By Stan Ashbee
Sunny South News
You know Dasher, Dancer, Rudolph and Hermey, Yukon Cornelius, Abominable, and Kris Kringle. You know Burgermeister Meisterburger, Frosty, and The Little Drummer Boy. But, do you recall, the most famous Rankin/Bass Historian/Biographer of all time?
Rick Goldschmidt has devoted much of his life giving credit to Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass from Rankin/Bass Productions. Goldschmidt’s book, “The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass: A Portfolio” is celebrating its 20th anniversary, as the book celebrated the films of Rankin/Bass, which include the stop-motion animated classic TV holiday specials “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” “The Year Without Santa Claus,” “Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July,” “Jack Frost,” “Rudolph’s Shiny New Year,” and the animated “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” The beloved stop-motion holiday must-sees also used “Animagic” and featured the voice talents of legendary performers Burle Ives, Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, Jimmy Durante and Jackie Vernon.
Goldschmidt has a degree in illustration and at Christmas time he can be heard as a guest on radio stations and has appeared on a variety of TV programs in the U.S. and abroad to chat about all things Rankin/Bass.
“I’ve been doing it for about 30 years. When I got out of college, with a degree in illustration, I started talking to Jack Davis and Paul Coker — two of the artists that designed most of the shows for Rankin/Bass. Basically, I just liked their art. I didn’t really think too much about the Rankin/Bass connection at first, then I realized Jack Davis designed ‘Mad Monster Party’ and a whole lot more. He did ‘The Jackson 5ive Show’ and ‘The King Kong Show’ and a lot of others. I said — ‘Whatever happened to those guys? Why isn’t there anything written about them?’ They’re just as great as Hanna-Barbera, Walt Disney and the Warner Brothers’ cartoonists,” said Goldschmidt, on the phone from Chicago, on American Thanksgiving Day.
Davis and Coker were also illustrators for “Mad” magazine. He said he asked Davis what the heck ever happened to Rankin and Bass. “He said he was still doing things for them occasionally and to get a hold of Paul Coker, which I did, and Paul gave me Arthur’s number in Bermuda and I called him,” Goldschmidt explained.
According to Goldschmidt, Rankin must have heard from a dozen people who said they were going to do a book but they never followed through. “I followed through. I really surprised them. From there, he just trusted me inclusively with his archives. He would always tell people to call me, if they had questions about stuff,” he noted, adding he was still learning and called up the people who worked on the shows.
“I was fascinated with the way it all came together and everyone’s involvement. I’ve learned from all the people that worked on the shows. A lot of them have passed away now.”
Goldschmidt added the way the world is now, the quality doesn’t seem to go into productions and entertainment, the way it did during the Rankin/Bass era.
“They were doing so many things at once too. It’s amazing they were able to keep quality in,” he said. It really started for Rankin/Bass in 1960 with “The New Adventures of Pinocchio,” which was done in stop-motion “Animagic-style,” Goldschmidt said.
“The art and animation was done in Japan, primarily. But, in Canada, Rankin went there for the voice actors. That particular series and ‘Tales of the Wizard of Oz’ got the Canadian seal of approval. He actually brought quite a bit of work there for a short time,” he said, adding Canadian voice actors were used and the animation was done in Canada for the “Tales of the Wizard of Oz.”
Recently, Canadian Bill Giles taught Goldschmidt a lot he didn’t know about the production on “Rudolph,” as Gilles was the sound engineer at RCA Victor. “He engineered the whole thing.” And, according to Goldschmidt, there was friction during production and some last minute changes needed to be put in place. “He’s amazing because he worked at RCA in Nashville and some other places too. He was in on the recordings with Elvis and Perry Como,” he added.
Fifty years is a long time and many of the people who worked on the Rankin/Bass productions have forgot about the details and specifics in regards to the production of the shows. “Some people are better at remembering that than others. Gilles remembers a lot of things.”
Goldschmidt’s book first came out in 1997. “We did the 20th anniversary this year because we ran out of the 15th anniversary edition. That sold out. It was supposed to be printed in 1996 by another publisher. It really is 20 years. It led to all this merchandise you see in all the stores now,” he said. The longevity of the Rankin/Bass holiday specials, Goldschmidt said, can be credited to the writing.
“That’s the core of it. There’s a writer named Romeo Muller, who passed away when I first started working with Rankin/Bass 30 years ago and doesn’t get the credit he deserves. In fact, some of the derivative productions of these shows are purposefully not giving him the credit. I’ve heard Romeo Muller was a genius, as far as writing these specials. He was the one that created the Misfit Toys and the Bumble and Hermey and Yukon. These characters did not exist in the short storybook Robert L May wrote or in the song his brother-in-law Johnny Marks wrote for Rudolph. Rudolph was really the first big hit for Rankin/Bass. They worked with Romeo on ‘Return to Oz,’ which came out in February of 1964 but that wasn’t as well received. Probably because it was cell-animated and it wasn’t the same type of story. But once ‘Rudolph’ broke through like that, then he wrote other stories that had similar storylines, where the villains get reformed. He tells the whole back story of a character like Santa Claus or Frosty and The Little Drummer Boy. They basically took a famous Christmas carol and embellished it greatly, with the help of Romeo. His writing wasn’t just for kids either. It was for the whole entire family,” he said.
Today, Goldschmidt said, it seems like when they write things for CGI movies, they have a certain style to them and it’s almost high school boy humour. “It’s these crude jokes and this snarky attitude and that doesn’t last very long. That’s something you think is funny for a few minutes and then that’s it. His stuff wasn’t for the moment. It was quality, so that’s what makes it last,” he said. And, the specials always had great music, great designs, beautiful animation, and the voice actors from Canada, were amazing.
“I think radio lasted a little bit longer there than it did in the U.S. At least that’s what I’ve been told. There’s a certain talent you need to create a character on page audio-wise and the Canadian voice actors knew that and were so advanced by the time ‘Rudolph’ came along, they were able to, without seeing the animation and the actual characters they were voicing, they could do it with their radio experience,” he noted.
Goldschmidt said he keeps doing what he does to give credit where credit is due. “I like to make sure people don’t forget about why these things have lasted so long and Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass put together an amazing body or work,” he said, adding word has it Hollywood wants to make movies out of all the productions.
“Because that’s all they do in Hollywood now is remake stuff,” he joked.
A new animated version of the holiday classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is due in theatres in the near future.
“They want to make ‘Thundercats’ the movie and they want to make all of their shows into movies eventually. I think that’s a bad idea because what made these specials popular in the first place, not only was it the writing, but the style. The ‘Animagic’ puppet-style is something that became their trademark. You can’t remake that with CGI or live action,” he said.
Goldschmidt’s book is only available online at miserbros.com or Amazon.