Alan Reed and Mel Blanc's real friendship deepened as Fred and Barney's bond grew
Alan Reed on his mentor and costar Mel Blanc: "He's a very, very clever and talented man."
With a friendly "whatever you say, Fred," Barney Rubble was the best kind of best friend: down for pretty much anything. Very few questions asked. And on The Flintstones, Fred took advantage of that, pulling his neighbor and friend into scheme after scheme.
This friendship was the fuel for the first-ever animated primetime sitcom's skyrocketing popularity. However, Alan Reed and Mel Blanc, the actors who voiced Fred and Barney, respectively, didn't meet on the show. They had long known each other through work in radio, previously working on projects together.
While fans of The Flintstones think of Fred as the bellowing friend who perhaps overpowered his shorter pal Barney, in the real world, it was Barney voice actor Mel Blanc who was the towering king of the field. He'd even had his own radio show, on which he'd invited Fred actor Alan Reed to appear several times. This is why, at the beginning of The Flintstones, Reed (Fred) felt a little jealous of Blanc's (Barney's) success, and according to the book Mel Blanc: The Man of A Thousand Voices, Reed even found Blanc a little "conceited." They hadn't gotten to know each other on a personal level yet.
Because of the way The Flintstones operated, that very soon changed, and Reed grew closer to Blanc through their years of voicing Fred and Barney. For each episode, the entire voice cast would get together to do readings, joking about the script and riffing on their lines. In the end, Reed counted every second he got to spend with Blanc as a blessing.
"It's been a pleasure working with him through a lot of years," Reed said in a 1965 promotional spot. "He's a very, very clever and talented man."
Reed admired Blanc for his famous versatility, not just as a fan but as a voice actor who clearly knew what it took to create a memorable voice.
"Mel, of course, plays myriad voices [on The Flintstones] besides Barney," Reed explained, bragging about Blanc. "He does all kinds of animals, and he does Dino. You can't imagine — any time an unusual sound is required vocally, Mel's there to do it."
Consider that next time you watch The Flintstones and hear an especially funny voice. On the other side of the cartoon frame, Reed had a more limiting experience, voicing only a handful of Flintstones characters because he just became too wrapped up in doing Fred's voice work. According to his biography:
"The only trouble with identifying so closely to a character was that Alan wasn't allowed to provide man incidental or supporting characters, as Mel Blanc did throughout the series. There were a few miscellaneous characters he played along the show's run, but Fred’s rock-head personality was so much larger than life, and the show so popular, it would overshadow the rest of his career."
"Fred was an experience all in itself," Reed once told Speaking of Radio.
According to The New York Times, Blanc said he learned the secret to doing so many different voices as a young boy:
"When I was a kid,'' Blanc said, "I used to look at animals and wonder, how would that kitten sound if it could talk. I'd tighten up my throat and make a very small voice, not realizing I was rehearsing."
Blanc didn't just voice Barney Rubble, but also Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and the boss on The Jetsons, Mr. Spacely. In his interviews, he easily slides from one voice to another, telling David Letterman that he catalogs them in his mind by dialect and personality of the character.
Although Alan Reed and Mel Blanc had such different voice acting careers, one linked forever to his primary Flintstones character, and the other perhaps voicing more characters on The Flintstones' than anyone else. "It's been a career," Reed said. "I love doing Fred. I've been having a ball with him."
Reed summed up the joy of their table readings: "We have a ball."