Jean Vander Pyl, the voice who brought the animated character Wilma Flintstone to life in the groundbreaking cartoon series “The Flintstones,” has died.
Vander Pyl, the last surviving member of the show’s original cast, died Saturday at her home in Dana Point of lung cancer, said her son, Michael O’Meara. She was 79.
Wilma was the harried wife of Fred Flintstone in the series which depicted the life and comic times of a family in the Stone Age town of Bedrock. It was television’s first animated comedy show aimed, as most sitcoms are, at adults.
Based in part on “The Honeymooners,” the legendary Jackie Gleason program on CBS, “The Flintstones” ran from 1960 to 1966 on ABC. Up until a few years ago, it was the longest-running cartoon series in prime time. “The Simpsons” now holds that record.
But “The Flintstones” lived on in Saturday morning cartoon programs and in syndication for decades, running in more than 75 countries.
Joe Barbera, who created the show along with William Hanna, once told a Times reporter that “Wilma had a great ‘housewife whine’ to her voice. She commanded enough authority to run the house, but kept an equal amount of warmth.”
Vander Pyl said she never trained to be “a voice.”
“I wanted to be a star in the theater,” she said. But radio is where she started in the late 1930s, after her graduation from Beverly Hills High School. She had a steady career, doing freelance voice work for a number of stations in Hollywood. She said her strong points were that she could play everything “from the ingenue to the villainess without complaining or screwing up.”
That breadth of ability found her playing everything on the radio from Margaret Anderson, the mother in the family program “Father Knows Best,” to one of the many girlfriends of the character Andy on “Amos and Andy.”
“Radio was a notoriously anonymous profession. It was considered a second-class art,” she said. “Agents wouldn’t even bother with us until the networks started packaging the shows and bringing more money into it,” she told The Times. “So I lived without the burdens of stardom.”
“When radio died, the prognosis was that we radio actors would be out of work because all we did was use our voices.
“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.”
Her cartoon work kept her busy. She was also the voice of Pebbles, the Flintstones’ daughter, and did duty as Mrs. Slate, the wife of Fred’s boss.
She showed up on other Hanna/Barbera cartoons as well, providing the voices for Rosie the Robot and Mrs. Spacely on “The Jetsons.”
“I wasn’t ever what you would really call a ‘star,’ ” she once said, “But I did have Wilma.”
The rest of the original cast included Alan Reed, a former radio star who played Fred, a dino operator at the Slaterock Gravel Co. Mel Blanc and Bea Benaderet played Barney and Betty Rubble, the Flintstones’ friends and next-door neighbors. Blanc also played the part of Dino, the pet dinosaur.
Of her cartoon husband, Vander Pyl once said:
“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.”
Despite the longevity of “The Flintstones,” she saw little in the way of riches from the show.
“I think ‘The Flintstones’ and ‘I Love Lucy’ sort of shocked the Screen Actors Guild,” Vander Pyl said. “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.”
She had a brief appearance in the live-action film, “The Flintstones,” in 1994. While on the set, she offered some advice to Elizabeth Perkins, the movie’s Wilma:
“To do Wilma, all you have to do is remember ‘Fred’ is a two-syllable word.
“Fr-ed, Fr-ed,” she said with a laugh.