Producer Arthur Rankin, Jr. – of the producing team Rankin-Bass – has passed away. Among his films and TV specials, the iconic Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty The Snowman and Mad Monster Party.
Rankin died following a bout of illness yesterday morning in his home in Harrington Sound, Bermuda.
Born in New York City in 1924, grandson of character actor Harry Davenport (Gone With The Wind), Rankin began his career as an art director at ABC in the late 1940s, painting sets and doing on-air graphic design. He teamed with produceer Jules Bass in 1960 starting Videocraft International, which created a stop motion syndicated series The New Adventures of Pinocchio (animated in Japan) and an hand drawn cartoon Tales of The Wizard Of Oz (animated in Canada).
This led to the creation of an NBC TV Christmas special Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer in 1964. It was so popular, it was followed by Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, The Little Drummer Boy, A Year Without a Santa Claus and a slew of other specials.
He wrote, produced or directed more than a dozen feature films, including King Kong Escapes, The Hobbit and an animated take on The King And I which Warner Bros. distributed in 1999 – as well as the animated TV series ThunderCats and SilverHawks, on top of more than 1,000 TV programs.
“(Rankin) managed to persuade such luminaries as Danny Kaye, Fred Astaire and Boris Karloff to lend their voices and images to Rankin/Bass creations. Others included Tallulah Bankhead, Jeff Bridges, George Burns, Mia Farrow, Joel Gray, John Huston, Burl Ives, James Earl Jones, Christopher Lee, Walter Matthau, Hayley Mills, Zero Mostel, Vincent Price and Flip Wilson.
“Mr Karloff’s voice role in the 1967 spoof Mad Monster Party was one of his last performances.
“Mr Rankin also managed to persuade dancer and actor James Cagney to come out of retirement to narrate 1966’s The Ballad of Smokey the Bear. Other much-loved productions were the Rankin and Bass version of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit in 1977, followed by The Return of the King – and adaptations The Last Unicorn and The Flight of Dragons.