About Christmas TV History

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Rankin/Bass Voice Actors in Other Christmas Entertainment--Part 1

This is an updated post from a three-part series first written in December 2009.  That was my first year of blogging and I hadn't really figured out how to add photos yet!?  While most of those earliest posts are overlooked, some of them are still interesting.  I thought I'd brush off the dust, add some photos, and supply more commentary.

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

Mrs. Claus is the narrator in 1974's The Year Without a Santa Claus.

Shirley Booth gave her voice to bring Mrs. Claus to life in 1974's The Year Without A Santa Claus.  If you'll remember, Mrs. Claus not only narrates this story but she's also the hero, encouraging Santa to forget canceling Christmas and eventually negotiating the solution for snow in Southtown USA through Mother Nature between Snow Miser and Heat Miser.

Mrs. Claus stakes on Heat Miser.

Shirley Booth as Hazel Burke, the Baxter family's maid in the sitcom Hazel.

Booth also appeared in the two holiday episodes 1961's "Hazel’s Christmas Shopping" and 1964's "Just 86 Shopping Minutes to Christmas" from the TV sitcom Hazel.  Hazel is the savvy maid for the Baxter family--a character inspired from a long-running popular Saturday Evening Post single-panel comic.

Mickey Rooney as Santa Claus and Shirley Booth as Mrs. Claus in The Year Without a Santa Claus.

Mickey Rooney voices Santa Claus in 1974's The Year Without A Santa Claus, as well as Kris Kringle in 1970's Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, and Santa Claus in 1979's Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July.

In Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, Rooney voices the red-headed Kris Kringle opposite the toy villain, the Burgermeister Meisterburger.

Rooney can also be seen in the holiday episode of the family sitcom Full House entitled "Arrest Ye Merry Gentlemen" from 1994.

Cast photo from the 1994 Christmas episode of Full House.  Have mercy!

Andy Hardy (Rooney) has to choose between Lana Turner and Judy Garland to take as his date to the Christmas dance in this 1938 movie.

Rooney has also made several appearances in Christmas movies over the years but my favorites are 1938's Love Finds Andy Hardy, the 1990 TV movie Home for Christmas, and 1991's Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toymaker in the unforgettable role of Joe Petto.

Rooney plays a homeless man named Elmer who helps a little girl's Christmas wish for a grandpa come true in this 1990 TV movie.

Rooney in the horror film Silent Night, Deadly Night 5.  Though this fifth film is barely connected to the previous SNDN plotlines, it has it's own special place in Christmas culture.

A vaudeville comedian, radio and TV star, Jimmy Durante sings and narrates the story in 1969's Frosty the Snowman.

Durante serves as the narrator--and sings the theme song--in 1969's Frosty the Snowman.

You can also see Durante in one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies, 1942's The Man Who Came to Dinner.

Banjo entertains at the piano for his injured friend in the wheelchair, Sheridan Whiteside.

The Man Who Came to Dinner is filled with pop culture references of its day and Durante plays a rambunctious character named Banjo that was a then obvious nod to Harpo Marx. If you haven't seen it, this film is a fast-paced, hilarious story that is sure to please--even if you don't get the obsolete in-jokes.  How often have you seen actress Bette Davis in a comedy?

In The Great Rupert, Durante plays an aging vaudevillian who unknowingly benefits from a trained squirrel.

Durante is also in The Great Rupert from 1950--a very sweet but weird Christmas movie worth catching if you've never seen it. Not wanting to spoil it for you, I'll just say an absurd squirrel plays a primary role in moving the storyline forward.  You can sometimes find this 1950 movie under the alternate title, A Christmas Wish.

Of course, these professional actors were originally hired to lend their voices because they were already celebrities of their time. But these Rankin/Bass animated classics have outlived their original context and have been embraced by younger generations that may not be as familiar with the work of these celebrities. Maybe seeing the actors in live action programs will give those interested a renewed enthusiasm for the voices that seem so familiar.

Next up: Part 2 of Rankin/Bass Voice Actors with Billy DeWolfe, Art Carney, Buddy Hackett, Greer Garson, and Angela Lansbury.


  1. Mickey Rooney is also in "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" with Scott Grimes and Annie Potts. He dies of a heart attack at Christmas but get the opportunity to get another week to help his grandson experience a real Christmas like it should be.

  2. Isn't it great seeing Scott Grimes so young in that movie!?

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