Tuesday, December 18

Profile: Rankin/Bass

Just like a kid at Christmas, I am particularly delighted by this profile. I can fully appreciate that this post may resonate more with American readers, but I hope you will indulge my Christmas whimsy.

The Rankin/Bass animagic Holiday specials are as much a part of my childhood memories as putting up the tree and hanging the stockings. Beginning in the early 1960s, the team of Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass and writer Romeo Muller created some of the most memorable stop-motion animation (or "animagic") Christmas specials of our time, the most popular being Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Other seasonal classics include Frosty the Snowman with the voice of Jimmy Durante; Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town narrated by Fred Astaire; The Year Without a Santa Claus, including the memorable characters Snow Miser and Heat Miser and The First Christmas featuring the voice of Angela Lansbury.

Their final stop-motion style Christmas story was The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus taken from the L. Frank Baum story of the same name and released in 1985.

Many of these specials are still shown seasonally on American TV and some have been released to video and DVD. Rankin/Bass stop-motion features are recognizable by their visual style of doll-like characters and ubiquitous powdery snow.

I am so grateful to author and Rankin/Bass historian Rick Goldschmidt for taking the time to contribute to this special holiday profile.

Cyril Ritchard with the cast from The First Christmas

Q&A with Rick Goldschmidt:

One of my very favorites is 'Twas The Night Before Christmas (1974). What are you personal favorite show(s) and/or character(s)?
I love 'Twas the Night before Christmas (1974) too! My favorite is sort of a tie between Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) and Mad Monster Party (1967). I love the character designs and look of both shows!

Tony Peters designed Rudolph with a very simplistic style and Mad Monster Party was designed by my favorite artist Jack Davis (Mad Magazine).

How did you become the Rankin/Bass historian?
I graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in illustration and became a humorous illustrator like Jack Davis and did editorial cartoons for the reporter newspapers. One day I spoke with Jack and asked what happened to Arthur and Jules. He put me in touch with Paul Coker, Jr. (another Mad Magazine artist that I love). He gave me Arthur’s Bermuda phone number and from there I had to prove to Arthur that I was serious about a book. I sent him sample chapters and the rest is history.

In terms of sales which Rankin/Bass is the best selling?
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is the longest running, highest rated tv special of all-time!

What is their least known
There are a few. I love their first feature film in animagic, Willy McBean & His Magic Machine (1965). It has the same look and voice actors as Rudolph and was shot at the same time. Another rare one is That Girl in Wonderland, which was cel animated and featured Marlo Thomas.

What do you love most about your association with Rankin Bass
The people, the art and the music. I love the music of Maury Laws and the lyrics of Jules bass. I have become great friends with Maury! I also have a recording career and record so I understand what it took to put these things together and have a great appreciation for it. I also want to give credit to two wonderful guys named Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass. Without them, there would be none of this and I can't think of two nicer guys!

When writing your book, could you ever have imagined that "The Enchanted World of Rankin Bass" would retail in second hand stores for $150.00+? Given this demand, will more copies be published?
I am amazed at the demand and the fact that the hardcover sells for over $250. I am talking to a few publishers for a Christmas 2008 release. I want it to be like the Hanna-Barbera Treasury by Jerry Beck. Of course I want to add update it. A few years back we found and restored the Rudolph & Santa Claus animagic figures.

In your opinion what makes Rankin Bass animation so enduring and special
I always say it's a combination of heart and warmth. Romeo, Arthur and Jules knew this was the key to what they did. They also worked on many levels: music, design, voice actors, etc.

This was the reason for my book The Making of the Rankin/Bass Holiday Classic: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Miser Bros Press). I wanted to break it down and show what went into making these and who was behind it.

What is the most common question you are asked about Rankin/Bass
What is wrong with the misfit doll? Arthur Rankin, Jr. says "she was clinically depressed, because she was cast off by her mistress and they didn't have Prozac in 1964." In his scripts Romeo never wrote what was wrong with the doll.

What happened to the materials and ‘puppets’ used in the making of the shows
Some have survived. I have a few from The First Christmas (1975). We take the completely re-stored Rudolph and Santa to appearances around the country.

I know of the whereabouts of 10 or so. Maury Laws has Donner. Arthur has a few from some specials that were never produced on Shirley Temple and Punch & Judy. David Scheve has Father Time (Red Skelton). Gene Muller has a reindeer and a tree person from Marco (1970).

People are fascinated with the animagic figures and they truly are one of a kind treasures. I have wood carved salad utensils from Mad Monster Party that Arthur Rankin gave me and told me never to sell. They were carved by the animagic puppet makers. Frankenstein (fang) is the spoon and Dracula is the fork.

Profile by Ronda Carman


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the wonderful trip down memory lane. I just love your blog!

ALL THE BEST said...

Thanks Sarah! This was a fun post to write!!

Anonymous said...

Brilliant profile. Thanks!

The Peak of Chic said...

Rudolf and Frosty are my two faves! I still get choked up when Frosty melts.

annechovie said...

Wonderful post, Ronda! Great to know a bit of history behind a childhood favorite. I am like Peak of Chic, I used to try to hide my tears when I was little and Frosty melted. So glad we "met" this year! Have a wonderful Christmas!

Easy and Elegant Life said...

I bought "Mad Monster Party" this year at Halloween. Can't wait until my kids are old enough to appreciate these gems...

I had a friend who was convinced that you could only remember the Heat Miser song if you were from the South and the Snow Miser song if you were from the North... I have to admit that I can't recall the tune for the Snow Miser song... Informal poll, America?

teaorwine said...

Thanks for sharing this story especially at this time of year. Yes, as a young child I truly remember sitting in front of the TV in my jammies watching these stories come to life. My favorite was when Rudolph's nose was set aglow by a red bulb. Primitive, yet warm and genuine. It seems to me Burl Ives provided the songs for many of these productions, no?

Happy holidays to you!

Melissa @ The Inspired Room said...

Special holiday memories for me too!
Thanks so much!
Happiest of Holidays to you! Enjoy some time off!

katiedid said...

Thanks Ronda! These shows are some of my fondest memories growing up, and my kids have come to love them too. I am glad there is someone out there who is documenting the history of these animators!

a. said...

I did a post on this as well - still my favorite Christmas special. In fact, I just finished watching it for the third time this month!