Before we get started down this road exploring all of our favorite Christmas Cartoons and Specials, I thought it would be important to start out by writing a little about the team that is foremost responsible for bringing us some of the greatest memories from Christmas Past.
That team is none other than Arthur Rankin, Jr and Jules Bass. They started their production company in the early 1960's as Videocraft International. They were famous for creating productions using "Animagic", a stop-motion animation technique. Amongst the stable of contributors throughout the catalog of shows were people such as Romeo Muller who contributed to many of the specials as a screenwriter and Maury Laws, who served as musical director for almost all of the animated films.
Their first holiday special production was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, produced for NBC and sponsor General Electric in 1965. Based on the song by Johnny Marks, the special featured Burl Ives as Sam, the talking snowman and contained an orchestral score also written by Marks. Rankin/Bass then began producing a string of holiday hits starting with The Cricket on the Hearth (1968) featuring Danny Thomas.
Others that followed were:
The Little Drummer Boy (1968) -featuring Greer Garson and Jose Ferrer
Frosty the Snowman (1969) featuring Jimmy Durante and Jackie Vernon
Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970) featuring Mickey Rooney, Keenan Wynn, and Fred Astaire
The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) - featuring Shirley Booth and Mickey Rooney
The Little Drummer Boy, Book II (1976)- featuring Miss Greer Garson
Nestor, The Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977) - featuring Roger Miller
Jack Frost (1979) - featuring Buddy Hackett
Rudolph's Shiny New Year (1976) featuring Red Skelton
Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July (1979) - featuring Mickey Rooney and Ethel Merman
'Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974) - featuring Joel Grey and George Goebel
Frosty's Winter Wonderland (1976) - featuring Andy Griffith
The First Christmas (1975) - featuring Angela Landsbury
Pinocchio's Christmas (1980)
The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold (1981)- featuring Art Carney
Mickey Rooney appeared as Santa Claus in three Rankin/Bass productions making him the most used popular actor of the genre. Two of the most recognizable voices from the specials were voice actors Paul Frees and June Foray. June may be best known as Rocket J. Squirrel from the adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. She also portrayed Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
It was in those days that no matter how big a star you were, if Rankin/Bass asked you be in a Christmas special, you did it.
The team of Rankin/Bass are honored here for the tremendous contribution to all of our childhood Christmas memories.