Unwrapping the Rankin-Bass Legacy: Rudolph, Santa, And The Mixed Up Stop Motion World

By Jack Ripley | December 7, 2023

Rankin Bass Created Must-Watch Christmas Specials

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NBC

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and other Rankin/Bass TV specials, including Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town and The Year Without A Santa Claus, are holiday shows that have become must-watch traditions within our own lifetimes. Rudolph, dramatizing the song by Johnny Marks, first aired in 1964, introducing children not only to Rudolph and Santa but Hermey the Elf (who wanted to be a dentist), Yukon Cornelius, and Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster.

Rankin/Bass Productions began as Videocraft in 1955, when Arthur Rankin, who had been an art director at ABC teamed up with Jules Bass and began making commercials. On September 14, 1960, they began making cartoons and changed their name to Rankin/Bass Productions. One of their first "Animagic" productions was The New Adventures of Pinocchio. All told, they created 18 different Christmas specials of varying length between 1964 and 1985, although they did create more than just Christmas specials.

The Story Began As A Store Promotion

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AbeBooks

In 1964, Rankin/Bass created Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which was adapted from Robert L. May’s story of the same name as well as the song. May worked for Montgomery Ward in Chicago, and when his boss asked him to create a promotional item to be given away at Christmas, he wrote a poem, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."  May asked his brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, to write the song that accompanied the book. Eventually, Marks sent it off to music promoters to find someone to record it. Although he was hesitant at first, Gene Autry recorded the song, which became one of Autry’s biggest hits. Then came the special, created for NBC originally, and remaining there until 1972, when it moved to CBS.