About Christmas TV History

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Part 3: Rankin/Bass Voice Actors in Other Christmas Programs

Ever wondered what the celebrities who loaned their voices for our favorite Rankin/Bass animated specials looked like? Want to actually SEE them in other Christmas programs? Look for them in the following:

Comedic actor Red Skelton provided his voice for 1976's Rudolph's Shiny New Year as the narrator, Father Time. The curious lock of red hair on Father Time's forehead is actually a reference to Skelton's own ginger appearance. Skelton was an extremely popular comedic actor with his own television series for twenty years, The Red Skelton Show. Before that he was even popular on the radio. His humorous style included joke telling, pantomime and a regular cast of characters he brought to life in narrative sketches within his show including Clem Kadiddlehopper--a confused rube, Willie Lump-Lump--the drunk, and Freddie the Freeloader--an adorable hobo character. Two of Skelton's Christmas shows from his TV series are Christmas classics including "The Cop and the Anthem" an adaptation of the heartwarming but twisted tale from American writer O.Henry starring Skelton's lovable Freddie the Freeloader character. Skelton also used his hobo character in the second classic "Freddie and the Yuletide Doll" which is Skelton at his best, pantomiming a skit about the lonely Freddie finding a rag doll on a park bench and fantasizing a day full of events for the two desperate souls on Christmas.

Singer/actor Danny Thomas and his real-life daughter and actress Marlo Thomas lend their voices to the 1967 animated classic Cricket on the Hearth. Danny Thomas plays the toymaker, Caleb Plummer while Marlo plays Caleb's daughter, Bertha. Rumor has it that Danny Thomas' family sitcom Make Room for Daddy offered several Christmas-themed episodes, unfortunately they are impossible to find. (If you've seen them--let me know!) However, Marlo Thomas's groundbreaking comedy series, That Girl, made two Christmas episodes "Christmas And the Hard Luck Kid" in 1966, "‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, You’re Under Arrest" in 1967 and a New Year's episode "Should All Our Old Acquaintance Be Forgot" in 1968. All three of these holiday episodes are easily available for viewing on DVD.

Actor Cyril Ritchard provided the voice for the character Father Thomas in the 1975 animated special The First Christmas which is more commonly retitled The Story of the First Christmas Snow. Ritchard made his career mostly playing roles for the stage but can be seen in the 1965 TV special The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood, as Lone T. Wolf. This special is easily available for viewing on DVD and stars a very young Liza Minnelli as Red Riding Hood, crooner Vic Damone as the Woodsman and British Invasion rockers Eric Burdon and the Animals as the wild Wolf Pack. Those are some rockin' woods Red Riding Hood is walking through!

And, the talented Morey Amsterdam breathes life into the caveman character One Million B.C. in 1975's Rudolph's Shiny New Year. The actor with the distinctive voice also appears on one of the most treasured classic TV Christmas episodes of all time: 1963's "The Alan Brady Show Presents" of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Amsterdam plays joke writer Buddy Sorrell, the co-worker of Rob Petrie (Van Dyke). In this Christmas episode-within-a TV-show, (we watch the Christmas variety special of "The Alan Brady Show" as the holiday installment of "The Dick Van Dyke Show"), Buddy not only sings with the ensemble cast but plays "Jingle Bells" on the cello. Sing along with me: "Alan Bra-a-a-dy, Alan Bra-a-a-dy, Alan Braaa-dy...."

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