Pebbles Flintstone turns 50 years old on Friday.
You read that right: Fred and Wilma Flintstone’s adorable baby girl with the ever-present bone in her hair is now eligible to join the AARP.
The Flintstones, television’s first primetime animated series, premiered on September 30, 1960. Originally developed as The Flagstones until the producers were threatened with a lawsuit by the syndicators of the comic strip Hi & Lois, whose central characters bear the surname Flagston, The Flintstones was an immediate hit with viewers and critics as an inventive and funny Honeymooners-derived spoof for adults that also entertained children. In those pre-politically correct days, it probably bothered no one that commercials featuring the characters touting series sponsor Winston cigarettes were integrated into episodes. Hanna-Barbera Productions and the American Broadcasting Company were certainly delighted: The Flintstones rose to among the highest-rated television programs and was a revenue-generating monster.
When producers Joe Hanna and William Barbera decided to add a baby to the show, their first choice was a boy (Fred and Wilma had a son, Fred, Jr., in the series’ 1959 90-second pilot). When the Ideal Toy Company got wind of this, though, company executives convinced Hanna and Barbera to change the character to a girl which could be marketed as a doll, and the producers agreed. It was a wise move: Ideal’s “Pebbles” doll brought Hanna-Barbera an estimated $20 million in additional revenue in its first year on the market.
Wilma’s pregnancy was announced in an episode that aired on January 25, 1963. How Fred could have failed to notice his wife’s delicate condition until the eighth month may raise a few eyebrows, but, hey, when it came to relationships you could say he was a bit of a caveman.
The following season, the Flintstones’ friends and neighbors, Barney and Betty Rubble, depressed over being unable to have children of their own (making The Flintstones the first television series to address the issue of infertility, albeit subtly), adopted a child of their own, Bamm-Bamm.
With the introduction of Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm the series’ writing became more juvenile and the show’s adult demographic began to slide precipitously. New York Times theater and film critic Brooks Atkinson complained that the show had “become increasingly preoccupied with domestic affairs, like the birth of a bland, self-contained daughter, Pebbles.” As the fifth season wound down, The Flintstones was quietly cancelled. The last original episode aired on April 1, 1966.
With its five-season run, The Flintstones established a record for longest-running primetime animated television series that lasted until it was surpassed by The Simpsons in 1995.