About Christmas TV History

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Rankin/Bass Voice Actors in Other Christmas Entertainment--Part 4

Parts 1 through 3 in this series are updated posts originally written in December 2009.  However this one, Part 4, is an all-new post about the professional actors and celebrity voice cast in some of our favorite Rankin/Bass animated Christmas specials.  Click HERE to see Part 1 againClick HERE for the link to Part 2. Click HERE for Part 3.

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:

2001's Santa Baby! includes an amazing African-American voice cast that includes not only Vanessa Williams but Gregory Hines, Eartha Kitt, and Patti LaBelle.

 Alicia (Williams) is singing the flirty song "Santa Baby" to her husband Noel (Hines) though he's uncertain she recognizes him under his Santa disguise.

Singer/actress Vanessa Williams brought to life the character of Alicia in the Rankin/Bass animated TV special Santa, Baby! in 2001.  Click HERE to see what I had to say about that special in an earlier post.

You can see Williams in several Christmas programs however, my favorite has to be the 2000 TV movie A Diva's Christmas Carol.  Williams plays the story's lead role of Ebenezer Scrooge as Ebony, the pop music star that acts like a demanding diva at Christmas time.  This fun story unfolds the familiar Charles Dickens Christmas tale in the world of the music and recording industry so it is filled with faces from pop music as well as jokes and references to music culture.

Do you remember when Vanessa Williams and Luciano Pavarotti were the musical guests for the 1998 Christmas show of Saturday Night Live?  Check out the video clip below in which they sing "Adeste Fidelis/O Come All Ye Faithful" together.

S.D. Kruger (Fred Astaire) is the narrator in Santa Claus is Comin' to Town.

Perhaps the most well-known narrator in all the Rankin/Bass animated TV specials is the letter carrier Special Delivery Kruger, voiced by dancer and actor Fred Astaire.  This character, originally introduced in 1970's Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, is so iconic that it has been parodied several times in other holiday programs--from South Park's 1999 episode "Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics" to the more recent animated series Black Dynamite in the 2012 episode, "A Crisis for Christmas or The Dark Side of the Dark Side of the Moon."

Fred Astaire (right) in 1942's Holiday Inn.

Fred Astaire can be seen in the 1942 classic film, Holiday Inn.  Though this film may more easily call to mind singer/actor Bing Crosby--this movie was the first screen appearance of the song "White Christmas" and it was performed by Bing Crosby.  Crosby's rival in this film's story is played by Astaire.  Holiday Inn also includes the memorable 4th of July dance sequence with the legendary Astaire tap dancing amongst exploding fireworks!  In this one scene he is so amazing and charismatic, you'll get a small taste of what makes Astaire the dancer of such notable acclaim.

If you're into rare and hard-to-find Christmas TV movies, you can also look for 1979's The Man in the Santa Claus Suit starring Fred Astaire.  Astaire plays the story's mysterious stranger, a character who appears throughout the movie in various roles that connects the three vignettes within the film about three men who rent a Santa Claus suit.

Scrooge (right) expresses his disapproval of his nephew Fred's Christmas cheer (left) in The Stingiest Man in Town.

And, singer/actor Dennis Day voiced the character of Fred in the 1976 TV special The Stingiest Man in Town, an animated musical version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  How long has it been since you've seen this overlooked Rankin/Bass special?  You may also remember that Day was the voice of the parson in 1976's Frosty's Winter Wonderland.

Th 1976 animated TV special Frosty's Winter Wonderland is the follow-up to 1969's Frosty the Snowman.  Here the magical snowman falls in love with Crystal.

Dennis Day was a regular character and cast member on the unforgettable comedy series The Jack Benny Show.

You can also see Dennis Day in the 1960 holiday episode of The Jack Benny Show often entitled "Christmas Shopping Show."  While shopping for his friends and family members at a local department store, Benny bumps into his friend Dennis who is also busy shopping.  In this episode, you can not only see Day but you can hear him perform the song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" to the children waiting in line to sit on Santa's lap at the department store.

Warning! This musical number of Day singing "Rudolph" is far too frequently cut from discount DVD releases of this classic Christmas episode.

Up next: an all-new Part 5 in this series about Rankin/Bass voice cast members in other Christmas entertainment, including Shelley Winters, Robert Morse, and Tom Bosley.

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