The Cradle Will Rock: The Flintstones’ “Blessed Event”

There is a memorable moment in the episode of The Flintstones entitled “The Blessed Event” (also known as “Dress Rehearsal”). Wilma has given birth, and Fred comes into her hospital room to see her. It’s one of the animated sitcom’s quieter moments, where Wilma and Fred greet each other, Fred asks how Wilma is feeling, and the nurse is about to bring in their baby.

In a series that featured different creatures as household appliances (“It’s a living!”), Fred’s “twinkle toes” bowling, Dino’s running and yipping, and other cartoony moments, this is a warm, emotional scene.

“That final scene when Wilma greets Fred from her hospital bed has that fantasy-grounded-in-reality feeling that helped make The Flintstones one of the best sitcoms of all time, in addition to being a classic cartoon,” says Greg Ehrbar, author of Hanna-Barbera: The Recorded History.

“What makes ‘The Blessed Event’ so effective is that it gets down to what the show is all about,” said Noah Bell, writer, animation historian, and creator of the Hanna-Barbera blog, The Exposure Sheet. “Throughout all the stone-age silliness is the story of a family that’s just like any ordinary one. They face the same problems as all of us do. In the case of this episode, the focus is on Fred preparing for Wilma to give birth. Fred is a worrywart, while Wilma does her best to go about life as normal. This dynamic leads to several great comedic moments, but it also feels like a real couple preparing for a child.”

This famous Flintstone episode, centered on the birth of Pebbles Flintstone, and aired on February 22, 1963. With Mother’s Day this upcoming weekend, it’s the perfect time to look back at this well-remembered moment in Hanna-Barbera’s iconic sitcom.

“The Blessed Event” opens at Brick Boulders Health Club, as Fred and Barney (Alan Reed and Mel Blanc) are working out under the drill sergeant-like instruction of Brick himself (Howard Morris).

As Fred and Barney talk during their workout, we find out that Fred is getting in shape to “walk the floor,” and Barney is getting in shape to be godfather. After hurting his arm, Fred stops off at Brick’s office to get some rubbing alcohol (In a nice gag, as Brick enters another room, we find out he is wearing an inflatable muscle suit).

Fred then meets Wilma (Jean Vander Pyl) at Dr. Rockpile’s office. While there, the Dr. (Morris) tries to take some blood from cowardly Fred, and thanks to his helpful nurse (June Foray), he does, but he places the needle into the rubbing alcohol in Fred’s pocket.

When Fred comes home, Wilma tells Fred that the doctor told her they can expect the baby any day. Fred goes into panic mode, immediately becoming overprotective of Wilma. He wants Wilma to rest and tries to keep things quiet, even berating Barney for cutting his grass and giving his best friend an eyebrow tweezer to take the grass out one blade at a time.

Fred, the picture of a nervous father, then drives Wilma crazy, first by jumping out of bed in the middle of the night and running to get the car, as he thinks it’s time to go to the hospital. Then, by getting insomnia and waking Wilma. She says, “Look at me. I’m calm.” “Why shouldn’t you be?” Fred responds. “Your wife isn’t having a baby!”

Fred continues to go overboard by trying to anticipate Wilma’s cravings, bringing her “shrimp and marmalade compote” and “sardines smothered in prune whip.” All Wilma wanted was a glass of water.

Fred continues to be anxious, literally wearing a groove in the floor by pacing. Betty (Bea Benaderet) offers the solid idea of having a “dress rehearsal” to assist Wilma with getting to the hospital.

Fred does this, with Barney playing Wilma (complete with a scarf over his head), and the two get pulled over by a cop during their “dry run” to the hospital, with the officer even providing an escort.

Having made great time, the two friends return home, only to be greeted by Wilma, who tells them she’s ready to go to the hospital. Cartoon calamity follows with exploding suitcases, slamming doors, forgetting Wilma at home, accidentally taking Dino, and swapping cars, as Fred and Barney panic (“This is Fred Hospital, I’m taking my wife to the Flintstone,” says Fred on the phone to the doctor). All the while Wilma remains calm.

They all finally arrive at the hospital, where there are caricatures of Ben Casey (Vince Edwards) and Dr. Zorba (Sam Jaffe) from the ABC medical drama airing at the time. Blanc and Morris provide the voices for Edwards and Jaffe.

“The Blessed Event” concludes with the aforementioned sweet scene, where Fred and Wilma meet their daughter Pebbles for the first time. “A chip off the ol’ block, huh, Fred?,” says Barney. “More like a pebble off the ol’ Flintstone,” says Fred. And, so Pebbles (also voiced by Vander Pyl) has her name as the newborn coos, “Abba Dabba Goo!”

In their book, It’s Saturday Morning! Celebrating the Golden Era of Cartoons, authors Joe Garner and Michael Ashley share a story about “The Blessed Event”:

“Barbera revealed he originally intended the child to be a boy until he spoke with the Ideal toy company. ‘One day, I received a call from the guy in charge of Flintstones merchandising. He said, ‘Hey, I hear you’re having a baby on the show.’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Is it a boy or a girl?’ ‘What else, a boy. A chip off the old rock.’ He says, ‘That’s too bad. If it was a girl, we could have made a hell of a deal.’ I said, ‘It’s a girl.’ They sold three million Pebbles dolls within the first couple of months.”

“Literal millions tuned in to this episode when it was broadcast, and that’s something that can only be achieved when people connect with something,” noted Bell.

Audiences at home associated with “The Blessed Event” because of the sharp writing that Harvey Bullock and R. Allen Saffian bring to it. The half-hour blends humor (Fred believing that his job in the baby’s birth is so much more difficult than Wilma’s, and a running gag with the cop who keeps pulling him over on the way to the hospital), is coupled very well with the warmth from these characters we have come to know, at the conclusion.

With “The Blessed Event,” audiences felt, more than ever, that The Flintstones, indeed, were the “modern Stone Age family.”

The coverage in TV GUIDE rated a feature story.

For more about this episode, please listen to next week’s Funtastic World of Hanna and Barbera podcast in which Greg Ehrbar and I talk about our favorite Flintstone shows.