The Enchanted World of Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass
Arthur Rankin, Jr. was the art director at ABC Television in the early days of the medium in the 1950s. He worked on live shows like Tales of Tomorrow and gained a great deal of knowledge during television's infancy and met Jules Bass during this period, who was working for an advertising agency. Arthur decided to start a company of his own, called Videocraft International in the very late 1950s. As President, he took on Jules as VP Treasury and others in this company such as Tony Peters as designer and writer. Most of their early productions were for commercials, many of which were live. Arthur then discovered a stop-motion form of animation in Japan that caught his eye and decided this would go over well in the US. He decided to call it Animagic and Produced the first Animagic series at Dentsu studios in Japan, called The New Adventures of Pinocchio. It was Produced with funding from bank loans and Arthur's friend Donald Gladstone contributed the rest of the money, when funds ran out. A Cel animated series was also produced the following year called Tales of the Wizard of Oz. Oz was Produced primarily in Canada at Crawley Studios under the guidance of Tony Peters.
Arthur wasn't satisfied with the financial rewards of their first two series. After funding with loans, the returns weren't great. This is when they found their way onto Network Television in 1964 via NBC-TV with the sponsorship of the General Electric Company. It was also at this time that Jules Bass became a Co-Producer and Videocraft was transitioning into Rankin/Bass Productions. Their first TV Special, Return to Oz, was an extension of their Tales of The Wizard of Oz series and the first Network television sequel to the famous MGM Film. It was met with moderate success. Their second special was in Animagic and called Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It was a huge ratings winner and has been on network television every year since, making it the longest-running, highest rated television special of all-time! Rankin/Bass even Produced the General Electric commercials during the broadcast in Animagic, with three of the elf characters. "Our phone was ringing off the hook," said Arthur Rankin. "After Rudolph hit, it opened the door for many film and television projects for years after!"
In 1965, Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass signed a deal with legendary Producer Joseph E. Levine, for three full length motion pictures. The films would end up being The wacky world of Mother Goose, The Daydreamer and the cult classic Mad Monster Party. Rankin/Bass also Produced a feature film on their own in 1965 called Willy McBean & His Magic Machine..The television networks wanted more programming too. They Produced the King Kong Show in 1966 for Saturday morning television, the NBC TV Special The Ballad of Smokey the Bear with James Cagney also in 1966 and the live-action feature film King Kong Escapes in 1968. Holiday specials continued with The Little Drummer Boy and The Mouse on the Mayflower in 1968. Their Frosty the Snowman starring Jimmy Durante TV Special Premiered in 1969 on CBS and has been on CBS every year since!
Rankin/Bass' Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town Premiered on ABC in 1970, and it has also become a network tradition. Here Comes Peter Cottontail followed on ABC in 1971. In fact, Rankin/Bass Productions had specials airing on all three of the big networks simultaneously for many years to come. They were the biggest providers of Holiday entertainment for Network Television, with the greatest success rate and ended up Producing about 30 specials. In the 1970s, they had several Saturday morning series that hit big including Kid Power, The Smokey Bear Show, The Tomfoolery Show, The Jackson Five Show, The Osmonds, The Reluctant Dragon and Mr. Toad show and more!
They were nominated for an Emmy for The Little Drummer Boy, Book II and won the Peabody and James Christoper Awards for their 1977 special of Tolkien's The Hobbit. Arthur Rankin wanted to move into Live-Action feature films and was able to do so with several for the ABC Friday night movies including The Bermuda Depths, The Last Dinosaur, The Bushido Blade, The Sins of Dorian Gray and more.
Jules Bass was the lyric writer of the Songwriting duo of Jules Bass and Maury Laws. Their themes for The Heat Miser and Snow Miser from Rankin/Bass' The Year Without Santa Claus have been listed in the top Christmas songs of all-time. They also wrote many classics such as "One Star in the night," "Put one foot in front of the other" and "The first toy maker to the king."
In the mid-1980s, Rankin/Bass Productions Produced the Saturday morning hits Thundercats and Silverhawks. After this great success, they decided to part ways. Arthur spent most of his time in Bermuda and Jules in France. Eventually they both resided near each other in New York in Garrison. Arthur Rankin passed away in January 2014 and Historian/Biographer Rick Goldschmidt spoke at his memorial in Bermuda on his Birthday July 19. 2014. That same year, Rick assisted with a release of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer stamps based on the classic Rankin/Bass TV Special by the US Post office. Jules lives in New York and continues to write children's books.