother with us until the networks started packaging the shows and bringing more money into it. So I lived without the burdens of stardom."

As TV came alive and radio fizzled in the mid-1950s, Vander Pyl was one of many voice performers to find work in the new medium.

"When radio died, the prognosis was that we radio actors would be out of work because all we did was use our voices," she says.

"But that was wrong. Most of us came from a theater background, and making the switch wasn't that big a deal. Then a few of us got lucky and got into cartoons."

The idea of making "The Flintstones," a cartoon that Barbera says was based loosely on the TV comedy "The Honeymooners," came after marketing experts discovered the audience for cartoons in the late '50s was more than 50% adults, Vander Pyl says.

According to Barbera, the prime-time cartoon immediately touched a nerve.

"We must have done something right because Fred got marriage proposals every week," he says.

Vander Pyl is the last surviving member of the show's original cast. Former radio star Alan Reed was the original Fred, Bea Benaderet played Betty Rubble and Mel Blanc was the voice of Fred's sidekick, Barney Rubble, as well as Dino the Dinosaur.

"Mel was a great actor," Vander Pyl said of the recently deceased Blanc. "He was so good he made everybody sit up and notice that people who did voice work were talented."

"The Flintstones" brought Vander Pyl a modicum of fame, as well as other cartoon and TV roles. But it didn't make her rich.

Though the show has been in syndication for more than 20 years, Vander Pyl doesn't earn a penny on the reruns.

"I think 'The Flintstones' and 'I Love Lucy' sort of shocked the Screen Actors Guild," Vander Pyl says. "Nobody knew that TV shows would go on forever, so our old contracts didn't call for much in the way of residuals. That's why I'm not wealthy."

But with payments from other shows still coming in, and a small pension from the Screen Actors Guild, Vander Pyl, a widow, says she is comfortable. A mother of three with two grandchildren, she lives in a small, tidy apartment about a half-mile north of the San Clemente Pier, and an Amtrak railroad line is the only thing standing between her front porch and the ocean.

The serenity of her home has helped keep her desire for acting work down to a minimum.

"Two years ago, my commercial agent told me I needed some new photographs. But I sit here and look at the ocean and I still need the (new) pictures," she says. "At my age, I'm interested in working, but not in making the drive up to Los Angeles five times a week.

"Of course, I'd make the drive if it meant getting to be Wilma again. That wouldn't be such a pain at all."

For the Record Los Angeles Times Saturday September 30, 1989 Orange County Edition Metro Part 2 Page 2 Column 1 Metro Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction Marital Status--Jean Vander Pyl, the voice of Wilma on "The Flintstones" cartoon show, is not a widow as reported in the Friday Orange County Life section. She is married to Roger W. DeWitt of San Clemente.
Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
61°