Animation Legend Arthur Rankin Jr. Dies at 89

5:12 PM PST 01/31/2014 by Mike Barnes
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"

With fellow producer-director Jules Bass, he was behind the holiday TV specials – and perennial ratings hits – “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman.”

Arthur Rankin Jr., the animator, producer and director behind the whimsical holiday stop-motion TV specials Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, has died. He was 89.

Rankin died Thursday at his home in Harrington Sound in Bermuda, The Royal Gazette newspaper reported.

In the early 1960s, Rankin and Jules Bass founded the film production company Videocraft International (now called Rankin/Bass Productions). Their stop-motion, cel-animated features were painstaking to make and known for their doll-like characters.

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Their first production was the syndicated TV series The New Adventures of Pinocchio, which debuted in 1960. A total of 130 five-minute chapters were produced, making for a series of five-chapter, 25-minute episodes.

Their other TV projects included The Ballad of Smokey the Bear (1966), The Wacky World of Mother Goose (1967), Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970), The Little Drummer Boy (1968), The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) and the 1980s animated series Thundercats.

Their holiday specials air every year and always draw a crowd. In December, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which debuted in 1964, and Frosty the Snowman, which premiered in 1969, were broadcast by CBS and were the two highest-rated programs of the night.

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He and Bass also co-directed The Last Unicorn (1982) with the voices of Jeff Bridges, Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury, Alan Arkin and Robert Klein. Its musical score and songs were composed and arranged by Jimmy Webb and performed by America.

Other actors who contributed to Rankin/Bass productions included Danny Kaye, James Cagney, Fred Astaire, Boris Karloff, Tallulah Bankhead, George Burns, John Huston, Burl Ives, James Earl Jones, Christopher Lee, Walter Matthau, Vincent Price and Flip Wilson.

Rankin also produced and directed episodes of the animated series Jackson 5ive in the early 1970s and directed an animated version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1973).

A native of New York City, Rankin was the son of actors Arthur Rankin and Marian Manfield, and his grandfather was actor Harry Davenport, who played Dr. Meade in Gone With the Wind (1939).

He started out in the entertainment business as an art director at ABC in the late 1940s.

Survivors include his wife, Olga, and sons Todd and Gardner.

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