Andy Royston pays tribute to one of the original Hollywood Wives. Wilma Flintstone.
Television’s image of the American woman, 1964, is a stupid, unattractive, insecure little household drudge who spends her martyred, mindless, boring days dreaming of love – and plotting nasty revenge against her husband. Betty Freidan – Television and the Feminine Mystique.
I love thee Wilma, with hair like silk, Lips like cherries, skin like milk,
Your shell-like ears, your dainty hands, And eyes so black, like frying pans. Fred Flintstone
I know that she didn’t start it all, but Donna Reed had an awful lot to answer for. There she was in prime time – The Donna Reed Show – dolled up to the eyeballs, vacuuming happily in a pretty dress and high heels. Get a job? Why homemaking and motherhood were careers now, darling. She’s a nurse, psychologist, chef, accountant and educator all rolled into one proud and gratified hausfrau.
Into the sixties the submissive and sexy housewife archetype was brought to a new low in I Dream of Jeannie – she even had to call him master.
Enter Wilma Flintstone – who not only introduced the barefoot off-the-shoulder mini skirt look to the domestic environment, but generally wore a string of pearls large enough to break a Rockefeller, and enough red lipstick to put a Kardashian to shame. You can forget your I Love Lucy capris and sweater sets. This was, well, racy stuff. Her husband may well have worked in a rock quarry, but honey, she was always looked ready for love.
Some would argue that Samantha Stevens (Bewitched) was the first glamour-puss housewife on prime time television to offer a bit of brain power into the magi-mix . But Wilma takes the prize. She had the finest split level duplex cave with all the mod cons – baby woolly mammoth vacuum cleaner, pigasaurus garbage disposal, you know the sort of thing – and she wouldn’t ever consider wearing the pants in the family unit (I’m not sure she had any).
Wilma had her career opportunities, and none more glamorous than that presented in The Happy Household episode where, thanks to an employment agency, she signs a contract to present the Happy Housewives” show. Fred, inevitably, was not happy.
Sure the show had its critics for being such a shameless ripoff of Jackie Gleason’s Honeymooners show, and the series lost its adult credibility as soon a Pebbles, Fred and Wilma’s daughter arrived. Plots went from homage/theft from mainstream two-couple sitcoms to downright nonsense and slapstick – just lots of rock puns and pre-historic modern technology gags.
Wilma’s reputation was dragged through the mud in Canada, as AskMen.com spotted that she’d had two maiden names over the years. What was this? A scandalous divorce?
One of the television most wholesome role models may not be all she claims to be. Hanna-Barbera always lists the Wilma’s maiden name as Slaghoople, and her mother regularly showed up at the family cave, antagonistic and clearly very bitter about Wilma’s loudmouthed husband.
But in several episodes Fred’s wife runs into old friends – one of which is a former beau – and he recognizes her as “Wilma Pebble.” Later in another episode old friend Greta Gravel concurs. On Webrock, the internet’s foremost authority on the Flintstone dynasty, the explanation is perfectly simple : there was a divorce and re-marriage by Pearl, with daughter Wilma being born a Pebble and later adopting her mother’s new surname of Slaghoople. A likely story…
“In Wilma and Betty, women saw wives who were much brighter than their husbands; they knew exactly what was going on. Women could look at those characters and see real strength in them. So, when you hear people say, ‘Wilma was kick-ass as a teen,’ she might well have been.” Tim Blackmore – Professor of media studies and popular culture, University of Western Ontario
And according to Fred in this early clip it’s not the only thing she’s been hiding from the world…