Growing up as an American you take a lot for granted. When the holidays roll around there are an embarrassment of riches. Holiday parties at school and relatives’ homes; shopping for toys.
Along with all the other goodies came annual airings of specials on network television. Premiering in 1964 on NBC, “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”, produced by Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass, has become the longest running special of them all. Like the song says Rudolph really has gone down in history!
My family had four kids. My two older brothers and younger sister would watch every special in December. Ranking Bass Productions followed the success of ‘Rudolph’ with “Frosty The Snowman”, “Santa Clause Is Coming To Town”, and my other favorite—“The Year Without A Santa Clause”.
Except for ‘Frosty’ the programs were done in stop motion which made the characters look all too real. Rudolph’s nose looked like an electric night light. And the visuals were cool. The snowy landscape of Christmas town is filled with magic.
Rudolph had a message that made a strong impression too. The story related how Rudolph gets ostricized for not fitting in with other reindeer. Running away from home he meets an elf named Hermie who wants to be a dentist. They are both misfits!
On their journey they meet others who do not fit into life either including a prospector named Cornelius who never finds gold. There is an island of misfit toys. Santa rejects certain toys who are deemed ill equipped to bring joy to a child. This seemed pretty mature for a kid’s special. But then again, Charles Schulz was delivering messages about depression and phobias in his Peanuts specials that began around this same time.
“The Year Without A Santa Clause” premiered in 1974 just before my 7th birthday. It related the tale of that one year when Santa caught the flu. Christmas would have to be cancelled. Two goofy elves take a reindeer and fly away to change Santa’s mind. Their idea is to collect letters from children to bring back to the North Pole. Along the way they get detoured to the lair of Snow Miser and Heat Miser. Each miser gets a vaudeville like show number to perform. The songs in this special became classics along with the characters.