50 Jolly Facts for the 50th Anniversary of the Rankin/Bass Frosty the Snowman

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1969 TV special Frosty the Snowman. It may not be as beloved as some other classic holiday shows, but Frosty (unlike its melt-prone title character) has proven its staying power. To celebrate, here are 50 facts, tidbits, observations and tangents about this animated TV classic.

counting on fingers

  1. Frosty the Snowman premiered on CBS on December 7, 1969.Frost-TVguide
  2. It has aired every year since, making it the longest-running TV special on the same network. (CBS and Freeform share the broadcast rights starting this year.)
  3. TV Guide ranked Frosty fourth on its list of family holiday specials, behind Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
  4. The special was based on the 1950 song, “Frosty the Snowman.”
  5. Frosty was produced by Rankin/Bass, the company that became synonymous with holiday specials in the 1960s and ’70s. They’re the same folks that made Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, and The Year Without a Santa Claus.
  6. The New York City-based company was founded in September, 1960, by Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass. It was originally called Videocraft International.rankin and bass
  7. Arthur Rankin, Jr. was born in New York City to a showbiz family; both his parents and a couple of his grandparents were actors. Rankin, who died in 2014, began his career as an art director at ABC during the early days of television.
  8. Jules Bass, a Philadelphia native, worked in advertising before joining forces with Rankin. In recent years he has written children’s books featuring Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon.
  9. While Frosty was made with traditional cell animation, most Rankin/Bass specials were done with a stop-motion technique the creators dubbed “Animagic.”
  10. Cell animation was chosen because, according to the song lyrics, Frosty had to jump around. Plus, Rankin and Bass had already done an Animagic snowman, the Burl Ives-voiced narrator in Rudolph.parade
  11. Frosty was one of several Rankin/Bass specials based on holiday songs. Others include Rudolph, The Little Drummer Boy and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.
  12. The “Frosty” song was written by Walter E. “Jack” Rollins and Steve Nelson, the songwriting pair who also gave us “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” (1949).
  13. Rollins, the lyricist, was a West Virginia native who co-wrote country songs for the likes of Gene Autry, Hank Snow, George Jones and Eddy Arnold. Snow’s recording of Rollins’ “I Don’t Hurt Anymore” was a number one hit in 1954.
  14. Steve Nelson worked for Tin Pan Alley starting in 1929, and co-wrote “Bouquet of Roses,” a number one hit for Eddy Arnold in 1948.
  15. “Frosty the Snowman” was first recorded by Gene Autry and the Cass County Boys in 1950. Autry had a holiday hit the previous year with his recording of “Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer.”autry record
  16. Nat King Cole, Roy Rogers and Guy Lombardo also recorded the song that first year, 1950. Cole’s version featured backup vocals by the Singing Pussy Cats, who have sped-up voices like Alvin and the Chipmunks.

  1. Others who have done the song include Ella Fitzgerald, the Ronettes, the Beach Boys, Perry Como, Johnny Mathis, Loretta Lynn, the Jackson 5, Cocteau Twins, and Fiona Apple.
  2. The original lyrics don’t mention Christmas, but some later versions do, changing the line “I’ll be back again someday” to “I’ll be back on Christmas Day.”
  3. Rankin and Bass’s special wasn’t the first animated film to feature the song. In 1950, a three-minute short was made by UPA studio. The black and white clip would air each holiday season on Chicago’s WGN-TV. Interestingly, it features kids dancing in a circle around Frosty, just as they do in the 1969 show.dance around
  4. Jimmy Durante also recorded “Frosty the Snowman” in 1950, making him a natural choice to voice the narrator and sing the song in the 1969 special.
  5. Durante was a singer, actor and comedian who was a well-known star of vaudeville, radio, Broadway, film and TV.durante narrator
  6. In Frosty, Rankin and Bass used Durante in much the same way they used Burl Ives in Rudolph and Fred Astaire in Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town—as an on-screen singing narrator who looks like the real-life celebrity.
  7. Frosty was one of Durante’s final acting jobs. He retired from performing after a 1972 stroke and died in 1980.
  8. Jackie Vernon, the voice of Frosty, began his career as a journeyman comic in the early 1950s, sometimes working strip clubs.vernon frosty
  9. Vernon would have been familiar to TV viewers in 1969 from his appearances on the programs of Merv Griffin and Ed Sullivan. He also opened live shows for Dean Martin and Judy Garland.

  1. Known as the King of Deadpan, Vernon told X-rated story-style jokes and did a bit about a man with a pet watermelon.
  2. Professor Hinkle, the untalented magician whose hat brings Frosty to life, was voiced by Billy De Wolfe.
  3. De Wolfe was a character actor and dancer known for his portrayals of fussy, pencil-mustached “silent-movie-villain” types. He appeared in drag on talk shows and commercials as Phoebe Murgatroyd, an old maid who gave romance advice to the lovelorn.

  1. Paul Frees voiced Santa Claus and the traffic cop in Frosty. Frees was known as “The Man of a Thousand Voices” and played characters in other Rankin/Bass specials, including Burgermeister Meisterburger in Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. He voiced both John and George in the 1965 Beatles cartoon series.
  2. Legendary voice actress June Foray voiced the role of Karen, the little girl who befriends Frosty. Strangely, Foray’s lines were later rerecorded by another actress and replaced.karen jump
  3. A few years earlier, Foray acted in another long-running holiday special, voicing young Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
  4. Foray’s extensive voice credits include Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Granny from the Warner Bros. cartoons. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was still working a few years before her death at age 99 in 2017.
  5. The producers wanted the Frosty special to have the look of a Christmas card, so they hired Paul Coker, Jr., a greeting card illustrator and Mad magazine artist, to design the characters and backgrounds.Paul+Coker,+Jr.
  6. Coker’s work first appeared in Mad in 1961 and to date he has illustrated over 375 articles for the satirical publication, as recently as 2018. He is best known by Mad readers for his Horrifying Cliches feature.
  7. Romeo Muller was the writer of Frosty and other Rankin/Bass specials, including Rudolph, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town and The Little Drummer Boy.
  8. Muller had previously written for comedian Jack Benny.
  9. Maury Laws did the music for Frosty and many other Rankin/Bass films. He died in March of this year at age 95, and some internet sources say he worked on 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. (Your intrepid editor could not confirm this, but didn’t want to leave it out, because wouldn’t that be cool?)
  10. Laws wrote the musical arrangement for “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” a novelty hit for Brian Hyland in 1960.
  11. The animation for Frosty was handled by Japanese company Mushi Production.
  12. Mushi was founded by cartoonist and animator Osamu Tezuka, who is known as the father of manga for his pioneering works like Astro Boy and Princess Knight.
  13. Frosty animator Yusaku “Steve” Nakagawa also worked for Walt Disney, Chuck Jones and Hanna-Barbera.
  14. Unlike other Rankin/Bass specials, Frosty doesn’t feature any original songs.
  15. Rhino Records released a soundtrack of sorts in 2002. The CD includes the complete audio of both Frosty and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.
  16. Rankin and Bass produced a sequel, Frosty’s Winter Wonderland, in 1976. Jackie Vernon again voiced the role of Frosty, and Andy Griffith was the narrator.
  17. Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July, a feature-length Rankin/Bass effort, appeared in 1979 and once again featured Vernon as Frosty.Sequels
  18. CBS aired Frosty Returns in 1992. A co-production of Lorne Michaels and Bill Melendez (of Charlie Brown Christmas fame), Frosty Returns isn’t considered a sequel to the ’69 Frosty since it was not made by Rankin/Bass and features different characters. Nevertheless, it ran in a time slot following the original and has been paired with it on DVD. A 10-year old Elisabeth Moss voiced one of the main characters, and John Goodman voiced Frosty.
  19. The Legend of Frosty the Snowman, another pseudo-sequel without the involvement of Rankin or Bass, was released straight to video in 2005.
  20. In 2001, Rankin and Bass teamed up for Santa, Baby!, their first new holiday special in 16 years. This show, which featured an all African-American cast, aired once and hasn’t been seen since.
  21. From 2002 to 2005, Nickelodeon ran a parody of Frosty called Patrick the Snowman, featuring Patrick Star from SpongeBob SquarePants.
  22. For further reading, check out Rick Goldschmidt’s The Enchanted World of Rankin/Bass, a book published in 2001.

 

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