There is a great series of questions everyone asks or thinks about but no one has ever really solved. George Carlin made a career of spotting these and pontificating about them. One of these curious and irritatingly persistent questions is, "What did Barney Rubble do for a living?"
In 1960, the first ever prime-time animated TV series took to the air. The Flintstones was, pretty obviously, a blatant, albeit animated, take-off (read rip-off) of the legendary TV series The Honeymooners. The similarities of the main characters were all-too-easy to spot.
Fred Flintstone, the show’s central character, was a blustery, quick-tempered, loud-mouthed, blowhard. But he somehow had a fun and lovable side to him, exactly like Jackie Gleason’s brilliant Honeymooners lead character, Ralph Kramden.
Fred’s long-suffering wife, Wilma, was familiar with her husband’s many and frequent flaws and foibles. Wilma was strong and wise-cracking, more or less patterned after Ralph’s tough but caring wife, Alice. Both Alice and Wilma put up with the childish, ridiculous antics of their respective husbands because they had the characteristic wisdom of all great women, and also because they knew that underneath their husbands' bluster and foolhardiness, their husbands loved them very much and were trying to succeed mainly for their wives, to give them a better life.
On The Honeymooners, Ralph’s happy-go-lucky, easygoing best friend was Ed Norton. Fred’s counterpart was the affable and always loyal Barney Rubble. Ed Norton had a job working as a city sewer worker. And Barney was… er, well, umm …you see, Barney’s job was…
What exactly did Barney Rubble do for a living?
Even self-professed Flintstones fanatics can’t agree on an answer. The people who ponder about “imponderables” weren’t the only ones who asked the question. In research for his book series Imponderables, author David Feldman made a direct call to Hanna-Barbera studios, the studio that produced The Flintstones TV show in its original run from 1960 to 1966.
Before Feldman could even ask the question, he was surprised at the security guard’s opening statement. “I know why you’re calling”, the security guard said, “you want to know what Barney Rubble did for a living. He worked at the quarry. But why don’t you call back after opening hours?” The security guard went on to explain to the amazed Feldman that he received many calls from inebriated and drunken Flintstones fans in the middle of the night. They anxiously ask for Barney Rubble’s vocation before they nod off for the evening.
Feldman did call back, this time during regular hours. He spoke to Carol Keis of Hanna-Barbera’s public relations department. Carol immediately informed him that “What does Barney Rubble do for a living?” was, indeed, the company’s most frequently asked question in all of Flintstones trivia.
She confirmed the most commonly accepted answer: “The fact is that Barney worked for Fred’s employer, Bedrock Quarry and Gravel.” But Carol continued, “However, out of 166 half-hours from 1960-1966, there were episodic changes from time to time. Barney has also been seen as a repossessor; he’s done top secret work; and he’s been a geological engineer.”
As for the manner in which Barney’s occupation was revealed, it was never concretely established. “It revealed itself according to the occupation set up for each episode.”
Hanna-Barbera does not have official archives, so the helpful Ms. Keis couldn’t assure Feldman that she hadn’t neglected one of Barney Rubble’s jobs. Yes, Barney did have other jobs during the six year run of The Flintstones. In fact, Barney actually played Fred’s boss at the quarry in one episode. Along with Fred, Barney also, in other episodes, was a private detective, a photographer, and a short-order cook.
Sure, the lack of continuity is distressing. But as with all the great classics of early TV, Gilligan’s Island, I Love Lucy, I Dream of Jeannie, et al, at the time of the original filming of these series, now regarded as “classics”, the actors and actresses had no idea these shows would still be watched, enjoyed, dissected and pored over by rabid fans the world over.
Remember, in those days, there was no such thing as YouTube, VCR tapes, DVDs, video collections, computer websites devoted to classic TV, or the perennial rerun. So we still love and enjoy these wonderful shows, mistakes, omissions, unanswered questions, and all. We suspend our minor disbelief for the great pleasure of enjoying Lucy and Ethel's latest scheme, Fonzie helping Richie and Potsie, or Gilligan's latest goof-up that cost the castaways another chance at getting off the island.
The Flintstones remains a beloved animated television classic the world over. Barney Rubble, as voiced by the immortal Mel Blanc, remains one of animation's most beloved characters. Whatever the heck he did for a living.