Thursday, January 31, 2013

PART 5: Rankin/Bass Voice Actors in Other Christmas Entertainment

Are you following this series of posts?  This is the last one.  Parts 1 through 3 in this series are updated posts originally written in December 2009.  However Parts 4 and 5 are all-new posts 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. Click HERE for Part 4.



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:


Actress Shelley Winters voiced Crystal, Frosty the Snowman's wife in Frosty's Winter Wonderland in 1976 and Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July in 1979. 



Winters also plays the title character in the 1971 American International B-movie Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (also known as Who Slew Auntie Roo?).  This horror film set at Christmas time reveals that the lonely but wealthy widow Auntie Roo has a dark secret hiding in the attic.  Click HERE to see a previous post I wrote about this unforgettable film.


Celebrating before disaster strikes on-board The Poseidon.  Winters in the center--and actor/comedian Red Buttons on the left.  Buttons also voiced a character in 1979's Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July, playing Milton the ice cream man. 

How many remember that the disaster film The Poseidon Adventure (1972) takes place aboard the doomed cruise ship over the Christmas and New Year's holidays?  Winters plays Belle Rosen, a role that earned her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.  Belle memorably meets her fate after swimming through an underwater corridor, trying to find an escape route on behalf of a dwindling group of desperate souls.


Winters (right) with actress Estelle Parsons (left), who played her uptight daughter Beverly, in their ugly Christmas sweaters.

Let's not forget that Winters also played Roseanne's grandmother Nana Mary on the hit sitcom Roseanne.  Don't miss the 1992 Christmas episode of Roseanne entitled "No Place Like Home for the Holidays."  In this episode, the elderly Nana Mary falls asleep in a chair and her granddaughters Roseanne and Jackie decorate her with twinkling lights like a Christmas tree!


What kind of bug is B.A.H. Humbug?  He's a cricket!

Actor Tom Bosley brought to life the narrator B.A.H. Humbug in the animated musical adaptation of Dickens' Christmas Carol, 1978's The Stingiest Man in Town.

Bosley (center) in the 1974 Christmas episode "Guess Who's Coming to Christmas" on Happy Days.

We all recognize Tom Bosley once we see him--he played patriarch Howard Cunningham on the long-running sitcom Happy DaysHappy Days, in its ten year run on the ABC network, produced six Christmas episodes, including 1974's "Guess Who's Coming to Christmas," 1975's "Tell It to the Marines," 1976's "Richie Branches Out," 1978's "Christmas Time," 1980's "White Christmas," and 1982's "All I Want for Christmas."  Tom Bosley appears in each of these Christmas installments.

With his long and successful career, it's not surprising that Bosley appeared in several more Christmas-themed episodes, specials and movies.  Without checking with IMDb, can you name one? 


I've always loved the translucence of the character of Jack Frost in this animated favorite.

Actor/singer Robert Morse voiced the young Ebenezer Scrooge in 1978's The Stingiest Man in Town as well as Jack Frost in the 1979 stop-motion classic Jack Frost

Young Scrooge pictured here with his fiancé Belle in the sequences during Christmas Past.  Morse sings two songs, "Golden Dreams" and "It Might Have Been."

Though Morse spent most of his career on the stage, you can currently see him in the hit TV drama Mad Men as the regular character Mr. Cooper.  You didn't even know that was him, did you?


The unraveling life of Don Draper and the fashionable, swinging culture of the 1960s has captured the attention of TV viewers in this popular AMC series.


Don Draper (left) with his business partner, Bertram Cooper (right) played by Robert Morse, in the 2012 Christmas episode "Christmas Waltz."

Mad Men features two Christmas episodes: 2010's "Christmas Comes But Once a Year" and 2012's "Christmas Waltz."  Click HERE to see what I had to say about the 2010 holiday episode. 

Of course, this five part series only examined the careers of the celebrity voice cast--and not the professional voice actors who specialize in cartoon and animation work.  THAT'S another whole series of posts there. 

What's your favorite Rankin/Bass animated Christmas entertainment?  Who's your favorite celebrity voice actor in a Rankin/Bass program?

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.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Rankin/Bass Voice Actors in Other Christmas Entertainment--Part 3

This is another updated post from a three-part series first written in December 2009.  My first year of blog posts have few photos and many of those earliest posts are overlooked.  I thought I'd brush off the dust, add some photos, and supply more commentary.  Did you see catch Parts 1 and 2?  Click HERE to see Part 1 againClick HERE for the link to Part 2.


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:

TV Guide ad for the stop motion holiday special Rudolph's Shiny New Year.


Careful with that sickle!  It's Father Time voiced by comedian Red Skelton.
Skelton also voices Baby Bear in Rudolph's Shiny New Year.

Comedic actor Red Skelton provided his voice for 1976's Rudolph's Shiny New Year as the narrator Father Time and Baby Bear. 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 popular on the radio. His humorous style included joke telling, pantomime, and a regular cast of characters he brought to life in narrative sketches including Clem Kadiddlehopper--a confused rube, Willie Lump-Lump--the drunk, and Freddie the Freeloader--an adorable hobo clown.

After hearing the beautiful music coming from the church at Christmas time, Freddie the Freeloader decides against his "life of crime."

Two of Skelton's shows from his TV series are Christmas classics including 1954's "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.  (I think I like the Christmas story of The Cop and the Anthem even more than O.Henry's more popular tale The Gift of the Magi).

The rag doll (Cara Williams) and Freddie the Freeloader (Skelton) share a laugh after falling down while ice skating in "Freddie and the Yuletide Doll."

Skelton also used his hobo character in the second classic 1961's "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, actress Marlo Thomas lend their voices to the 1967 animated classic Cricket on the Hearth. Danny Thomas plays the toymaker, Caleb Plummer while Marlo voices Caleb's daughter, Bertha.

Caleb and Bertha Plummer in Cricket on the Hearth.

Even if you've never seen The Danny Thomas Show--also known as Make Room for Daddy, you can see Danny Thomas in the live action introduction to Cricket.


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!)


Marlo Thomas in "Christmas in the Hard Luck Kid" on That Girl.  The little boy Tommy in that same episode--seen above in the chair--is played by Christopher Shea.  Shea provided the voice for Linus in A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Now you can see what he looks like as well!

Fortunately, Marlo Thomas' groundbreaking comedy series That Girl includes 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.

Remember this minor hit from Rankin/Bass?  It also stars voice actor Angela Lansbury (see Part 2 again).

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.

Liza Minnelli (left) as Red Riding Hood and Cyril Ritchard (right) as Lone T. Wolf.

Ritchard made his career mostly playing roles for the stage but can also be seen in the 1965 TV special The Dangerous Christmas of Red Riding Hood, as Lone T. Wolf.

DVD cover of 1965 TV musical special.

This TV special is 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!

The caveman One Million BC, nicknamed OM, and Rudolph.

And to return to 1975's Rudolph's Shiny New Year, the talented Morey Amsterdam breathes life into the caveman character One Million B.C. 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 show-within-a-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. Click HERE to see the post I recently wrote about the first musical number in this classic Christmas TV episode.

Next: an all-new post, Part 4 about Rankin/Bass voice actors including Vanessa Williams, Fred Astaire, and Dennis Day.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Rankin/Bass Voice Actors in Other Christmas Entertainment--Part 2


This is another 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.  Did you see Part 1?  Click HERE to see Part 1 again.



Ever wondered what the professional actors and 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:

The villain of Frosty, the magician Professor Hinckle wants his hat back from the snowman's head--even if it removes the life from Frosty!
Billy DeWolfe provides the voice for the character of Professor Hinckle in 1969's Frosty the Snowman. But you can also see him as the fussy, irritable next-door neighbor, Mr. Jarvis, in the 1970 holiday episode "It’s Christmas Time in the City" on The Doris Day Show. This episode is also special because Ms. Day sings a moving version of the classic Christmas carol, "Silver Bells."

The fussy and cranky neighbor Mr. Jarvis (DeWolfe) complains to Doris about her loud holiday party in the 1970 Christmas episode of The Doris Day Show.

Blarney Killakilarney, the narrator of The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold.


Art Carney lends his voice talent the narrator Blarney Killakilarney in 1981's The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold. Click HERE to see what I had to say about that TV special again.

Art Carney as Ed Norton (center).  "Twas the Night Before Christmas" is one of the Classic 39 of Honeymooners episodes.

Carney appears in several Christmas-themed programs including the 1955 episode of The Honeymooners' entitled "‘Twas the Night Before Christmas" as Ralph Kramdon's best friend and neighbor, Ed Norton. This episode is a very quirky re-telling of the familiar O.Henry story The Gift of the Magi but here Ralph pawns his favorite bowling ball in order to buy Alice an orange juice squeezer shaped to resemble the head of Napoleon.  I said it was quirky, didn't I?  It's also extremely heart-warming, making it one of viewers' favorite Christmas episode of 1950s TV.

The magic of the season is found just over the horizon, on the Twilight Zone.

Carney also appears in everyone's favorite Twilight Zone holiday episode, "The Night of the Meek" from 1960 as the embittered drunk that finds himself with a supernatural sack that is able to produce the perfect gift and fulfill people's Christmas wishes. This particular episode is certainly in my top five for all-time favorite Christmas TV episodes.  And, let us not forget that Art Carney is also in 1978's The Star Wars Holiday Special as the pro-rebellion outpost trader, Saun Dann.

The singing and dancing, groundhog narrator Pardon-Me-Pete in Jack Frost.

Comedic actor, Buddy Hackett provides the voice to the groundhog narrator Pardon-Me Pete in 1979's Jack Frost. Hackett can also be seen playing Ebenezer Scrooge in the TV special-within-a-movie, Scrooged from 1988.

Hackett (left) in his Ebenezer Scrooge costume during rehearsals for the TV special Frank Cross (Bill Murray) is producing in the comedy film Scrooged.



Actress Greer Garson can be heard as the beautiful voice of the storyteller in 1968's The Little Drummer Boy and its sequel The Little Drummer Boy, Book II from 1976.

Compassionate stories about orphans (and the homeless in general) are popular Christmas time subjects.

Garson can be seen in the 1941 film Blossoms in the Dust--a movie closely associated with the Christmas holiday. Though not a holiday-themed story itself, this film dramatizes the real-life story of Edna Gladney, a Texas woman in the early twentieth century that worked to help unwanted children from being raised in orphanages and instead placed in homes. The film's story about orphans and its themes of compassion and charity make it an annual holiday favorite on television.

Remember the nun Sister Theresa finds the little boy Lukas after he's struck by lightning?  When he regains consciousness, he's lost his sight until...well, I don't want to spoil it for you!

And, Angela Lansbury voices Sister Theresa in 1975's stop motion story The First Christmas, now more often retitled as The Story of the First Christmas Snow.

JB Fletcher in her ugly Christmas sweater helping prepare for the Cabot Cove holiday party on Murder, She Wrote.

Ms. Lansbury appears in several Christmas themed entertainments, however one of her most memorable roles is as super sleuth Jessica Fletcher in the ninth season Christmas episode of her series Murder, She Wrote entitled "The Christmas Secret."



Another favorite starring Lansbury is Mrs. Santa Claus, a 1996 TV movie musical by Broadway composer Jerry Herman.  This made-for-TV movie sees Mrs. Claus stranded in an immigrant neighborhood in New York City during the early part of the twentieth century, helping her new friends in their social and political struggles including child labor issues and women's suffrage.  You're more than a little curious now, aren't you?


Lansbury performing "We Need A Little Christmas " with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a TV special which first aired on PBS in 2001.

How many people know that Lansbury was also in the Jerry Herman Broadway musical Mame in the 1960s and it is her version of the hit song "We Need A Little Christmas" that has become so popular it can still be heard on the radio every year at Christmas time?

Next up: Part 3 with Rankin/Bass voice actors Red Skelton, Danny Thomas, Marlo Thomas, Cyril Ritchard, and Morey Amsterdam.

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.